Ready for the runout

Kia’s classy but age­ing hatch gets a makeover to main­tain ap­peal

Herald Sun - Motoring - - NEWS -

AS peo­ple age, cos­metic surgery be­comes more palat­able. This ap­proach is equally ap­pli­ca­ble to cars — midlife makeovers “freshen” a model to main­tain its ap­peal among buy­ers.

Such is the case with the Kia Rio, our 2011 Car of The Year, which was nipped, tucked and launched at the Paris show with re­vised front and rear styling — and who doesn’t ap­pre­ci­ate a nose job and butt lift? — plus a raft of tech­nol­ogy up­grades.

The base ver­sions will be here in late Novem­ber, with­out many of the key en­hance­ments, in­clud­ing en­gine stop-start and op­tional satnav.

Kia Aus­tralia spokesman Kevin Hep­worth says prices for the en­hanced pack­age will in­crease a lit­tle. No sur­prises there, given the light car seg­ment the Rio com­petes in is as price sen­si­tive as a bud­get beer drinker — for­get the brand, fo­cus on the value.

That means the $16,290 Rio S five-door is un­likely to climb beyond $17,000. It should also en­cour­age deal­ers to ne­go­ti­ate hard to shift the last of their ex­ist­ing stock.

Hag­gle as if you’re in an Asian street mar­ket and the baby Kia will be a bar­gain.

In stan­dard guise the Rio S has a multi-point fuel-in­jected 1.4-litre en­gine and six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion (four­speed auto adds $2000).

It is one of the more ac­com­mo­dat­ing in its class and a pair of adults in the back will have lit­tle cause for com­plaint in terms of head or legroom. The boot is equally good at 288L, if not up to Honda Jazz stan­dards.

On the road the Rio S is a good, if not great, drive. The en­gine is a will­ing per­former but needs to be worked to ex­tract de­cent ac­cel­er­a­tion. In auto guide, fuel con­sump­tion in­creases sig­nif­i­cantly.

In con­trast the 1.6-litre Si model needs far less throt­tle to reach and main­tain the speed limit and uses less fuel as a re­sult. It can be paired with a six-speed auto, which doesn’t hurt ei­ther.

The 1.4-litre en­gine is also frac­tion­ally more ex­pen­sive ($2432) than the 1.6-litre unit ($2383) to main­tain over the life of the stan­dard seven-year capped price ser­vic­ing.

Dy­nam­i­cally the Rio is all you want in a light car. It’s no VW Polo or Ford Fi­esta but has well-sorted sus­pen­sion and a re­as­sur­ingly solid chas­sis. It lacks a bit in steer­ing feel but un­err­ingly goes where it is pointed. The only real omis­sion is cruise con­trol, fast ap­proach­ing manda­tory sta­tus.

Oc­cu­pant com­fort was ob­vi­ously a pri­or­ity and the Rio is still one of the bet­ter ve­hi­cles to spend time in. The front seats are first rate, though larger driv­ers may find the bol­sters push on their outer thighs (a small price for lat­eral support). The rear pews are also up to the job of avoid­ing butt and back fa­tigue on de­cent trips.

The Rio is still an at­trac­tion in this field even if it is no longer at the head of the pack. Don’t pay the list price and you’ll get a car that’s en­gag­ing enough to still im­press for the du­ra­tion of its seven-year war­ranty.

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