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