Kia Rio Video Review


The Kia Rio is a huge step forward. Previous Rios were just cheap, nasty, disposable cars . This one’s not. It’s a great car, combining slick design, heaps of versatility and a really broad model range including two engines, three- and five-door hatches and a four-door sedan. If you buy this Rio, you won’t have to make up any excuses to justify your decision. But there’s no shortage of competition in the light car segment. I’ll have more on that coming up.

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The Kia Rio has won a heap of awards, and rightly so – it’s a fantastic little car. You’ll be impressed – as long as you remember it’s still a car on a budget.

The Rio looks great because Kia had the good sense to poach 58-year-old Peter Schreyer from Audi – he’s the bloke who designed the stunning Audi TT, and he’s the driving influence behind the great looks of cars like the Kia Optima, the Sportage and this Rio.

The Rio is up against some really stiff competition from the likes of the Volkswagen Polo, Ford’s Fiesta, the Honda Jazz and Hyundai’s Accent and i20 – but there are some great reasons to go with the Rio.

There are two engines in the range – a 1.4-litre petrol engine in the base-model Rio ‘S’, and a 1.6-litre petrol across the other three models. Bottom line: the ‘S’ is a price leader for fleet buyers. You’ll be disappointed in it, in the same way you’d be disappointed in the Hyundai i20, which has exactly the same engine. It wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice custard, and if you want an automatic ‘S’ it comes only with a clunky four-speed auto.

It’s awful.

You should really do yourself a favour and step up to the 1.6 instead. It’s much punchier and comes with a six-speed auto to match the manual. It’ll make you much happier. The 1.6 is standard in the rest of the Rio range.

One step up from the ‘S’ is the ‘Si’. It’s pitched at private buyers and families looking for reasonable transport on a budget. Rio ‘Si’ comes as either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatch. You get 16-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control and a six-speaker audio system with iPod compatibility and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

The SLi and SLS models are at the top of the tree – with 17-inch alloys, LED daytime running lamps, LED rear combination lamps and dusk-sensing headlamps.

The SLi is a five-door hatch only, and the SLS is a three-door hatch only. And they’re the same price. Something I can’t understand is: The three-door SLS is the only one of the pair that comes with rain-sensing wipers and a proximity smart key with engine start/stop button. In the SLi you still have to stick the key in the slot, and decide for yourself whether it’s raining or not.

Maybe that’s because the three-door Rio was introduced much later, after the five-door was already well established in the market. So the three-door SLS might’ve got tastier bits simply as a consequence of being newer.

Overall, the Rio is comfortable and well packaged inside. You get tilt and reach adjustment on the steering wheel, and plenty of adjustment in the driver’s seat. Bluetooth is standard across the range – for calls and music streaming.

The driver’s instruments are really well laid out – nice job there by the design team, and something of a Kia specialty, at least lately – and there’s a full-sized spare wheel and tyre under the rear cargo floor. That’s a real plus, with many competitors offering only an impractical space saver spare.

There’s a five-star safety rating, and a five-year/unlimited kilometer warranty – which sounds pretty good, but in the UK Kia has seen fit to offer Rio buyers a an astonishing seven-year warranty. I wonder why Australian Rio customers don’t enjoy the same warranty largesse?

The Rio is a better car overall than the Hyundai Accent or i20, and there are good reasons to go with a Rio over a Honda Jazz or a Ford Fiesta. But the Rio versus the Polo? That’s a really tough call. The Volkswagen Polo comes with some tremendously sophisticated engines – including a terrific diesel that’s the same price as a fully loaded top-spec Rio.

And of course there’s the Polo GTI if you want a cracking drive, and you don’t mind spending a bit more money. Like, 30 per cent more…

The Volkswagen eats the Kia for breakfast on cachet … but it can’t match the South Koreans on warranty or features per dollar. And, unfortunately Volkswagen’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (which is their version of an automatic gearbox) costs $2500 extra and a real quality issue – because too many of them are breaking under warranty.

Despite all that, it’s still a tough call.