THE Kia Rio five-door struck a palpable hit when it defeated eight of its B-segment rivals in the November 2012 issue light-hatchback comparative test. One of the contenders that trailed in the Korean’s wake, the Volkswagen Polo, is the reigning CAR Top 12 Best Buy in that segment, but this does not necessarily mean we’ll be crowning a new light-car champion in our upcoming 2013 Best Buys awards issue. One of the criteria that our Top 12 panellists apply in casting their votes is the diversity of brands’ respective model ranges. Therefore, because the Rio line-up was extended to include saloon derivatives since the last round of Top 12 voting took place, this road test could be pivotal in deciding the recipient of the Best Buy title in the light-car segment for 2013.
The Rio saloon blasts out of the blocks with an exterior design that is arguably the best-looking one in its class. There is no hint of a “three-box with boot” execution with chief designer Peter Schreyer’s four-door B-segment creation and the coherence of the Rio’s lithe lines are undoubtedly appended by the Tec model’s LED detailing in the front and rear lamp clusters and those eye-catching 17-inch alloys. Surprisingly, some of the testers remarked that smaller rims and higher profile rubber wouldn’t detract from the appearance. They would also undoubtedly benefit the Rio’s ride quality.
Meanwhile, the Rio’s interior execution, in terms of quality of finish, ergonomic efficiency and the glut of surprise and delight features, drew universal praise from the test team. From the soft-touch dashboard and the uniform red-on-black digital displays on the facia and instrumentation cluster, to the grippy feel of the leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel and the almost Teutonic ambience of the leather-trimmed cabin, the Kia drew several nods of approval. Although we usually test vehicles when they’re virtually out of the box, this test unit arrived with more than 16 000 km on its odometer. We think the lack of rattles, creaks or scuffing in the interior speaks volumes of the durability of the cabin.
It’s not perfect, however. Not every tester found it easy to set an optimal driving position, levels of rear leg- and headroom are good rather than generous, and one editor bemoaned the lack of RDS information on the MP3-compatible audio system.
But, overall, the Rio’s long list of standard features lifts the light-car driving experience to something with a sense of occasion; automatic headlamp and wiper activation, climate control, electrically folding and heated side mirrors and rear-mounted parking sensors are stock equipment. What’s more, when driving at night an LED, mounted in the courtesy and map reading-light binnacle, illuminates the lower end of the facia as well as the centre console. Should you need to load the Rio up for a road trip, the deep boot will gobble up to 368 dm3, and more than 1 000 dm3 with the rear seats folded flat.
On the road, the Rio rides reasonably, yet the saloon’s rear suspension baulks a little when traversing more abrupt road imperfections, which should be less of a problem when the car is carrying a full complement of passengers and their luggage. But perhaps the large wheels do carry a ride-comfort penalty.
The steering, although expectably devoid of feel or feedback, is satisfyingly accurate and road-holding spot on. Although the Rio moniker is hardly synonymous with driver involvement, the gearshift has a crisp, short-throw action. That said, the motor, which is quiet at idle, can sound a mite strained in the higher rev ranges when extracting optimal performance. This fact became apparent when the Rio completed the zero to 100 km/h sprint in a leisurely 13,35 seconds on the way to a 34,81-second standing kilometre. The motor feels willing enough, but when attempting to join bustling traffic flow from a standstill, the pull-away needs to be judged carefully.
The Rio saloon’s performance figures shouldn’t be of great significance to the buying public, however. The Korean’s sophisticated appearance and high specification will appeal not only to the young and trendy, but also those who are looking to scale down but are loathe to sacrifice in-car luxuries. With a comprehensive safety specification (no traction control is specified, but front, side and curtain airbags are), a 100 000 km warranty and four-year/60 000 km service plan, the Rio saloon presents a strong purchasing proposition.
Right. As you would have deduced from the ranking in the Match-up panel on the previous page, CAR’s editors have selected a Rio ahead of a Polo for the second time in the last three issues. We predict that, by the time we sit down to pick our Best Buys for 2013, which will probably be round the time you read this, there will be a protracted debate about the best B-segment car. There’s a lot that counts in the Polo’s favour, not least its sterling reputation for solidity and refinement. However, the Rio’s sheer value-for-money factor is a clear and present danger to the reign of the market leader – provided Kia can keep up with demand. Just where will you spend your money?