All-new Kia Rio launched in the UK
Practical and packed with kit
But struggles to stand out from the pack
This is the all-new, second-generation Kia Rio. Sounds like a Copacabana beach-conquering off-roader, but it's actually the South Korean manufacturer's latest contender in the supermini class.
It's got a pretty good platform to build on; the previous Rio became Kia's bestselling model worldwide in 2015, shifting an impression 435,000 units. That hasn’t stopped Kia throwing everything at this latest version, and with good reason. Depth of quality in the supermini market has never been so strong, and with recent and upcoming entries from the much-improved Nissan Micra, heavily revised Ford Fiesta and all-new Seat Ibiza, things are only set to get tougher.
To find out whether the Rio’s got the minerals to cope with the competition, we’re testing the forecast best-selling engine in the range: the 99bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol, in ‘3’ trim.
What’s the Rio’s three-cylinder engine like?
We’ve driven both 1.0-litre petrol engines – the 118bhp unit only available in the First Edition (a high-spec, limited-run launch model) and the lower powered 98bhp version – and both feel all but identical during typical driving. Much of this is down to both engines producing an identical 126lb ft torque output, with 0-60mph times differing by half a second.
While neither will set the world alight with their pace, performance is more than adequate for a car of this size. There’s plenty of go for town and motorway driving, while B-road overtakes are entirely possible providing you drop down down a gear or two with the easy-to-use five-speed manual gearbox.
It doesn’t make a bad noise, either, providing you don’t pay too many visits to the redline, where it turns predictably thrashy.
Sounds promising so far…
It’s not all good news. Like the handling, there’s a disappointing lethargy to the turbo three-cylinder’s responses – especially at low revs – denying the driver that all-important zingyness we value so highly in small engines.
That brings more practical problems, too. You’ll need to be extra diligent when pulling onto a roundabout from low speed in second gear, for example, where there’s a noticeable pause before the engine finds its legs, leaving the Rio at the mercy of oncoming traffic.
This isn’t the only three-cylinder motor to feel a little lazy, yet the 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine in Skoda’s Fabia avoids such issues and still maintains excellent fuel economy.
How does it handle?
Put simply – it’s fine, but short on engagement. Whereas the Ford Fiesta is brim-full of enthusiasm and agility whenever it catches sight of a bend, the Kia treats the majority of curves with disinterest. Nudge the steering wheel to the left or right and the response from the front wheels is decidedly blunt. Such a setup works well at motorway speeds – giving a more stable, large car feel – but means the Rio lacks feel through slower corners. It’s fine once you apply a little more lock, but in a car as small as this those first few degrees of rotation are all-important.
How much equipment do you get?
This is where the Rio claws back some ground. There’s standard equipment aplenty across the range, and even the basic ‘1’ model gets goodies such as air-con, front electric windows, automatic headlights, Bluetooth and hill-start assist.
Our premium-spec ‘3’ test car adds to this with climate control, 16in alloy wheels, faux leather upholstery, 7in sat-nav screen, heated front seats (and heated steering wheel!) and Android Auto/Apply CarPlay connectivity.
The infotainment system is a particular highlight, balancing clear, colourful graphics with a responsive touchscreen and well-laid out menus. Our only real gripes with the equipment come from the cruise control – which won’t display the speed the car is pre-set to – and a hypochondriac lane departure warning system.
And the practicality?
There’s a good-size boot – 325 litres to be precise – and room in the front and back is impressive. The well-realised driving position is another highlight, with plenty of reach adjustment in the steering wheel.
The Rio is still a small car, though, so expect rear legroom to be cramped if two tall passengers sit in the front. Headroom is good all-round, however, and 6ft tall adults are unlikely to have their heads scraping the ceiling if they’re sat in the back.
The Kio Rio is a well-equipped, cheap-to run and relatively spacious supermini. As a tool for getting from A to B, it’ll do the job nicely. Yet in class of such broad and varied talent, the Rio is overwhelmed.
Aside from its seven-year warranty there are few tangible advantages to separate it from the rest of the field. That notwithstanding, the 99bhp 1.0-litre engine is the one to go for – even if it is pricey in premium 3 spec.