Firm favourite falls be­hind

Kia has up­dated its popular Rio with some cos­metic nips and tucks, writes Ler­ato Matebese

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

SINCE its lo­cal de­but in the fourth quar­ter of 2011, the Kia Rio hatch has man­aged to cap­ture an au­di­ence that would oth­er­wise look to mod­els such as the Volk­swa­gen Polo and Toy­ota Yaris when buy­ing into the Bseg­ment hatch mar­ket.

At the time, the Rio brought to the mar­ket some­thing a touch more stylish than the cur­rent crop and, typ­i­cal of the Korean marque, it was also laden with a cor­nu­copia of con­ve­nience and safety items at the price. In essence, it left the com­pe­ti­tion in its wake as it forged for­ward with a rel­a­tively bet­ter value for money propo­si­tion.

It was also a fi­nal­ist in the 2012 Wesbank/SA Guild of Mo­tor­ing Jour­nal­ists Car of the Year com­pe­ti­tion, which was fur­ther tes­ta­ment to the model’s cre­den­tials among its ri­vals. Global sales last years alone are said to have racked up 471,000 units, which is a fig­ure not to be sneezed at.

For 2015, the model has re­ceived some mi­nor cos­metic up­dates that would take an ea­gle eye to spot. Th­ese in­clude a re­vised tiger nose grille, lower front valance and a new al­loy wheel de­sign on the flag­ship 1.4 Tec mod­els, while at the rear a restyled bumper now fea­tures a new black plas­tic in­sert re­plete with fog­lights and re­flec­tors. In ad­di­tion, the sedan has also been given the once over, but the model was not avail­able for us to view at the launch.

The in­te­rior has been left pretty much un­changed save for some chrome ac­cents around the air vents and pi­ano black fin­ishes on the cen­tre stack. Also, the sound sys­tem now of­fers a Ra­dio Data Sys­tem, so the name of the tuned ra­dio sta­tion is dis­played on the screen.

As pre­vi­ously was the case, mo­ti­va­tion comes in the form of a 1.2l with 65kW at 6,000r/min and 120Nm at 4,000r/min, mated to a five-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion. There is also the 1.4l mak­ing 79kW at 6,300r/min and 135Nm at 4,200r/min through ei­ther a six-speed man­ual or four­speed au­to­matic.

At launch I man­aged to sam­ple the lat­ter which, quite frankly, does not have the best rap­port be­tween en­gine and gear­box. I found that the en­gine tends to be­come rather rau­cous at high en­gine speeds, par­tic­u­larly while try­ing to over­take slower mov­ing traf­fic.

Of course, the fact that the en­gine is a nor­mally as­pi­rated of­fer­ing means you are likely to spend more time mash­ing the throt­tle to the floor­boards to gain and main­tain mo­men­tum. In my view, the man­ual would per­haps make a bet­ter case for it­self in this con­text.

In all fair­ness, the model still of­fers a great deal of spec­i­fi­ca­tion at the price, which has re­mained one of its fortes. How­ever, in the past year the game seems to have moved on some­what, par­tic­u­larly when look­ing at the VW Polo hatch lineup, Re­nault Clio and the Ford Fi­esta vari­ants. The com­mon­al­ity in th­ese mod­els is that they have small ca­pac­ity tur­bocharged units, which of­fer far su­pe­rior per­for­mance, par­tic­u­larly at reef altitude. In a few weeks, the Opel Corsa will also launch in SA and it too will of­fer a tur­bocharged small ca­pac­ity unit.

So, in essence, while the Rio re­mains an ex­cel­lent of­fer­ing in the seg­ment, it now seems to lag be­hind the com­pe­ti­tion on the driv­e­train front, which could prove its Achilles heel.

That aside, the cabin re­mains a com­fort­able place to be, with both wind and road noise kept at fairly rea­son­able lev­els for pas­sen­gers to be able to hold a con­ver­sa­tion. The cabin’s lay­out has al­ways been a cut above the com­pe­ti­tion — how­ever, the Polo seems to have again bridged the gap here with pre­mium fin­ishes and ex­em­plary tac­tile feel.

As you read this, the Hyundai i20 is be­ing launched in SA and Mo­tor News will be there to sam­ple the new­comer, so be on the look­out for our ini­tial im­pres­sion in our next edi­tion.

In iso­la­tion, the Rio re­mains a great of­fer­ing for those look­ing for a stylish, well-equipped B-seg­ment hatch. The up­dates may be sub­tle, but then again there re­ally was lit­tle wrong with the de­sign to begin with, so I guess the adage that “if it is not bro­ken then do not fix it” rings true in this in­stance.

While the model re­mains one of this scribe’s favourite of­fer­ings in the seg­ment, I am afraid to say that it has been some­what left by the way­side with re­gards to new en­gine tech­nol­ogy, namely tur­bocharg­ing. At R216,600 the VW Polo 1.2 TSI Com­fort­line seems to make a more com­pelling of­fer­ing in my books.

Pric­ing

1.2 R176,995 1.4 R199,995 1.4 auto R211,995 1.4 Tec R212,995 1.4 Tec auto R224,995

The mi­nor styling up­dates keep the Rio look­ing fresh, but that black in­sert at the rear, left, does look odd.

In­te­rior changes are min­i­mal, but in­clude some chrome ac­cents. On the road, both wind and road noise are kept at fairly rea­son­able lev­els.

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