Kia Rio 1,4 TEC
Kia’s new Rio, boasting great spec and space, picks up where its successful predecessor left off ... but there’s a caveat
IT’S one that requires addressing up front because it will either dent your impression of the new Rio … or not at all.
When it was launched in 2011, the popular third-generation Rio (more than 37 000 found homes) offered 1,2- and 1,4-litre, naturally aspirated powertrains in a market where forcedinduction was the exception. Fast-forward six years, however, and most B-segment hatches have a turbo under the bonnet. Downsizing, as has been proven time and again, makes sense: the engines are punchy in-gear but decently frugal when pootling, and emissions levels are low.
Bucking the trend, Kia Motors South Africa has decided to retain the Rio’s powerplants – and, in fact, reduce outputs on both sizes – citing cost considerations and claiming the 1,2- and 1,4-litre are more frugal. In overseas markets, the company has launched the Rio with a brand-new 1,0-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol, but it’s only “under consideration” for local introduction.
Meanwhile, the 1,4-litre I drove on the oxygen-starved Highveld strained when asked to perform, often losing momentum on gentle inclines even in fifth gear. Kept close to the 4 200 r/min at which the maximum torque figure is delivered and it acquits itself better, but then engine noise intrudes into an otherwise superbly refined cockpit.
And that’s a pity, because the Rio is a fine car. Thanks to a stretch of 10 mm in the generous wheelbase and a high roofline, the cockpit can seat four occupants in greater comfort than many light hatchbacks, while Kia claims a rival-busting 325 litres of boot space.
Up front, there’s a new seveninch touchscreen with Apple Carplay and Bluetooth. The screen sits proud of a reprofiled facia featuring a soft-touch strip, tasteful brightwork and a lowersited section with a 12 V socket, aux-in and USB ports and a stowage shelf. Quality overall is sound, too.
Once rolling, the chassis displays good composure across a variety of surfaces (although the 17-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile rubber on this flagship TEC model allow a spot too much fidget and crash) and the steering is easily one of the best I’ve experienced on a Korean model.
Which is why it’s more the pity the engines do not match the package. Of course, some buyers prefer ostensibly simpler technology, and to them the Rio’s naturally aspirated powertrains won’t be a deterrent, but the market’s moved on (and will do so further once the new Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo debut). It’s time for what’s under the Rio’s bonnet to match what’s on its skin and inside its cabin.