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Driven: Kia Rio T-GDi. Image by Kia.

Driven: Kia Rio T-GDi
Worthy and spacious, Kiaís updated Rio supermini is improved, but isnít hugely memorable.

   



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Kia Rio

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Good points: Plush ride, smooth and punchy drivetrain, equipment on First Edition, well-built interior

Not so good: Lacks character, First Edition is appealing but it costs a lot

Key Facts

Model tested: Kia Rio First Edition 1.0 T-GDi
Price: Rio range starts from £11,995; First Edition from £17,935, car as tested £18,450
Engine: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 107/km (VED £140 annually)
Combined economy: 60.1mpg
Top speed: 118mph
0-62mph: 9.8 seconds
Power: 120hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 171Nm at 1,500- to 4,000rpm

Our view:

Kia's transformation as a brand from unusual, value-proposition outsider to one of the mainstream elite is pretty much complete. And in the coming years it looks like the Korean marque - along with sister brand Hyundai - is going to take the fight to the European establishment. Exciting new vehicles like the Kia Stinger and Hyundai i30 N only prove that there's a new world order on the way.

But the truth is that all of Kia's products have been significantly improved, from the Picanto city car right the way up to the Stinger. And the fourth-generation Rio supermini is a prime example of how far the company has come in such a short space of time. The original Rio, sold from 2000 onwards, was - to be as polite as possible - dross. Cheap (and it looked and felt it), yes, but it was nothing like up to bare middling class standards, never mind anything like the contemporary Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Honda Jazz of the time.

Even by the third-generation car, which went out of production in 2017, the Rio was hardly breaking new ground in the supermini segment. But this fourth-generation motor is much more like it. For a start, it is reservedly handsome and possessed of one of Kia's fine interiors. We're not 100 per cent convinced by the smoothed-off 'tiger nose' grille, nor are we trying to say the Rio Mk4 is jaw-droppingly attractive, but there's a proportional, chunky solidity about its bodywork that's easy enough to like. Blaze Red (+£515) suits it, too, and if you go for a fully-loaded First Edition like our test car, then you get a quality, toy-stocked cabin enlivened by red and black trim - both on the seats and the dashboard. There's the suspicion that without the flashes of red detailing, this interior might be a bit sombre in various shades of black and grey, but it is spacious and well-finished. Indeed, talking of space, the Rio almost feels like a Golf-sized car when you're in it, rather than a rival to a Fiesta or similar.

If you do opt for the First Edition, the solitary engine offered is Kia's best. It's the charismatic 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, which is branded 'T-GDi' by the Korean company, and it comes in its highest 120hp specification. It comes with a solid six-speed manual transmission, and the performance it offers in a wide variety of situations is excellent, making the Rio as happy tootling around town as it is torque-powering its way into faster-moving traffic on motorways. When you extend the triple, it sounds really good, with a nice, throaty voice to it, and it never feels anything other than velvety-smooth as you ping it round the rev counter.

The Rio also has superb refinement, the First Edition's ride deserving of particular praise. We've said this before, but the best ride quality is like the best football referees - if you don't notice them working at all, then they're doing the job to the highest possible standard. We genuinely can't recall the ride on the Kia Rio, which means it was wholly unobtrusive and therefore perfect for a small hatchback like this.

A pleasant set of major controls, an ergonomically sound interior and fine visibility in all quarters made driving the Rio for 425 miles - up and down motorways, along fiddly country lanes and through busy towns in stop-start traffic - a comfortable, stress-free affair from start to finish. Economy of 40.4mpg (at 34.2mph average) across that distance, with a best of 47.3mpg, is also highly commendable.

And yet... we handed this Rio back after a week and didn't even give it a second thought. It's a bit like a Volkswagen of a few years back, which could be taken as the highest possible praise - but we mean it more in the sense of the Kia is deeply proficient and highly polished, but it lacks any sort of meaningful character whatsoever. The handling of the Rio is above average, nothing more; and that's risky when the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, Peugeot 208 and SEAT Ibiza all offer their drivers more rewards when behind the wheel. The Rio's drivetrain is lovely, but there's no performance edge to it, and the cabin is acceptably good, without having much in the way of showmanship or youthful vitality - even on this red-trimmed First Edition.

Oh, don't get us wrong: if you're genuinely going to try a few superminis before you buy your next new car, then you ought to be giving the Kia Rio a spin. Spacious, generously equipped, backed up by THAT warranty and priced reasonably across the range - although an £18,450 Rio like our test car is hardly a bargain - the Rio is an inoffensive and capable companion that would slot into your family life with the minimum of drama.

But, as we all know, the vast majority of people do not test-drive a range of cars before picking the best any longer; instead, they've already done plenty of research and chosen their preference before heading to the requisite dealership. And while the Rio Mk4 is vastly improved compared to the mediocre ancestors that have gone before it, there's nothing here that makes us think customers are going to go 'wow, I gotta get me one of those!' when checking it out online.

Strong competition in this sector means there are cars which are prettier, better to drive, cheaper to buy, or offered with a greater choice of engines. In short, rivals which offer a little extra pizzazz to tempt potential customers into showrooms in the first place. So while we like the Rio, we think it's located in the bulk of the supermini chasing pack, rather than out front with the best.

Alternatives:

Ford Fiesta: Has lost its ultimate dynamic edge in the latest guise, but it still handles brilliantly and has a vastly improved interior, with a strong range of drivetrains. Continues to be tough to beat.

Peugeot 208: Attractive looks and an interesting iCockpit interior mark the 208 out as among the leading lights in the supermini class, although the French car isn't quite up to Fiesta/Ibiza/Polo levels.

SEAT Ibiza: What we think is now the supermini class leader. Aside from dull cabin architecture, does everything very well indeed - and even has a perky little MQB chassis to reward keen drivers.


Matt Robinson - 8 Jan 2018



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2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.

2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.2018 Kia Rio First Edition drive. Image by Kia.








 

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