Kia and Hyundai: Sibling rivalry in super mini clan

By David Linklater

Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio (right). Photo / Supplied
Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio (right). Photo / Supplied

You can see why we've brought the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent together. Both are style-led small cars from the same Korean automotive group - Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai. Sister cars under the skin, but rivals in the showroom all the same - especially in New Zealand, where the two brands are distributed by separate companies.

You could also argue that this pair is a bit of a mismatch. Rio is a super-mini, plain and simple. Theoretically, its direct rival on size and price is the Hyundai i20. Accent is half a class up, a bit more powerful and a bit more expensive.

I'll stand my ground on the basis that the i20 is not a great car by any measure. While Accent is 70mm longer than Rio, they are both based on the same platform and share a 2570mm wheelbase.

The Accent Elite pictured here is too rich for the Rio, but in terms of specifications let's consider the mechanically identical entry-level Accent hatchback at $31,990.

That's still $6200 more expensive than the $25,790 Rio EX, but there is an extra 200cc engine capacity and 91kW/156Nm compared with the Kia's 80kW/137Nm. Kudos to Hyundai for achieving the same 6.4-litre/100km fuel consumption figure as the Rio, then. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the Rio weighs 58kg more than its rival.

Perhaps those extra kilograms contribute to the Rio's substantial on-road feel. The steering, chassis and general build quality benefit from more of a big-car feel than the Accent - no doubt a contrivance of Kia to fit in with the Rio's sportier image, but part of the car's character all the same.

Gearbox technology lets both cars down. A four-speed automatic is not good enough these days when even the budget-priced Holden Barina (also from Korea and quite a bit cheaper) boasts a slick six-speed unit, as does the sporty Ford Fiesta.

Both the Kia and Hyundai are fine around town and very thrifty, but performance is annoyingly sluggish in brisk or undulating open-road driving. The Kia is prone to labouring in third gear on long inclines - the gap to second is too far but the 1.4-litre engine lacks the torque to really get the car moving. The extra urge of the Accent is immediately noticeable once you're out of the suburbs and makes for more relaxed motoring, even if the chassis doesn't quite have the taut feel of the Rio in the corners.

Style could be the sole reason for buying either of these machines. The Kia looks sporty and appealingly old-school inside and out; the Accent is curvaceous and pretty.

I'd argue that the Rio's cabin fittings have a better-quality feel, although the interior ambience is sombre compared with the light and airy Accent. The Hyundai is more spacious and has a much bigger boot: 370 litres versus 288 litres. Both have 60/40 split rear seats.

Equipment favours the Kia. While both have airbags aplenty, stability control, Bluetooth and iPod integration, the Rio offers a few comfort/convenience items that the Accent doesn't: climate air-conditioning, cruise control, automatic wipers and reversing sensors (a particularly useful feature for a city car). Hyundai does offer a fully loaded Accent Elite model, but that's nearly $10k more costly than the Kia.

Verdict? The Rio's lacklustre gearbox and kilo-count can be frustrating on the open road, but super-minis are mostly about city driving and in this contest it's Kia that has the cheaper, better-equipped and cooler offering.

In either case, don't be afraid to roam the ranges to find the specification sweet spot: both Rio and Accent can be ordered with manual gearboxes, torquey diesel engines and, in the case of the Hyundai, even a sedan body shape.

- NZ Herald

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