More than just a pretty face

The fourth-gen­er­a­tion kia Rio gets a nip, a tuck, and a whole lot more

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Kia Rio - Words by Niky Ta­mayo Photography by iaN mag­banua

The road is de­li­ciously twisty up ahead, div­ing into a de­li­cious left-right flick­flack. Im­pa­tiently, I floor the loud pedal, will­ing more power out of the tiny 1.4-liter mo­tor. Not for the first time, I be­moan the fact that Kia doesn’t of­fer a six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. Sec­ond gear seems to go on for­ever and for­ever.

As the nee­dle on the tachome­ter swings past 3,500rpm, the en­gine starts to sing more ur­gently. But it’s all over too soon. I’ve ar­rived. I give the use­fully strong brakes a firm tap, and swing the Rio into the curve. As I flick the wheel back the other way, I give a nod of ap­proval at the Rio’s quick steer­ing. The 205/45 R17 Con­tiS­port Con­tact tires pro­vide plenty of drama-free grip, al­low­ing us to hit the next straight sing­ing mer­rily. This is a prop­erly sorted lit­tle car.

My mind wanders back to a sim­i­lar drive over a decade ago, when a cou­ple of friends in­vited me to write for a now-de­funct on­line mag­a­zine. Back then, I had no idea my writ­ing hobby would turn into a by­line at Top Gear. I did, how­ever, have some idea of the di­rec­tion the then-cheap­but-cheer­ful Kia Rio was go­ing. Nowhere but up.

The 2006 model was an unas­sum­ing lit­tle car, weigh­ing a ton and change, sport­ing black taxi-spec bumpers and plas­tic hub­caps over dinky 14in wheels. Its “me, too” quasi-Euro­pean styling faded in­of­fen­sively into the back­ground. The only songs it sang were the howls of cheap tires un­der­steer­ing into the near­est canal. And yet it had its charms, mod­est as they were.

There’s noth­ing mod­est about this 2017 car. It looks un­ex­pect­edly good for a sub-mil­lion peso car.

Pulled-back A-pil­lars and a long hood give the il­lu­sion of speed and power. The C-pil­lars and the rear door, hatch, and bumper trace a pleas­ingly sym­met­ri­cal dou­ble an­gle on the rear haunch, a mo­tif re­peated in the at­trac­tive LED tail­lights. While the blis­ter-fend­ered old car was dra­matic, it was fes­tooned with odd bits of black plas­tic cov­er­ing up de­sign mis­steps. Here, the only bare plas­tic bit is the glossy new tiger-nose grille, worn like a badge of pride. You would never call the pre­vi­ous car—a Red Dot De­sign Awardee—ugly. But the new model man­ages to be both more stylish and func­tional, thus win­ning yet an­other cov­eted Red Dot Award in the process.

The in­te­rior is like­wise a step for­ward, the float­ing dash­board pulled back to leave air­con and mul­ti­me­dia con­trols float­ing over it. The A/C panel, shaped like a video-game controller, is a neat touch. The only ma­jor gaffe here is that the wide-set driver-side A/C vents sit be­hind the steer­ing wheel, en­sur­ing frozen knuck­les for ham-handed driv­ers like yours truly.

On the bright side, there’s lots of use­ful stor­age space, with a big rub­ber-lined, USBe­quipped smart­phone bin up front, an arm­rest bin with a USB port for rear pas­sen­gers, and a use­fully deep 325-liter trunk. The con­tra-ststitched seats are well-bol­stered and com­fort­able, both front and back. With six-way seat ad­just­ment and a tilt-and-tele­scopic tiller, it’s easy to find the proper driv­ing po­si­tion be­fore thumb­ing the starter but­ton and go­ing out for a drive.

The 2006 Rio was the quintessen­tial taxi spe­cial, down to the pedi­cab-friendly horn. Though lack­ing a diesel op­tion, it was a nicer

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