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Thank goodness for the efforts of Peter Schreyer and his design team over the past few years, because the first-generation Kia Rio had to be one of the ugliest cars on South African motorways in the past decade. Now into its third iteration, the Rio finally has looks that befit the name.
But of course, this product is way more important to the Korean brand than the lines that meet the eye make out – and perhaps that’s why it looks so good. You see, the Rio will attempt to re-penetrate the lucrative light-car B-segment that has so far been dominated by the likes of Volkswagen and Toyota.
Those rivals have long-represented the quality and reliability that South African motorists have become accustomed to. But the one area that they lack in is the style department. Kia has granted the Rio quite an attractive shape, especially with the now-famous “tiger nose” front grille, dominant headlamps and recesses in the front bumper as well as five-spoke 17-inch alloys (standard on the 1,4 TEC). Long gone is the egg-ended backside from the first-model, or the econobox-plain rump of the second generation, because the rear end has been just as well-designed – with details such as large taillamps and a diffuser-style bumper insert.
Inside, the Rio is similarly pleasing. Soft-touch material adorns the facia and some decent hard plastics have been employed too. A thick-bossed steering wheel houses satellite controls for the audio system, Bluetooth telephone function, and trip computer. The leather seats that are as “standard equipment” in the 1,4 TEC are comfortable and the upholstery is soft and nice to sit in, but just lack that a bit of firm bolsters for enthusiastic driving.
The Rio comes with a choice of two normally aspirated petrol engines – a 1,2-litre unit and slightly more powerful 1,4-litre motor. The smaller engine uses a five-speed manual to send torque to the front wheels, whereas the 1,4 makes use of a six-speed ’box, or a four-speed automatic transmission.
Not keen to try and eke out the most of the 1,2 at altitude, I opted to take the 1,4-litre model for the 80 km launch route around the Cradle of Humankind. This allowed for some interesting tests of acceleration on the many hills that are a feature of this region, where I often had to downshift twice to get around slow-moving trucks and heavily-laden bakkies quick enough. The Rio doesn’t lack in pep, but the modest outputs perhaps call for shorter ratios in the six-speed gearbox that comes with this top model – especially considering that this mode comes with 17-inch wheels. About town, however, where overtaking acceleration is less of a concern, the Rio is a pleasure to drive – with a slick action and not overly light steering.
This comfortable setting is included behind the front seats, as the Rio is definitely more spacious than its compact dimensions suggest. Passengers benefit from space freed up by a longer wheelbase and a wider bodyshell. Despite the increased cabin space however, Kia claims the bootspace is also up, and can now swallow 288 dm3 of luggage, while dropping the 60/40 split rear seats increases this figure to 923 dm3.
The Rio’s biggest trump card is that is comes standard with the sort spec you can expect to line options lists from other segment competitors – with electrically adjustable door mirrors, front and rear electric windows, luggage hooks and a radio/CD player that boasts Bluetooth and MP3 compatibility. More luxurious items include front foglamps, leather upholstery (on the 1,4 TEC), LED driving lights and rear lamps and fully automatic air-con on the 1,4 TEC to name but a few. Safety features include ABS with EBD and Isofix childseat mounts, as well as dual front airbags on the 1,2 and 1,4 models – while the 1,4 TEC gets front, side and curtain airbags.
Price: R168 995
Engine: 1,4-litre in-line four cylinder
Power: 79 kW at 6 300 r/min
Torque: 135 Nm at 4 200 r/min
Acceleration: 0-100km/h in 11,5 secs
Fuel consumption: 6,4 litres/100 km combined EU cycle
Emissions: 151 g/km of CO2
(Price includes 4-year/60 000 km service plan, 5-year/100 000 km warranty and 3-year unlimited roadside warranty)