Kia Rio 1,4 TEC

The out­go­ing Rio es­tab­lished Kia as a maker of de­sir­able city cars. Does the new one build on that legacy?

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

SINCE its launch in our mar­ket some 17 years ago, the Rio has de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion as a re­li­able, spa­cious ve­hi­cle that of­fers good value for your hard-earned cash, fur­ther ce­ment­ing this Korean brand’s stand­ing as a maker of cars that now, at the very least, ri­vals the of­fer­ings of Europe and Ja­pan’s big play­ers.

There is, there­fore, a lot to ex­pect of this, the fourth gen­er­a­tion model. It makes use of a fresh de­sign and the Kia-hyundai GB plat­form that de­buted on the cur­rent Hyundai i20 (and will also be used on the Kia Stonic and Hyundai Kona crossovers).

Penned by Kia’s Cal­i­for­nia and Ger­man de­sign cen­tres headed by Peter Schreyer, the new Rio has sharper, more an­gu­lar lines than its pre­de­ces­sor and the re­sult is a car that looks up­mar­ket and wholly in keep­ing with Kia’s cur­rent de­sign lan­guage.

It is longer and lower – by 15 and 5 mm – as well as 5 mm wider, giv­ing it a more pur­pose­ful stance. Add to this our test unit’s Smoke Blue paint job and

the 17-inch al­loy wheels of the flag­ship TEC model, and the new Rio cuts a dash­ing fig­ure.

In­side, the Kia of­fers a gen­er­ous stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion list. For starters, the at­trac­tively de­signed dash­board is oc­cu­pied by a neat touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with Mir­ror­link func­tion­al­i­ties for your smart­phone, and it’s a stan­dard fea­ture along with a rear-fac­ing cam­era to com­ple­ment the parkdis­tance con­trol. This func­tion adds to a taste­fully de­signed cabin of high per­ceived qual­ity, en­hanced fur­ther by leather up­hol­stery on the seats, steer­ing wheel and gear­lever.

With re­gard to pack­ag­ing, the new plat­form ben­e­fits the Rio in util­ity space. While the boot space re­mains at 248 litres, the Rio’s util­ity mea­sure­ment has in­creased to 1 008 litres (64 more than be­fore), which is sub­stan­tially bet­ter than the likes of the Polo or the i20. Sim­i­larly, the Rio trumps the Polo in pas­sen­ger space, but the 5 mm drop in over­all height has seen a slight de­crease in rear head­room.

While the chas­sis and de­sign are new, in­ter­est­ingly, the engine line-up has not been re­freshed. Un­der the hood you’ll still find the nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 1,4-litre four-cylin­der engine – dubbed the Gamma – which de­liv­ers 74 kw (5 kw less than be­fore) and 135 N.m of torque. Coun­ter­ing the de­crease in power, how­ever, is the fact that our scales show this new Rio to be 18 kg lighter than its pre­de­ces­sor. Ac­cord­ing to Kia, part of the rea­son out­puts have dropped is a quest for im­proved ef­fi­ciency; borne out by this model post­ing 6,6 L/100 km on our fuel route ver­sus 7,8 L/ 100 km pre­vi­ously.

Sur­pris­ingly, the new car is also quicker, with our test fig­ures in­di­cat­ing it needs 1,2 sec­onds less to reach 100 km/h than be­fore, with a time of 11,31 sec­onds. The Rio also recorded im­prove­ments in over­tak­ing ac­cel­er­a­tion. Here we should note that the new model was tested on a much cooler day, which aids per­for­mance.

How­ever, while these fig­ures

are an im­prove­ment, they still lag be­hind those of the tur­bocharged ri­vals in the B-seg­ment, es­pe­cially in terms of in-gear ac­cel­er­a­tion. An­noy­ingly, the engine has a dearth of torque at low revs, which ne­ces­si­tates wind­ing it up at pull-away, es­pe­cially on in­clines. That, in turn, ex­poses the less-than-pre­dictable clutch ac­tion, which saw a num­ber of testers stall the ve­hi­cle when driv­ing off. Thank­fully, the gear­lever has a slick, short ac­tion.

A fur­ther dy­namic bug­bear is the qual­ity of the ride at low speeds. TEC mod­els are shod with 17-inch al­loy wrapped in 45-pro­file tyres and those al­low a touch too much fid­get through to the cabin. Ex­pe­ri­ence with lower-spec Rios on smaller wheels and plumper tyres in­di­cated a com­mend­able level of bump ab­sorp­tion in the chas­sis.

The soft-com­pound Con­ti­nen­tal Con­tisport­con­tact 5 tyres do add to the Rio’s dy­nam­ics and had a pos­i­tive im­pact on the brak­ing times. To­gether with the front ven­ti­lated discs and rear drums, the ABS sys­tem al­lowed for an ex­cel­lent av­er­age stop­ping time of 2,86 sec­onds. The rub­ber also gen­er­ates lit­tle road roar, but this is coun­tered by only av­er­age wind sup­pres­sion. Nev­er­the­less, the sound-level read­ing of 39 DBA at idle is im­pres­sive.

Those grippy tyres com­ple­ment the Rio’s im­proved elec­tri­cally as­sisted power steer­ing op­po­site, clock­wise from top left The cabin is more up­mar­ket in the new model (we re­ally like the padded strip across the fa­cia); the 1,4-litre has 5 kw less than be­fore; rear legroom is gen­er­ous for a B-seg­ment hatch; boot space re­mains the same but util­ity space has jumped; the Rio feels dy­namic to drive thanks to pro­gres­sive steer­ing and good body con­trol. sys­tem, mak­ing for a nippy and en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. We’re glad to note with every new South Korean ve­hi­cle we test these sys­tems keep im­prov­ing.

How­ever, good tyres come at a price. At R2 130 a pop, the Con­ti­nen­tals aren’t cheap to re­place. Along­side a parts bas­ket that’s tripled in value since our 2015 test (mainly be­cause of the new head­lamps), it would ap­pear that main­te­nance on the Rio 1,4 TEC might catch some own­ers by sur­prise. Thank­fully, it comes stan­dard with a four-year/60 000 km service plan and one of the best war­ranties in the mar­ket.


The new Rio is pret­tier, feels stur­dier, is more lux­u­ri­ously equipped and bet­ter to drive.

How­ever, it is also bur­dened with some flaws such as a gruff pow­er­train with lit­tle low-end punch that will only be ex­acer- bated on the High­veld and, at times, a ride qual­ity that lacks that fi­nal bit of pol­ish. Per­se­ver­ing with the Gamma engine rather than mak­ing use of Kia’s new turbo-triple 1,0-litre is a (cost-driven?) com­pro­mise and an un­for­tu­nate one given that its ri­vals of­fer these more pow­er­ful and fuel-ef­fi­cient pow­er­trains. And with this model cost­ing R274 995, it’s al­ready on the pricey side re­gard­less of its long list of stan­dard con­ve­nience and safety fea­tures.

That said, there is much to praise here, and if you’re of the per­sua­sion that fea­tures, de­sign and prac­ti­cal­ity trump the lat­est cut­ting-edge pow­er­train tech, the Rio might just suit you per­fectly. We would, though, ad­vise you to also in­ves­ti­gate some of the de­riv­a­tives lower down the range that have most of the TEC’S fea­tures, but at more palat­able prices

Every new South Korean ve­hi­cle we test shows im­proved power steer­ing

Ca­pa­ble and well equipped, but some of the old car’s char­ac­ter has gone Gareth Dean

Up­dated in all the right places ... ex­cept un­der the bon­net Ter­ence Steenkamp

A bet­ter car but for the engine. Why no tur­bopetrol? Steve Smith

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