Kia Rio is a small five-door hatch that’s been around since the start of the millennium and has been slugging it out some of the big hitters in what is one of the most hard-fought sales segments in Australia, sub-$25,000 small cars.
The latest , fourth-generation, version of the Rio first arrived here in January 2017 and received a major upgrade in November 2018 with styling tweaks and updated drivetrains including an all-new turbo-petrol engine.
Three models are offered, Rio S and Sport come with a 1.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine mated to either manual or automatic transmission and the all-new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol GT-Line with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
The new GT-Line was the big news from the upgrade and is our review model here.
All Rio models get a wider and narrower version of the Kia ‘tiger-nose’ grille that to our eyes further enhances the little hatch’s already attractive appearance.
Rio comes with a choice of six colours. Our test GT-Line came in Mighty Yellow with black with black mirror caps and black details in the sills and around the rear lights. It sits on 17-inch alloy wheels.
The name seemed to work because it certainly attracted a mighty number of admiring looks, especially in the carpark of our local soccer field with its perfect match to the club’s yellow and black colours.
The GT-Line comes with a body kit that includes an enhanced radiator grille, rear diffuser, twin exhaust, rear spoiler, solar glass on the windscreen and front windows and privacy glass on the rear doors and tailgate.
The S and Sport models get 15- and 16-inch alloys. All three have a space-saver spare wheel/tyre.
Kia interiors are invariably neat and functional with most things in the right place. Rio’s cabin is stylish and quite sophisticated for such a small car, with an instrument cluster and colour LCD screen that blend in nicely.
The GT-Line adds leather trim on the steering wheel and gear shifter; a carbon-fibre look dash fascia; enhanced instrument cluster; flat-bottomed sports steering wheel; alloy sports pedals.
Taller drivers will be pleased to hear that there’s no sunroof option and this together with low-set seats means there’s plenty of head room. Rear legroom is reasonable providing the front occupants don’t demand maximum space.
There are drink holders in every door with the front ones able to accommodate 1.5-litre bottles.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
The entry-level Rio S and mid-spec Sport retain the previous unchanged, with the 74 kW / 133 Nm 1.4-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine. Both are available with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, four-speed in the S and six shifts in the Sport.
The top of the range GT-Line adopts the Euro trend of smaller capacity turbocharged engine. In this case it’s a sporty 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol with 88kW of power and 172Nm of torque. It drives the front wheels through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
Standard safety features across the Rio range include six airbags; ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist; stability and traction control; hill-start assist; childproof rear door locks; reverse parking camera; and rear parking sensors; and IsoFix child seat mounting on the two outer rear seats.
In a first for the Rio, the GT-Line adds automatic emergency braking; lane keeping assist; driver attention alert; static bending headlights; LED front foglights, rear combination lights; position lamps; and daytime running lights. Rio S and Sports also have DRLs but they are halogen.
The latest Rio is safer under the skin being constructed with more advanced high strength steel than previously. Not only does this provide greater crash protection it also has the added benefit of improved stability and handling.
Features are the same across all three models with a seven-inch high-definition LCD touchscreen, six-speaker sound system, Bluetooth (pairing took less than minute), Apple Carplay and Android Auto. The USB and Aux sockets are located in front console immediately above an appropriately sized smartphone storage space.
Note that you’ll need that smartphone if you want satellite navigation, there is no embedded option.
Drivers without experience of the new small-capacity turbocharged engines will need to adapt because there is some turbo lag on takeoff. However firm acceleration will quickly push through that early stage and provide plenty of thrust helped along by the new dual-clutch transmission that responds nicely to the throttle and will quickly get the engine into the right revs.
Around town the GT-Line zipped along very nicely and it kept up with traffic throughout the motorway segment of our drive without any problem, overtaking sharply when required on country roads.
As with most Kias there has been significant local input into Rio’s suspension set-up and it shows, especially in the GT-Line with steering that’s nicely weighted and provides good feedback.
The ride is quite firm but not uncomfortably so although the use of low-profile tyres did contribute to a fair bit of road noise intruding into the cabin on harsh road surfaces.
The use of the ‘GT’ tag is a bit cheeky given that the letters stand for Grand Touring but we’re used to marketers taking such liberties nowadays.
Although competing carmakers are beginning to close the gap Kia has stolen a march on them with its breakthrough seven-year unlimited kilometre and this together with seven-year capped price servicing and seven-year roadside assist add significant value to Rio already competitive pricing.
It will be interesting to watch what proportion of Rio buyers opt for the GT-Line. At $23,090 it’s $4000 more than the entry-level S automatic but with it is a very distinctive and capable semi-performance car with heaps of character, a good range of safety equipment and at a pretty reasonable price.
It would certainly be our choice.
AT A GLANCE
Kia Rio S: $16,990 (manual), $19,090 (automatic)
Kia Rio Sport: $17,790 (manual), $20,090 (automatic)
Kia Rio GT-Line: $23,090 (automatic)
Note: These prices do not include dealer or government charges. Contact your local Kia dealer for drive-away prices.
SPECIFICATIONS (Kia Rio GT-Line 1.0-litre turbo-petrol five-door hatchback)
Capacity: 0.998 litres
Configuration: Three cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 84 kW at 6300 rpm
Maximum Torque: 172 Nm at 1500 rpm
Fuel type: Standard unleaded petrol
Combined Cycle (ADR 81/01): 5.4 litres per 100 km
CO2 Emissions 125 grams per kilometre
Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 4070 mm
Width: 1725 mm
Height: 1450 mm
Wheelbase: 2580 mm
Kerb weight: 1176 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 45 litres
Turning circle: 10.2 metres
Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Solid disc
Seven years / unlimited kilometres