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2019 Kia Rio GT-Line quick performance review

By Louis Cordony, 27 Mar 2019 Reviews

2019 Kia Rio GT-Line quick performance review

Hottest Rio in the range feels a touch under done

Reputations, like most things, are much easier to destroy than create. And we bet Kia thought long and hard about applying its GT badge to its humble Rio hatchback. 

Understandably, for something built to fight Volkswagen Polos and Renault Clios, it instead chose its watered down ‘GT-Line’ badge to create the Kia Rio GT-Line.

It still scores more grip and  power, the biggest news being a turbocharged twin-cam three-cylinder engine that punches out 88kW/172Nm. It matches it to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.

On one hand, that’s great news for anyone who finds the carried over 1.4-litre atmo four-cylinder sluggish or dated. And there's a good chance you will when it's putting 74kW/133Nm through a four-speed auto. The three-banger also spins with an interesting off-beat thrum.

Conversely, it’s still no power house. It ultimately sounds flat. And there's the fact a dual-clutch gearbox, new safety tech and bigger front brake discs add 44kg to its kerb weight, blunting the turbo engine’s added 14kW/39Nm.

You only need to drive a Picanto GT fitted with the same engine to grasp the Rio’s shortcomings. Even though it's burdened with an extra 169kg it gets only another 14kW and not one single newton metre. Extremely short gear ratios (first gear expires at 48km/h) don't help either.

It never really feels like it’s moving at pace, no matter the environment. It’s tweaked chassis and steering fail to give you positive inputs and Continental Sportcontact 5s, while grippy, know nothing but understeer.

This would be fine if the Rio GT-Line delivered an enjoyable day-to-day experience, after all, at $21,990, it’s destined for an urban life. And it does, for the most part, impress with a spacious cabin, sold build quality and material finish that feels spot-on at this price point.

Yet, ironically, the features that suggest the Rio can be more than just cheap and cheerful transport are what come close to compromising that. The start-stop system cranks a fraction too slow but the transmission quickly tries to engage to match wheel speed to engine speed. The result is a jerky take-off from the lights. 

And while the transmission helps deliver an incredible 5.4L/100km claim even with tightly stacked gear ratios, we'd still prefer a regular automatic or manual transmission, neither of which are available with the three-cylinder engine.

Clearly no one’s going to buy the Rio GT-Line for its performance, but rather its full-fruit appeal in the range. In a broader sense, though, it has nowhere to hide against more accomplished rivals, like a Volkswagen Polo 88 TSI. And without the novelty factor that makes the Picanto so appealing, we can see why Kia gave the full-blooded GT badge a miss on this one.

Tested and rated: MOTOR car reviews

 1.0-litre DOHC inline-three turbo
Power: 88kW @ 6600rpm
Torque: 172Nm @ 1500-4000rpm
Drive: front-drive, open differential
Weight: 1176kg
Price: $21,490