En­dear­ing steer­ing

The best-rid­ing Rio yet brings space and com­fort up­dates — but the au­to­matic holds it back

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

NICE car, shame about the driv­e­train. The fourth­gen­er­a­tion Kia Rio, hav­ing sub­stan­tially im­proved in ev­ery other area, de­serves bet­ter than a carry-over en­gine and four­speed auto.

The five-door com­pact hatch has greater in­te­rior space, a stiffer body, the lat­est in­fo­tain­ment soft­ware, front and rear USB ports and the best steer­ing in a Kia to date … the list goes on.

Th­ese cut­ting-edge up­dates are wrapped around a ven­er­a­ble 1.4-litre four-cylin­der en­gine and an au­to­matic with just four for­ward gears.

That’s not un­usual in this class — Toy­ota’s Yaris runs a four-speed auto — but it doesn’t do jus­tice to a car that could have given Kia a boost in a hugely com­pet­i­tive seg­ment.

The Rio is an ac­cept­able per­former around town but some­one in the Kia hi­er­ar­chy has yet to get their heads around the fact a trip to or from work in Aus­tralia fre­quently in­volves hills and/or hit­ting triple fig­ures on the free­way.

That’s where the Rio loses some of its new-car lus­tre. The en­gine isn’t quiet un­der load and it will be loaded up ev­ery time you try to get some re­spon­sive­ness from be­yond about 70km/h.

The four-speed auto just doesn’t have enough scope while try­ing to keep the Rio be­tween the 4000rpm peak torque fig­ure and max­i­mum power at 6000rpm.

There’s hope on the hori­zon in the form of a 1.0-litre turbo ver­sion avail­able else­where. It isn’t con­firmed for Aus­tralia but the 88kW/173Nm en­gine with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto and au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing at least will give Kia a top-spec car to ri­val the op­po­si­tion’s best.

Mean­while, the 1.4-litre en­gine does an hon­est job but is hand­i­capped by a lack of torque and gears. It is re­spon­sive off the lights and up to 50km/h, mak­ing it a gen­uine city car. The prob­lem is Rio ri­vals are more adept, at least in per­for­mance, as speeds in­crease.

The base S vari­ant has a list price of $16,990 and picks up a six-speed man­ual that shows there’s life in 1.4-litre yet. Pity so few will buy it.

The S is ex­pected to ac­count for the bulk of sales boosted by fleet and rental sales, leav­ing the more ex­pen­sive and au­toonly Si and SLi to try to en­tice pri­vate buy­ers.

Opt­ing for the auto in the S — which most buy­ers will — makes it the ra­tio­nal pick of the crop, as that vari­ant will have a $17,490 drive-away price from launch.

Stan­dard gear in­cludes 15-inch steel wheels, seven-inch touch­screen, An­droid Auto and Ap­ple CarPlay con­nec­tiv­ity, auto head­lamps, re­vers­ing cam­era and rear sen­sors and steer­ing-wheel mounted au­dio con­trols.

The Si starts at $21,490 and adds 15-inch al­loy rims, front fog lamps, heated and fold­ing side mir­rors, sat­nav and il­lu­mi­nated van­ity mir­rors.

At the top of the perch the $22,990 SLi in­cludes 16-inch al­loys, auto-dim­ming rear mir­ror, auto wipers, al­loy ped­als, pow­ered sun­roof and air­con­di­tion­ing.

ON THE ROAD

This is the best-steer­ing Kia yet and the best-rid­ing Rio by a fair mar­gin.

Put both down to tuning by the Aus­tralian arm — Kia Aus­tralia ar­gued for (and won) the right to fit a more ad­justable damper in lo­cal Rios and the car rides well over ridges and ruts at city speeds in a straight line or on a di­ag­o­nal course.

It steers with a pre­ci­sion that is hard to fault.

It is, in fact, hard to fault around town where the auto is in its el­e­ment. When the en­gine isn’t un­der stress, the claimed 6.2L/100km fuel use might be within reach.

The en­gine noise that’s ev­i­dent when ac­cel­er­at­ing hard isn’t present long enough to be­come an­noy­ing in ur­ban en­vi­rons.

Try to ex­plore just how good

the Rio is down a back road and the econ­omy-bi­ased tyres will squeal for mercy well be­fore the springs and dampers tele­graph their lim­its.

Few Rio buy­ers will test the lev­els of grip but it’s worth not­ing the Kia hatch is well within its com­fort zone at this point. Ease up on the throt­tle and it faith­fully re­gains the de­sired steer­ing line.

It is just as pre­dictable on hard-packed gravel, with a touch of lift-off over­steer quickly negated by the elec­tron­ics with­out shut­ting down the power. Bring on the 1.0-litre turbo ….

VER­DICT

The Rio is a se­ri­ous con­tender against the Toy­ota Yaris by virtue of its stan­dard gear, space and ride. It only needs a sixspeed auto to be­come a gen­uine con­tender and com­pete with the likes of the Mazda2 and Volk­swa­gen Polo.

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