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

Car (South Africa) - - CREDITS -

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.

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