Kia Rio 2016

My Drive this week is Kia’s small entry-level hatchback, the Rio. I was actually quite surprised to learn that the current generation Rio is now four and a half years old – I’m surprised because its design is sharp and modern enough that it doesn’t betray its age, but it was actually introduced way back in the second half of 2011. It’s a testament to the smart design work of Kia’s then chief designer Peter Schreyer, who succeeded in giving Kia a unique and modern look (he now heads design at Hyundai as well).

In any case, the Rio came in for a mid-life update last year, getting subtle tweaks to the design as well as a tweaked suspension tune and revised variant line-up. Let’s take a look.

The so-called ‘Tiger’ grille is present on every Kia nowadays and is obviously here on the Rio too. Assertive headlamps flank an H-shaped grille on the front, giving the Rio a tough look, although on this small hatchback it takes on a mildly cute look (I’m thinking of a tiger cub here). The bumpers have gotten a minor tweak in the 2015 update but for all intents and purposes this is the same design we had back when the car launched. But that’s not a bad thing because this design still looks modern enough to be relevant.

At least, until you step inside. Unfortunately, the interior design is mostly carry over as well, which means an instrument cluster with three binnacles and monochrome LCDs in most places. This part of the car is a little more dated, but apart from these points, the cabin is well-finished and of decent quality. There’s plenty of leg room front and back, while the seats themselves are comfortable and supportive, especially the back seats which offer a bit more support than most rivals. There’s also plenty of storage options such as bottle holders and storage bins throughout the cabin.

There are two powerplant options – 1.4 and 1.6 litre naturally aspirated petrol engines. The 1.4 litre engine produces 79 kilowatts of power and 135 Newton-metres of torque, while the 1.6 litre direct-injected engine is more modern and efficient, getting a much beefier 103 kilowatts and 167 Newton-metres from its four cylinders. The 1.4 is paired with a six speed manual or optional four speed automatic, while the 1.6 comes standard with a more modern six speed auto.

I tested the 1.6 and the 6 speed auto, and they make for a reasonably decent showing in an entry-level hatchback. Under relaxed driving the engine is quiet and gets the job done, the six speed auto shifting quickly with a minimum of fuss. If you need to call on the power though, the gearbox is quick to put the engine into a higher rev band. This is because maximum torque comes in at just under 5000 RPM, so it needs those revs for something like an overtake manoeuvre. Still, it shifts quickly and will provide that acceleration, so that’s OK. Fuel economy is officially rated at 6.1 L/100km while I scored 7.5 L/100km litres – both in combined city and highway driving.

Handling is respectable, and while the suspension has received mild tweaks according to Kia, it’s difficult to pick out the difference. It still turns reasonably well around corners, but push it too hard and you’ll find the limits of its grip quickly. The electrically-assisted steering is light and easy to use, although it can momentarily get heavy if you’re doing three point turns and trying to turn it quickly.

The Rio is available in a few trim levels, and is in fact one of the few remaining hatchbacks to still be available with three doors. Standard features include power windows and mirrors, central locking, air conditioning and Bluetooth phone connectivity, while more premium models get cruise control, reverse parking sensors, auto-on headlamps and leather seat trim.

The Rio starts from $13,990 dollars for a three door body with the 1.4 litre engine and manual transmission, and at the moment this is actually a drive-away price, with Kia covering on-road costs for now. A five door body in automatic can be had for $19,090 drive away as well.

So the Rio is getting a little bit dated on the inside but looks every bit as classy on the outside. If your heart is set, you won’t go wrong. That’s it for me this week.

12 March 2016
Albert Malik