Kia's Rio competes in a segment becoming more popular as buyers keep a sharp eye on fuel costs. Fortunately they'll find an array of stylish and talented players, with Rio up against the likes of Suzuki's successful Swift, Toyota's Yaris and Ford's Fiesta.
Rio has gone further upmarket with strong lines for a characterful design more closely aligned with the rest of Kia's range. The body's all new - sharing no panels with its predecessor or Hyundai's related i20 - and it's bigger, with wheelbase up 70mm and width by 25, though the roof's actually 15mm lower for a sportier profile while the boot's bigger, at 288 litres.
Feedback that Rio's seats were too hard has resulted in changes which include better bolsters and soy oil biofoam to cut petrol use in the car's raw materials.
As for engines, the petrol's now a 80kW/138Nm 1.4, but power-to-weight remains the same as the outgoing 1.6. Thirst is claimed at 6.4l/100km for the auto - our vigorous Hanmer Springs launch drive returned 7.3 - while the 66kW/220Nm 1.4 diesel arriving in December claims 4.1l/100km.
Buy a manual transmission and you'll also get auto stop-go to cut the engine at lights and save fuel during city running.
The company line
Kia's going great guns globally, with its third consecutive year of 25 per cent growth. Rio's segment is growing worldwide and in NZ, where Kia GM Todd McDonald predicts it'll expand by 37 per cent this year. Two distinct specification levels pitch EX at price-conscious practical private buyers and LX at businesses seeking low ownership costs and advanced safety. Expect a four-door sedan variant next year, and a three-door 1.6 with six-speed transmission.
What we say
Rio looks smart inside and out, though some over-hard plastics on areas such as the door tops made us wonder what the entry-level car is like. The top-spec $25,790 EX tested at launch includes a soft-touch dash as well as 16-inch alloy wheels, LED lights, cruise control and rain-sensing wipers. But the $22,990 base-spec LX features six airbags, ABS and stability control, Bluetooth, reverse park sensors and upmarket stuff such as an auto emergency stop signal; hardly shabby for the price. Height-adjustable seats up front will please older buyers, though a glovebox deep enough to lose a household pet may frustrate some.
On the road
Rio's Euro-tune MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension proved impressive over the rural back roads we traversed out of Hanmer Springs, compliant enough to cushion frost-heave bumps while handling sufficiently well through the corners that we started wishing for a five-speed auto transmission, to allow better use of this motor.
Why you'll buy one
Kia's Rio is smart, handles well, includes lots of goodies for the money and a five-year warranty.
Why you won't
You're over four-speed autos; a five-speed would make better use of power and fuel.