Things we like
- Looks good
- Roomy inside
- Great with your phone
Not so much
- Sluggish 1.4-litre powertrains
What stands out?Nicely weighted steering and sporty handling help you feel good behind the wheel of the new-generation Rio, a light hatchback from Kia. The new Rio is roomier than the model it replaces, with an inviting cabin and excellent smartphone integration – including support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and autonomous emergency braking is available. The Korean brand also offers a seven-year warranty.
What might bug me?The lethargic highway performance of your 1.4-litre automatic Rio. While much of the current-generation Rio was freshly minted, its engine is the same 1.4-litre four-cylinder used at the less costly end of the previous Rio range (in the 2016 Rio S and S Premium). And the Rio S’ auto gearbox still has only four ratios. A friend’s new Mazda2 or Volkswagen Polo auto, for example, will feel much more lively from a standing start and once out of town.
Getting lost when you don’t have a good enough signal to a map on your smartphone. Satellite navigation is no longer available in any Rio, though Apple CarPlay/Android Auto does make it easy to use you phone’s mapping apps.
Driving at 80km/h on your space-saver spare wheel, until you can fix your full-sized flat tyre.
What body styles are there?Five-door hatchback only.
The Rio drives its front wheels, and it is classed as a light car, lower priced.
What features do all Kia Rios have?A six-speaker MP3-compatible sound system with an AM/FM radio, Aux and USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls and audio streaming, and audio controls on the steering wheel.
A 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You can display apps (including navigation) from compatible smartphones on the central screen and control them from there.
A reversing camera, and rear parking sensors (which help you judge how close you are to the car behind).
Two USB ports for charging mobile devices: one for front passengers and another for those in the rear.
Power windows, and air-conditioning.
Headlights that switch on automatically when it’s getting dark.
A hill-assist system, which operates the brakes automatically to make take-offs on hills easier.
Six airbags. Electronic stability control, a feature that can help you control a skid and is mandatory on new cars. (For the placement of airbags, and for more on Rio safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
Every Kia Rio carries a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Seven-years of capped-price servicing is also available.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?The GT-Line’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo consumes just 5.4L/100km. It’s more powerful than the 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and feels sportier through the more advanced seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The only reason you wouldn’t choose this engine is you want to pay less for a Rio – the 1.0-litre turbo is only available with the most expensive Rio, the GT-Line.
There other engine available in a Rio, a 1.4-litre petrol four-cylinder. It uses less fuel when driving through the six-speed manual gearbox that is standard on the least costly Rio S and Sport versions, consuming just 5.6 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined).
The Rio Sport S with the four-speed auto gearbox is thirstier, using 6.2 litres/100km on the test, while the six-speed auto in the Rio Sport consumes 6.0 litres/100km.
What key features do I get if I spend more?The least costly Rio is the Rio S, which comes with the features found in all Rios, 15-inch steel wheels, halogen daytime running lights, with plastic trim, and a manual gearbox. Spending about $2000 more gets you the optional four-speed auto.
Spending more again on the Rio Sport again brings a choice of the manual gearbox and a new six-speed automatic transmission. You also get cruise control, which can be operated from the leather-trimmed steering wheel, heated electric folding mirrors, and bigger 17-inch wheels are made from aluminium alloy, that don’t need plastic hubcaps to look good.
Sitting at the top of range, the Rio GT-Line adds sporty trim, longer-lived and fancier LED daytime running lights, LED ’ice-cube’ design fog-lamps and LED rear-combination lights.
It’s also the first Rio to be equipped with advanced safety features such as autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.
The more aggressively styled GT-Line also has a sports steering wheel and carbon-look dashboard fascia.
Does any upgrade have a down side?Moving from the Rio S or Sport to the more expensive GT-Line means you lose the option of specifying the six-speed manual gearbox.
Only white is a standard colour. The other six shades are extra-cost options.
How comfortable is the Kia Rio?A floating touchscreen on the centre of the dashboard and Audi-like drop-down controls for the air-conditioning contribute to a pleasing European feel in the Rio’s cabin, even if its colours are uniformly sombre. Seats feel firm but they turn out to be comfortable, with good support under the thighs and a well contoured backrest.
Height adjustment for the driver’s seat, and height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, make it easy to find a relaxed driving position, and there is a rest for your left foot.
The Rio is only about 15mm longer outside than the car it replaces, with 10mm more length between the axles, but inside there is noticeably more leg and shoulder room front and rear.
Handy places for storing stuff include big bins in the doors for bottles and a two-level cubby ahead of the gear lever for phones and wallets. A roof console has space for your sunglasses.
What about safety in a Rio?The Rio has the mandatory stability control, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, and auto-on headlights (which aid visibility in low light). There are lap-sash seatbelts on all seats including the centre-rear, and seatbelt reminders on all seats also – a simple but valuable feature for those with children old enough to unfasten their belts.
There are six airbags. Two are placed directly in front of the driver and front passenger. There is an airbag outside each front occupant to protect from side impacts at chest level. And there are curtain airbags running down each side of the car at head level, protecting front and rear occupants.
The introduction of the GT-Line in November 2018 introduced autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assist – which helps steer the car within your lane – to the Rio range. The Rio GT-Line also has bright LED daytime running lights, which make it easier for other drivers to see you (and enhance the car’s appearance).
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rated this fourth-generation Rio at five stars for safety, its maximum, in September 2017.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?Yes and no. You will enjoy the way the Rio feels inside and how competently it rolls over the road, and you will enjoy in particular the way it steers. The steering wheel is well weighted, and the little car responds fluidly and precisely to your touch.
Steering accuracy is supported by a taut, well-controlled ride on suspension tuned for local conditions by Kia’s Australian engineers. This car takes a step forward dynamically from the previous Rio, which was already quite good.
What can’t be predicted confidently is that you will enjoy the way the car goes, and most pertinently how well it goes on a country trip with plenty of hills.
The four ratios in the Rio S’ auto gearbox just aren’t enough to keep the engine comfortable across all the challenges of highway travel, and so when you need the Rio to move ahead – or on long, steep hills – it spends too much time either working sullenly in a too-tall gear or straining pointedly in the gear below. Overtaking at open-road speeds requires careful planning and plenty of open space.
The six-speed auto in the Rio Sport is better. It’s still sluggish off the line but the extra two gears make a big difference when it comes to comfortably cruising at highway speeds and negotiating inclines.
The GT-Line brings a far more sprightly 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine coupled with a sport seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission that should provide some long overdue pep to the Rio.
We’re yet to properly drive the Rio GT-Line, which also has enhanced suspension, but if other cars with similar powertrains are any guide it should be a fun little ride.
How is life in the rear seats?It is pretty good for a car of this size. Leg room and shoulder room are improved over the previous Rio, and headroom is plentiful even for adults in the 180cm range.
There are lap and sash belts for three passengers in the back, and seatbelt reminders on all seats.
The rear doors have small bottle-holders, and there is a storage pocket behind the front passenger seat. A USB socket at the rear of the centre console allows rear passengers to charge a phone without bothering those in front.
How is it for carrying stuff?Again you get a lot of cargo room for a car of this size, and more than the previous Rio offered. Capacity is officially 325 litres with the rear seats up – a figure approaching that of some cars a size bigger.
Fold down the 60-40 split rear seats and cargo volume increases to 980 litres loaded to the roof.
Where is the Kia Rio made?The Rio is manufactured at Sohari, South Korea, the site of Kia’s original factory.
What might I miss that similar cars have?In the Rio S and Sport effortless low-speed accelerator pedal response of turbocharged light cars such as the Renault Clio and Volkswagen Polo, if you’ve ever test-driven them.
The latest active safety features as standard, such as automatic emergency braking. The Mazda 2 supplies low-speed auto braking across the range, for example.
A more versatile cabin arrangement for carrying cargo – the Honda Jazz offers this.
Among other light cars worth considering are the Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Accent.
If you would be happy with something a bit smaller, you could also look at the Kia Picanto.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?Certainly. The Rio GT-Line brings a fresh sporty look and livelier turbocharged powertrain, auto braking, and LED running lights that justify its premium over the Rio Sport auto.
Are there plans to update the Rio soon?This fourth-generation Rio arrived as an all-new model in January 2017. Expect a mid-life update about 2020.
In October 2018 Kia introduced its revamped 2019 Rio range, which introduced the Sport with the new six-speed automatic transmission, and 1.0-litre GT-Line that's the first Rio to feature auto braking. Meanwhile, mid-spec Si and desirably equipped SLi were removed from the range and with them features such as satellite navigation, digital radio, electric sunroof and climate-control air-conditioning.
Things we like
- Looks good
- Roomy inside
- Great with your phone
Not so much
- Sluggish 1.4-litre powertrains
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