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Kia Rio review (2011 onwards)
Summary - Long-awaited competitive supermini from Kia does not disappoint. It has good all-round abilities to please many and offend no-one, with keen pricing, classy design and a world-class eco version all adding to the plus points.
We like - Mature looks, quality feel, big-car drive, roomy and modern cabin, excellent value
We don't like - Not as exciting or as fun as a Fiesta, lack of low-down pull from 1.4 petrol engine (that becomes whiney when revved)
Kia has been enjoying record sales gains in recent years despite not being strongly represented in the UK's most important new car sector. The all new Rio, on sale next month, finally rectifies it: at last, Kia has a competitive supermini to sell.
The old Rio was an enigma. Launched in 2005, sales lagged for several years, until scrappage gave it a lift. Since then, it has sold around 6,500 cars a year. However, while an improvement, this is still a long way off Ford's 100,000 annual Fiesta sales.
The new Kia Rio will grow this significantly. When the three-door Rio arrives in January 2012, Kia says sales will grow to 12,000 a year - and insiders admit even this estimate is conservative. No two ways about it, the new Rio is the most important new Kia to be launched in years.
It is a far better looking car than its predecessor. The latest Kia to benefit from star designer Peter Schreyer's hand, it is more conservative than models such as the Sportage, but still appealing. The sculpted front end has character and the chunky, chopped-off tail is neat.
Kia says the interior is much bigger too, with legroom, headroom and elbowroom all better than before. It hasn't grown much outside (4,045mm makes it 55mm longer, and it is wider yet lower too): it's simply better designed.
New engines include a 1.1-litre diesel that, at 88.3mpg and 85g/km CO2, is the world's greenest non-electric car on sale. However, the key seller will be the 1.4-litre petrol tested here, particularly in mid-line '2' trim. Kia also offers Rio '1', '1 Air' and '3, with prices for the five-door range currently starting at £10,595.
With 107hp, the twin-cam 1.4-litre engine is powerful for the class: thanks to continuously variable valve timing, it has 11hp more than a Fiesta 1.4, for example. It has to be revved to give its best though, and can feel flat at low revs. Peak pulling power of 101lb.ft is weaker, for instance, and doesn't come in until 4,200rpm.
The starter motor sounds weedy and the engine itself is whiney, but it is smooth and discreet enough unless revved: over 3,500rpm, it becomes more intrusive. Revving it necessary though, due to the lack of low-rev response. The engine only really gets into its stride around 3,000rpm and can be left floundering in town if you don't change down a gear often enough.
Impressively, Kia fits a standard six-speed gearbox that helps here (an automatic is available too), and which also cuts noise at higher speed. Only above 85mph does the 1.4 Rio sound busy, which is a good result for a small car. Six speeds also reduces revs at speed to help economy.
The gearshift itself is light but a little long in throw, and the lever is also a bit too far back (as is the handbrake). The clutch is light, easing city driving, even if the accelerator pedal is a bit sharp when first pressed. There is an eco-minded gearshift light, but it's best ignored, as it seems to think the engine has more pulling power than it actually does.
Ride and handling
The new Kia Rio immediately seems good, with a grown-up, larger-car feel than many models in this sector. It has absorbent suspension and seems as if it has extra wheel travel to help tackle rough roads with prowess, rather than a sharp crash. The ride is both controlled and comfortable.
It is not that sporty though, despite reasonably direct steering. Feedback through the three-spoke wheel is distant and the feeling is of the sticky, artificial sort common to many modern fuel-saving electric power steering setups. It is, however, both light in town yet stable and confident at speed.
The chassis is safe and secure but cannot match the delights of a Ford Fiesta on twisting roads. Body roll is fairly well controlled and the Kia does turn in pretty accurately, but the engagement and entertainment of Ford's benchmark won't be found here. It's not that sort of car: maturity takes precedence.
As such, the Kia Rio has fine manners and stability at motorway speeds, again feeling like a larger car. It is better than you would expect on a run, with long distances further aided by ample, supportive seats and a good driving position.
As with the exterior, Kia has given the new Rio a grown up design inside, with modern black colour schemes picked out with silver highlights. The clear dash is very Germanic in appearance, in contrast to some rivals' more colour-packed designs. It is also made from high quality plastics and has a well engineered feel.
The Kia capitalises on its subtle extra dimensions over rivals (it's 95mm longer than a Fiesta, for example). The wheelbase is 70mm longer than before which provides much more interior space, with the rear offering both plentiful legroom and a very comfortable seat. It's almost as good as cars from the class above.
A 288-litre boot is 7% bigger than before, and practicality is improved by a significant 100mm increase in width. It is well shaped but there is a fairly high sill to lift things over, and a Ford Fiesta offers marginally more space overall with 295 litres of capacity. Split rear seatbacks (standard on all) fold to give 923 litres.
Standard equipment gives it a class advantage. All cars have daytime running lights, electric windows, trip computer and USB connectivity; '2' trim adds 16-inch alloys, air con, electric folding door mirrors and chrome radiator grille. '3' is so lavish, it even has climate control, privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers and Audi-style LED front running lights.
Economy and safety
The Kia Rio economy superstars are the diesel models, particularly the new 1.1-litre three-cylinder diesel. 75% of sales will be petrol-powered though, with the 51.4mpg 1.4-litre expected to outsell the 56.5mpg 1.25-litre. Both petrols boast CO2 figures of less than 130g/km. The 1.4 CRDi Ecodynamics and the 1.1 diesel EcoDynamics also feature engine stop-start.
Kia will naturally be hoping for a 5-star Euro NCAP score. As such, the Rio has standard front, side and curtain airbags on all models, along with ESC stability control. There is a standard emergency stop signal too: the high-level brake light vividly flashes three times when it detects sharp braking.
The MSN Cars verdict
The new Kia Rio is now fully competitive with the supermini class leaders across the board, while carrying the added advantage of better-value pricing AND Kia's 7-year warranty. The remarkable 88.3mpg diesel also wins world-class eco status too.
With a grown up feel, mature road manners, fresh new styling and a very impressive interior, it is a satisfying ownership proposition with a broad range of talents and abilities. Suddenly, choosing between a Fiesta, Fabia, Corsa or Clio has become that bit harder.
|Need to know||Petrols||Diesels|
|Engines||1.25, 1.4||1.1 CRDi, 1.4 CRDi|
|Power, bhp||83@6,000rpm, 107@6,300rpm||74@4,000rpm, 89@4,000rpm|
|Torque, lb ft||89@4,000rpm, 101@4,200rpm||125@1,500-2,750rpm, 166@1,750-2,750rpm|
|0-62 mph, secs||12.6, 11.1||14.9 (15.5 with air con), 12.6|
|Top speed, mph||106, 114||98, 106|
|Mpg combined||56.5, 51.4||74.3 (88.3 Ecodynamics), 70.6|
|CO2, g/km||114, 128||94-99 (85 Ecodynamics), 105|
|Ride & handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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