Kia has recently released a mid-life refresh of the ever popular Rio super-mini. But despite the tweaks to keep it looking fresh, it enters the market at a time when Opel has launched the new Corsa, Hyundai the i20, and VW the heavily revised Polo. Amongst the new generation of competitors, the Rio runs the risk of being heavily dated. Not wanting to jump to conclusions though, we eagerly tested the revised hatch to see if indeed it could still run with the new kids on the block.
The upgrades on the Rio are few – particularly on the exterior where revisions include an updated tiger-nose grille and redesigned front bumper and front fog lamps. A new rear bumper has also been added to the package, which looks more modern than the pre-face lift. Interior tweaks are also few, but the upgrades include the addition of chrome accents around the air vents, and a newly designed centre console with piano-black trim around the radio façade. Other than that though, the Rio is the same as it has been for the past few years, and mechanically remains identical.
The 1.4-litre engine remains the same, still outputting 79kW and 135Nm, driving the front wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission. Despite the low torque figure, the engine is actually pretty punchy; mid-range torque offers a pretty solid shove that makes overtaking easier than it would seem by figures alone. The engine is also relatively revvy and eager to get going, with eager throttle responses and decent punch from low within the rev range. It’s not the most potent of engines though when you really need some urgency, and the modern turbocharged mills from other manufacturers do leave this unit found wanting. However, the 6-speed manual transmission helps things along nicely, with a solid shift and a simple ‘click-click’ in and out of the gate as you shift gears, but it’s let down by the long throw and the heavy clutch that makes things a little more work than they should be. The engine also shows its age when looking at the fuel consumption figures achieved over a week of commuting – 6.8l/100km, a touch heavy especially when other competitors are all achieving below the 6l/100km mark.
However the Rio still has a lot going for it. The visual refresh has kept it looking modern – something it does impressively, still looking stylish despite its age. It’s spacious too – boot space is lavish at 288-litres with the rear seats up, and a rather large 923-litres with the seats folded flat – and rear leg room is generous even with my 6ft tall frame in the driver’s seat. Occupants are spoilt for comfort too, with wonderfully supportive leather-upholstered seats in the Tec variant, and a host of features including Bluetooth connectivity, a 6-speaker audio system, and automatic air-conditioning.
But despite the creature comforts, certain aspects of the interior are a bit of an enigma to me. The wonderful seats are contrasted by a dated interior that is clad with harsh plastics and cheap-feeling materials, such as the soft-touch dash cladding which feels thinly veiled over the plastic beneath. Yet in stark contrast, closure of the cubby hole, and adjustment of the steering wheel feels so premium that it might fit in a high end luxury saloon rather than an affordable hatchback. It’s an odd contrast of high quality details met with low quality materials, spanning two extreme ends of a quality spectrum with little finding a middle ground, and I’d have happily accepted slightly cheaper leather on the seats in favour of higher quality dash and door materials.
It’s all built to be comfortable and classy despite the bargain price it carries – and while the bargain price does show in some of the finishes, it’s more than equally offset by other aspects of the Rio, such as the drive. Cabin insulation in particular is rather premium, keeping out most wind and environmental noises even at highway speeds; although tyre noise des permeate the cabin with a steady thrum that while ignorable is still a bit invasive.
It’s a comfortable run-about in most aspects though, behaving well on changing road surfaces and responding well to drive inputs. The steering is well weighted and relatively quick to respond, whilst giving mild feedback through the wheel. The Rio has good front end grip to match the steering setup, hanging onto the road surface tightly over changing surfaces and road imperfections. But the suspension is a tad ‘crashy’ at times, riding larger bumps and filled in potholes a bit too harshly on the 205/45 profile tyres and 17-inch alloy wheels. The suspension feels setup for a smaller wheel size, such as the 15-inch ones on lower spec variants, and Kia could’ve done a bit more work on the suspension refinement for the Tec’s larger wheels to give it a slightly more premium feel.
Despite this though, it feels planted and safe on the road. The steering isn’t twitchy, and the suspension isn’t overly sprung and jittery. The brakes feel great too, with a steady, progressive bite and eager response. It doesn’t just feel safe though, as it features ABS, as well as dual front- and side and curtain airbags to ensure occupant safety. It also features a variety of features that make life easier on the road, such as automatic headlights, rear park assist, and rain sensing wipers – all of which work a treat.
All in all, the Rio is still a great car. It combines style, comfort, practicality and ease of use in an affable package that appeals to young buyers – and as such it’s no surprise we’ve seen it sell so well in recent years. It’s a great run-about for those who don’t desire the more driver-focused car – for that you’ll want a Corsa or Fiesta – but it’s beginning to feel its age now, and amongst all the competitors it’s definitely not the shining star it once was. But at a price of R214 901 for the top-spec Tec model on test, it provides great value for money.
|No. of Cylinders:||
79kW @ 6300RPM
135Nm @ 4200RPM
6 Speed Manual
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||
|Fuel Consumption (Regular driving, combined cycle):||
Front Wheel Drive
|Price (as tested):||