What is it?

Kia’s fourth generation Rio hatch.

The previous one was pretty damn good.

And the latest one is better again, but it could have been so much better.

They built a whole new car then turned around and stuck the crappy old 1.4-litre engine and 4-speed auto from the previous model in it – to be perfectly clear the 1.4 from the the base model.

No sign of the excellent 1.6 litre unit with direct injection that powered higher grades previously.

Go figure?

 

What’s it cost?

Rio starts from $16,990 plus on-roads.

Top of the line SLi with an auto is $22,990.

The thing is no matter which model you opt for, you get the same basic 1.4 litre power plant with multi-point injection.

In fact, it’s even been slightly detuned to return better fuel economy and lower engine emissions.

There’s a 6-speed manual or 4-speed auto to go with it, but the manual is available only as an option with the entry S.

SLi comes with leather, climate air, sunroof, LEDs, 16 inch alloys, cruise control, auto lights and wipers, 7 inch touchscreen with DAB+ and satellite navigation – plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto put in an appearance.

Safety is taken care of by 6 airbags, a reverse camera and rear park sensors – but alas there’s no auto braking.

No safety rating from ANCAP yet either, but it’s expected to get full marks.

 

What’s it go like?

Surprisingly well.

As long as you stick to the flat roads of the city.

Point the Rio at anything that looks like a hill and the small engine begins to struggle.

At the same time, with a lower ride height and lower centre of gravity, the car feels more planted than before and above average handling makes it fun to drive.

Forcing the transmission down a notch helps boost the Rio’s hill climbing ability, but unfortunately only briefly – as it quickly changes up again as revs build (and so on and so on).

It’s what is known as “hunting” for the right gear and it’s a right a pain in the butt.

You can change gears manually using the shifter, but that’s not why people buy an auto.

We didn’t find the Rio terribly economical either.

Rated at 6.2L/100km, we were getting 7.4 after close to 500km – that’s nothing special for a hatch this size.

In hindsight a more powerful engine and the 6-speed auto from the previous model would have been a far better option.

“You can tell the difference,’’ said the owner of a previous Si with the 1.6-litre direct injection engine.

“If you bought the new model expecting something better you’d be disappointed.”

 

What we like

  • Looks terrific
  • Wider and more muscular
  • Larger than most competitors bridging the light and small segments
  • Deep lustrous paint job is first rate
  • Soft leather feels more expensive than it probably is?
  • Has been criticised for the overuse of cheap plastic but we reckon the finish is much better, even if it is still hard under hand
  • The steering wheel is both tilt and reach adjustable
  • A digital speedo makes a long overdue appearance making it easier to keep track of your speed around cameras
  • Simple white on black instrumentation easy to read
  • Large, semi floating computer screen features buttons either side for quick access (but weirdly lacks a button for your phone)
  • 7 year warranty is the best in the biz and makes Kia’s cars especially attractive on the second hand market

 

What we don’t

  • 1.4-litre old tech engine
  • 4-speed old tech auto
  • Sub par performance
  • SLi as top of the range deserves gear change paddles
  • Less rear legroom than before
  • Bigger boot
  • Could be more economical
  • Comes with a cigarette lighter

 

What are the alternatives?

  • Hyundai Accent 1.6 SR, from $16,990

Terrific performance, but smaller and a bit light on in the equipment department  – doesn’t come with satnav

  • Toyota Yaris 1.5 ZR, from $21,920

Looks cool but also smaller and also falls short in terms of equipment – no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

  • Suzuki Baleno 1.0 GLX Turbo, from $22,990

Very underrated car. Finish is not quite as good as the Kia but it’s well equipped and offers lively performance.

 

The bottom line?

Talk is we’ll see a 1.0-litre, three cylinder turbocharged engine and 6-speed auto before the end of the year. Not sure where it will fit into Kia’s pricing structure but hopefully it will address the lack of performance.

 

Kia Rio, priced from $22,990
  • 7.5/10
    Looks - 7.5/10
  • 6/10
    Performance - 6/10
  • 7.5/10
    Safety - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Practicality - 7.5/10
  • 7/10
    Comfort - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Tech - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Value - 7/10
7.1/10

Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.