Published on Friday 19 December 2014 16:28
Ten Second Review
With this fourth generation Rio, Kia has produced a smartly-styled supermini that challenges for class honours and will suit sensibly-minded buyers. It's spacious, easy to drive and in entry-level diesel form, quite astonishingly affordable to run. It is, in short, a very competitive car indeed.
For buyers, the supermini category has never been more important. Why? Because modern examples of the breed are now for the first time large enough to function as complete family cars. Take, for example, the model we're looking at here, Kia's fourth generation Rio. It's as big as a turn of the century Astra or Focus from the Family Hatchback segment, the next pricier class up. More importantly, it's the first top class supermini the Korean brand has ever bought us.
It's a progression that anyone familiar with Kia will have been expecting. The first two generations of Rio were embarrassing but the MK3 model of 2005 was very nearly class-competitive. When the wraps came off the fourth generation version early in 2011 though, it was clear that it was going to be a bit more than that. Here's a car that targets nothing less than the top of the segment in terms of the things that really matter to supermini buyers - styling, running costs and everyday practicality.
Drive a Rio for any length of time on our appalling British roads and you'll probably conclude that it rides better than its rivals. Yet there's no major penalty to pay for this when it comes to the twisty stuff. Yes it's true that a Fiesta - but only the Fiesta - is more composed around the corners. The Ford feels sharper to drive too, though the difference between these two cars wouldn't be that great in this respect if this Kia wasn't saddled with a rather vague electric power steering set-up. You'll appreciate this around town though, where it facilitates a tight 10.5m turning circle.
Out on the open road, there's more good news. I'm pretty sure that there isn't a more refined car than this in the class, which makes this Rio an excellent motorway partner. Gone are the days when you couldn't consider taking a supermini on a very long journey and this one will be a more relaxing companion than most. The 6-speed gearbox is also slick and the brakes are very good too. All of which will almost certainly be more important to potential segment buyers than outright speed - which is just as well for the Rio line-up doesn't offer too much of that. The 107bhp petrol-powered 1.4 that I'm driving here looks reasonably pokey on paper, rest to sixty in 11.1s on the way to 114mph being possible unless you saddle this unit with an optional 4-speed automatic gearbox. In practice though, you have to work it almost as hard as the 83bhp entry-level 1.25-litre petrol model, with plenty of gearshifts needed for rapid overtaking or sharp inclines.
Predictably better in this respect are the two CRDi diesels. The frugal 1.1-litre unit offers an interesting 3 cylinder arrangement, which gives it a distinctive and not unpleasant thrum. And though on paper, it seems as if it might be a bit gutless with only 74bhp, a rest to sixty time of 15s and a top speed of under 100mph, a useful 170Nm of torque means that in practice, you can actually bowl along quite nicely most of the time without stirring the gearbox too much. If you really do find it a bit feeble, then there's the alternative of an 89bhp 1.4-litre CRDi variant that's 2.5s seconds quicker to sixty and better in the mid-range thanks to 220Nm of torque.
Design and Build
Come to this car expecting lowest common denominator motoring and you're going to be in for a rather pleasant shock. Ex-Audi stylist Peter Schreyer has penned a shape longer, lower and wider than the previous model with a forward-leaning wedgey look and a pronounced coupe-like roofline. For the first time, there's the option of a three-door bodyshape, though it's still this five-door that'll account for three-quarters of all UK sales. The overall look isn't perhaps quite as distinctive as the brand likes to believe but it's certainly very neat, with a new interpretation of the Kia family 'tiger nose' front grille that integrates nicely with the front headlamp units. There's a distinctive feature line along the flanks flowing into a high-shouldered rear end with a sharp rear screen angle.
That rear end could have been a bit better thought through as for here in the driver's seat, it's not that easy to see out of the back, which is a pity as parking sensors are only standard on the plushest version. That apart though, there's precious little to criticise in here. The quality of the materials is a huge improvement on what went before though, signature features like the so-called 'three cylinder' instrument cluster blending with new ideas like these smart toggle switches on the centre console. A reach and rake-adjustable steering wheel on most models along with the height-adjustable driver's seat means that it's possible for just about anyone to get comfortable too.
And it's a more spacious place to be than anything the old Rio could offer. This car is, after all, just over 4m in overall length, 55mm longer than a Fiesta, with a cabin 25mm wider than that of the car it replaced. The combination of this and the way that the windscreen has been moved forward and upwards to create more headroom gives the interior a feeling of size that you have needed an apparently larger Focus-class family hatchback to rival until just a few years ago. It's an impression that continues rearwards. The 70mm increase in the wheelbase has created 34mm more legroom, ensuring that there's plenty of room here for a couple of fully-sized adults, even on longer journeys. Three would be a bit of a squash, as usual in this class of car, but a trio of kids will be quite happy.
The 288-litres boot isn't quite so generous, being 20% smaller than you'd get in something like a Golf. Still, you can extend capacity by pushing forward the 60/40 split-folding rear seats. There's also plenty of cabin storage for smaller items including a large 15-litre glove box, a centre console with three litres of extra capacity and door bins that'll hold a 1.5-litre bottle at the front and a 500ml bottle in the rear.
Market and Model
Kia's Rio used to be priced at thousands of pounds below obvious supermini rivals - but that was when it was a much inferior product. Today, there's not so much in it, though with prices ranging in the £10,000 to £15,000 bracket, this car is still pitched at the affordable end of the scale and offers more equipment than you'll find in most direct rivals.
Whichever three or five-door Rio model you decide upon - 1.1 or 1.4-litre diesel or 1.25 or 1.4-litre petrol - you should find your car to be decently equipped. All variants come with daytime running lights, speed-variable wipers, front electric windows, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a trip computer, a 12V power socket, hill start assist to stop you drifting backwards on uphill junctions and an MP3-compatible CD stereo with USB and AUX ports. Only very basic versions do without things like air conditioning and Bluetooth compatibility for your mobile 'phone.
More importantly, unlike some of its rivals, Kia doesn't equate safety provision to how much customers have paid for their cars. So all Rio models enjoy exactly the same high safety spec, including ESC stability control across the range. Slam on the ABS brakes in an emergency and there's Emergency Brake Assist to maximise their effectiveness and Emergency Stop Signalling that will automatically flash your hazard lights to warn following drivers. Should all of that fail to enable you to avoid an accident, there are twin front, side and curtain airbags, plus anti-whiplash front seat head restraints and ISOFIX child seat fastenings. It all explains this car's 5 star Euro NCAP safety rating.
Cost of Ownership
At launch, this Rio set a new benchmark for low running costs, the 1.1-litre diesel in the entry-level CRDi model greener and more economical than any other internal combustion engine on the market, including hybrids and other maker's 'eco special' models. It's supposed to be capable of returning an astonishing 88.3mpg on the combined cycle and returning CO2 emissions of just 85g/km - that's about 10% better than the previously class-leading VW Polo 1.2 TDI BlueMotion model that will cost you a whopping £3,500 more. Go for this particular Rio, as most customers probably will, with air conditioning and those figures drop to 78.5mpg and 94g/km respectively but even so, they're still remarkable. For the 1.4-litre diesel, you're looking at 70.6mpg and 105g/km of CO2.
With all Rio diesel models, these figures are achieved thanks to the brand's EcoDynamics technology which includes low rolling resistance tyres, a gearshift change-up display, efficient electric power steering and a drag-reducing front grille and rear spoiler. In addition, Kia has developed a kick-down switch for the accelerator to prevent unintentional full throttle use. Most important though, is the ISG Intelligent Stop & Go system which cuts the engine when you don't need it when in traffic queues or waiting at the lights.
Unfortunately, petrol-powered Rio customers will have to do without all the EcoDynamics stuff - but they needn't despair. A combined cycle fuel return of 51.4mpg in the petrol 1.4 tested here is very creditable indeed, as is the 128g/km CO2 return. Go for the entry-level 1.25-litre petrol model and those figures improve to 56.5mpg and 114g/km of CO2. As for residual values, well they should be far better than those of the old model and will be propped up quite nicely by Kia's excellent warranty deal which is transferrable on to subsequent owners. It's worth pointing out though, that the trumpeted 7 year / 100,000 mile package actually only covers the engine and gearbox. It's 100,000 miles and five years for everything else. Insurance should be affordable, with groupings between 3 and 8 on the 1-50 groupings scale. And servicing won't break the bank either, thanks to a fixed-price 'Care-3' package which can cover you for either three or five years.
It's easy to see why Kia is one of the fastest growing car makers in the world, doubling its global sales over the last few years thanks to a range of models now seriously troubling the European market's established players. Here's another one that'll add to their concerns, smartly styled and class-leadingly spacious and efficient. As a result, it can now compete head-on with its mainstream rivals and betters many of them.
This then, is a car that has come of age. No longer is it a supermini you'd recommend largely because of generous equipment or a modest asking price. True, it isn't the sharpest handling car in its class and there are a few rivals with classier cabins. None though are more practical or more refined and few though have a nicer ride - another of the reasons why this could be considered a smart alternative to a larger Focus-class family hatchback. If you're thinking of buying in this segment, then you probably won't be considering this car as an option. Maybe you should be.