Fiesta time for smart little Rio

By Jacqui Madelin

It's been a helluva year for the car brands. Only a few saw increased sales, all apparently on the back of quality new products. Those with little to draw people into their showrooms did not fare well. Nor did brands which rely to some extent on their name and their character to sell.

Even bread-and-butter cars couldn't attract folk keeping a stern eye on their wallet, though the Kia Rio bucked the trend, with sales increasing last year.

It's a smart little car. Build quality has improved and the materials reflect a value focus but don't say 'cheap'.

Nor did the specification in this diesel hatch. The 1.5-litre, 81kW/235Nm motor got along quite nicely, that torque even spinning the wheels after over-judicious application of throttle.

Though the Rio will never be a racer's weapon it handled my demanding semi-rural commute with composure. It was easy to live with, too. There were cubbies where I wanted them, the steering wheel-mounted audio controls were appreciated - as was the climate-control air and the luggage net - and though the boot, at 270 litres, isn't capacious it was certainly up to ordinary daily demands.

I noted with approval the six airbags, the ABS brakes and ESP and even the trip computer, which revealed that though I wasn't making the car's 4.5 litres/100km claim, she's frugal.

But there was a surprising omission.

Despite an otherwise generous specification list considering this car's price - it even includes MP3 and USB ports - there was no flap on either vanity mirror, apparently a cost-saving measure. A small thing, but distracting.

Kia New Zealand GM, Todd McDonald, is cautiously optimistic about the coming year. There's series of new and updated models due, starting with the handsome compact Soul crossover in April, which is already spawning funky spin-offs. Just look at the Soul'ster concept shown at the recent Detroit Show.

The new Cerato will arrive soon after - joined by the handsome Euro-focused Cee'd if the price is right, which depends on exchange rates. Both will compete in NZ's biggest sales segment, the small car bracket.

A heavily facelifted Magentis may not get hearts racing but a new Sorento SUV, using a monocoque in place of the outgoing ladder chassis, will be shown at Geneva in March.

- Herald on Sunday

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