Firm favourite falls behind
Kia has updated its popular Rio with some cosmetic nips and tucks, writes Lerato Matebese
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.
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.