More than just a pretty face
The fourth-generation kia Rio gets a nip, a tuck, and a whole lot more
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