CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – Kia South Africa Motors has spiced up its Rio line-up, handing the B-segment hatchback fresh exterior styling and improved tech as standard, while adding two entry-level derivatives to the range in the form of the 1,4 LS manual and automatic.

Slotting in above the base Rio 1,2 LS, these models boast the Korean carmaker’s familiar 1,4-litre four-pot, coupled with either a six-speed manual ’box or an automatic transmission with the same number of cogs. Driven here is the latter. Are the cosmetic and interior updates, plus two new models, a recipe for success? Let’s find out.

The exterior revisions are subtle yet, when viewed alongside the pre-facelifted model, notable. The refreshed Rio sports a narrower version of Kia’s signature tiger nose grille and a redesigned front bumper and foglamp housings. A welcome addition to the entry-level LS grade is a set of 15-inch alloy wheels, which replaces the former version’s steel items. It's an improved look and the combination of the relatively small wheels and thick rubber aids the Kia’s ride quality.

Dressed in Signal Red (Sporty Blue, seen here, and Perennial Grey have also been added to the colour palette), the Rio drew a fair amount of attention, with one motorist turning into the parking area at our first stop in Darling to take a closer look at the bright-coloured Rio.

The most significant update, however, can be found inside, where the previous LS’s rather basic infotainment console has been ditched for a (standard across the range) eight-inch touchscreen display, featuring niceties such as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and Bluetooth functionality. A couple of USB ports, fore and aft (the latter allowing rear passengers to charge their smart devices), complete the package. The sound system has been upgraded, too, and now relays your favourite tunes via six speakers rather than four. Together, these updates lend the cabin a more premium feel.

Although myriad hard plastics can be found inside, the interior feels sturdy and decidedly premium for a car in this segment. Thanks to the rake-and-reach adjustable multifunction tiller and height-adjustable driver’s pew, dialling in your preferred driving position is a cinch. The cloth-upholstered seats are comfortable, too.

The naturally aspirated engine does an admirable job when the driver is setting a leisurely pace. However, when brisk acceleration is required, the atmospheric mill makes every effort to maintain momentum as the six-speed self-shifter struggles to keep the revs in the desired range. Overtaking, then, should be performed with due consideration. A fair amount of engine buzz permeates the cabin as the rev needle climbs to the upper reaches of the easy legible tachometer.

As we’ve previously stated, it’s a shame the Rio isn’t offered with the firm’s superb 1,0-litre turbo-triple since the 1,4-litre naturally aspirated powerplant doing service in the Rio locally (in Europe, a new 48 V mild-hybrid 1,0-litre engine is on offer) doesn’t quite match the refinement of the turbocharged units powering its peers. That said, the addition of (especially) an automatic LS derivative, plus exterior updates and revamped interior, should only increase the Rio’s popularity.



FAST FACTS

Model: Kia Rio 1,4 LS AT
Price: R308 995 
Engine: 1,4-litre, 4-cyl, petrol 
Power: 73 kW @ 6 300 r/min 
Torque: 135 N.m @ 4 200 r/min 
0-100 km/h: 12,9 seconds  
Top Speed: 175 km/h 
Fuel Consumption: 6,20 L/100 km 
CO2: 148 g/km 
Transmission: 6-speed automatic 
Service Plan: Four-year/60 000 km (two-year/60 000 km for the 1,2 LS)