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What is it?

Consider the Rio a bigger sibling to the Picanto GT.

Same slightly boxy look, same slightly boxy stance, same 1.0-litre three cylinder turbo petrol engine. Well, almost on that last one.

Peak power from the turbocharged triple is 88kW and it generates 172Nm of torque that’s on tap between 1500 and 4000rpm. The 1.4 with multi-point injection is good for 74kW and 133Nm, the latter at 4000rpm.

Either way the transmission is a 7-speed DCT, or dual clutch style auto.

Kia quotes 5.4L/100km for the combined cycle, and that’s not far from par. We averaged 6.0L on a 60/40 urban/highway split.

Tank size is 45 litres — up from the Picanto’s 35 litres.

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What’s it cost?

There are three models in the Rio range. S, Sport, and GT-Line are the choices and the first two have a 1.4L donk plus a choice of manual or self-shifter.

The entry level is $16,990 driveaway with the GT-Line topping out at $22,990. Bang on a Premium colour such as the Mighty Yellow our test car was clad in and that pushes the price to $23,525.

There’s a reasonable amount of toys for the coin. 205/45/17 Continental rubber and alloys. Quad “icecube” LED driving lights. Autonomous Emergency Braking and Forward Collision Warning. Door Open reminder. Full suite of airbags. Solar glass for front and rear windows. Bespoke roof spoiler. Leather bound tiller and gear selector.

There is also the typical Kia 7.0-inch touchscreen, but it’s sans navigation and DAB audio. The seats are cloth, not faux leather with venting and/or heating. Manually adjusted seats, not powered. It’s the little things missing, that should be there to say: “I am a top of the range car.”

The body itself is harder edged than previous Rios. The lines are now sharper and more assertive. It does bring a more, dare we say, masculine presence to the small car.

Luggage space is 325 litres with rear seats up, and the shape is fine for a weekly shop. Seats down and there’s 960 litres. Naturally the tailgate is not powered.

The cabin is roomy enough for four. A light grey upper lining with black from the window line down provides a sense of airiness.

Trim is largely the solid black plastic that we know and love inside Kia, and to add a sporting touch, there is a swathe of carbon-fibre look trim across the dash.

A splash of alloy-look plastic adds extra brightness on the steering wheel spokes and centre console surround. The interior door handles are also alloy-look.

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What’s it go like?

The Rio GT-Line shines brightest on flat and straight roads. The suspension is too hard for anything other than these types of roads.

Small dips and the usual undulations are dealt with nicely but hit a bump bigger than a five cent piece and it’s bang, crash, wallop. Road joins, the ripples of tarmac raised by pressure from heavy vehicles, etc — all elicit the same response.

On the newly laid tarmac that graces Sydney’s freeways it’s a delight otherwise. The Rio tracks straight and true, the suspension works more comfortably, and the steering feels more naturally inclined.

The Continental tyres do bring forth a fair amount of road noise on coarser chip surfaces and with the Rio being a small car and lacking in noise insulation, it makes for a sore pair of ears.

The engine is a willing puller, but the DCT lacks . . . refinement? There’s a yawning gap between Reverse and Drive engaging the transmission.

The same can be said when moving from a standing start. Press the go pedal, engine spins up, and eventually the DCT’s clutches engage. When tried with a heavier right foot the clutches engage quicker — but the car would lurch away, not peel away smoothly.

Use the manual shift option and the transmission becomes quicker, crisper, sharper, more responsive. It makes the DCT a more useable transmission, and therefore the GT-Line a more driveable car.

Engage first gear manually, and there’s a distinct difference in the feel. There’s a heightened sense of engagement for the drive. Bang the selector forward for second, third, and the response feels quicker and more suitable for the engine’s power characteristics. There’s the characteristic warble from the three cylinders and it’s not an entirely unpleasant note.

Freeway driving shows that the Rio could use more torque, not power. Loaded up with four people, the weight goes from just under 1200 to 1500kg. This dulls the performance and makes for longer gaps in overtaking. Couple this with the suspension harshness, and the whole driving package feels underdone.

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What we like?

  • Snazzy looks
  • That three cylinder soundtrack
  • Excellent flat track performance

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What we don’t like?

  • Excessive harshness everywhere else
  • DCT needs tightening up
  • Trim doesn’t meet top of range expectations

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The bottom line?

Much like our thoughts on the Picanto GT, the Rio’s engine performance is positive for the most part.

But it’s let down by the transmission’s vagaries. Then there’s the comfortable enough cabin, let down by the lack of top spec niceties. 

At $23K, however, it’s reasonably priced and that’s a good enough reason to consider the Kia Rio GT-Line.

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Kia Rio GT-Line, priced from $22,990
  • 7/10
    Looks - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Performance - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Safety - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Thirst - 8.5/10
  • 7/10
    Practicality - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Comfort - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Tech - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Value - 8/10
7.4/10

Conole

Dave Conole hails from Perth where he co-hosted a car show on one of the city's major community radio stations. Although he's had formal training in stage, TV, and film, it's his face for radio that gave him his start in the automotive field, both reviewing and motorsport commentary. After moving to Sydney in 2004, Dave has worked for some of Australia's biggest media groups and is the anchor commentator at Sydney Motorsport Park. This has lead to anchoring major events such as the Top Gear Festival (and, no, he didn't get punched by Jeremy).