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The outgoing Rio established Kia as a maker of desirable city cars. Does the new one build on that legacy?

Since its launch in our market some 17 years ago, the Rio has developed a reputation as a reliable, spacious vehicle that offers good value for your hard-earned cash, further cementing this Korean brand’s standing as a maker of cars that now, at the very least, rivals the offerings of Europe and Japan’s big players.

There is, therefore, a lot to expect of this, the fourth-generation model. It makes use of a fresh design and the Kia-Hyundai GB platform that debuted on the current Hyundai i20 (and will also be used on the Kia Stonic and Hyundai Kona crossovers). Penned by Kia’s California and German design centres headed by Peter Schreyer, the new Rio has sharper, more angular lines than its predecessor and the result is a car that looks upmarket and wholly in keeping with Kia’s current design language. It is longer and lower – by 15 and 5 mm – as well as 5 mm wider, giving it a more purposeful stance. Add to this our test unit’s Smoke Blue paint job and the 17-inch alloy wheels of the flagship TEC model, and the new Rio cuts a dashing figure.

Inside, the Kia offers a generous standard specification list. For starters, the attractively designed dashboard is occupied by a neat touchscreen infotainment system with MirrorLink functionalities for your smartphone, and it’s a standard feature along with a rear-facing camera to complement the park-distance control. This function adds to a tastefully designed cabin of high perceived quality, enhanced further by leather upholstery on the seats, steering wheel and gearlever.

With regard to packaging, the new platform benefits the Rio in utility space. While the boot space remains at 248 litres, the Rio’s utility measurement has increased to 1 008 litres (64 more than before), which is substantially better than the likes of the Polo or the i20. Similarly, the Rio trumps the Polo in passenger space, but the 5 mm drop in overall height has seen a slight decrease in rear headroom.

While the chassis and design are new, interestingly, the engine line-up has not been refreshed. Under the hood you’ll still find the naturally aspirated 1,4-litre four-cylinder engine – dubbed the Gamma – which delivers 74 kW (5 kW less than before) and 135 N.m of torque. Countering the decrease in power, however, is the fact that our scales show this new Rio to be 18 kg lighter than its predecessor. According to Kia, part of the reason outputs have dropped is a quest for improved efficiency; borne out by this model posting 6,6 L/100 km on our fuel route versus 7,8 L/100 km previously.

Surprisingly, the new car is also quicker, with our test figures indicating it needs 1,2 seconds less to reach 100 km/h than before, with a time of 11,31 seconds. The Rio also recorded improvements in overtaking acceleration. Here we should note that the new model was tested on a much cooler day, which aids performance.

However, while these figures are an improvement, they still lag behind those of the turbocharged rivals in the B-segment, especially in terms of in-gear acceleration. Annoyingly, the engine has a dearth of torque at low revs, which necessitates winding it up at pull-away, especially on inclines. That, in turn, exposes the less-than-predictable clutch action, which saw a number of testers stall the vehicle when driving off. Thankfully, the gearlever has a slick, short action.

A further dynamic bugbear is the quality of the ride at low speeds. TEC models are shod with 17-inch alloy wrapped in 45-profile tyres and those allow a touch too much fidget through to the cabin. Experience with lower-spec Rios on smaller wheels and plumper tyres indicated a commendable level of bump absorption in the chassis. The soft-compound Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyres do add to the Rio’s dynamics and had a positive impact on the braking times.

Together with the front ventilated discs and rear drums, the ABS system allowed for an excellent average stopping time of 2,86 seconds. The rubber also generates little road roar, but this is countered by only average wind suppression. Nevertheless, the sound-level reading of 39 dBA at idle is impressive. Those grippy tyres complement the Rio’s improved electrically assisted power steering system, making for a nippy and engaging experience. We’re glad to note with every new South Korean vehicle we test these systems keep improving.

However, good tyres come at a price. At R2 130 a pop, the Continentals aren’t cheap to replace. Alongside a parts basket that’s tripled in value since our 2015 test (mainly because of the new headlamps), it would appear that maintenance on the Rio 1,4 TEC might catch some owners by surprise. Thankfully, it comes standard with a four-year/60 000 km service plan and one of the best warranties in the market.
JOHANNESBURG - Despite being in the final calendar year of its lifecycle, the previous (third-) generation Kia Rio sold in excess of 450 000 units globally. That figure speaks to not only Kia's continued popularity in various markets across the world, but also of the outgoing Rio's widespread appeal. It introduced the next evolution of a new and exciting design language courtesy of celebrated penman Peter Schreyer, added loads of kit to a spacious, well-built interior and bundled the whole package in palatable pricing. No pressure on this fourth-generation model to continue the successful legacy, then...

What's new?

Penned by Kia's design centres in Germany and California, the new Rio refines the previous-generation model's curvaceous bodywork into something more geometric and, dare we say it, upmarket. Featuring a wider Tiger Nose grille stretching into the projector headlamps (framed by U-shaped daytime-running lights) on the flagship TEC model, 17-inch alloys on low-profile tyres and arrow-shaped LEDs aft, the new Rio 1,4 TEC is one of the best-looking cars in its class (especially painted in the Smoke Blue hue of the vehicle in the images). Lesser models ride on either 15-inch steel or alloy wheels.

Sat on a revised version of the outgoing Rio's platform, itself already one of the longest in the class and now stretching 10 mm further between the axles, the new model has a larger cabin that provided just enough head- and legroom on the rear bench for my 1,85-metre frame to fit behind the front seat when set to my preferred driving position. And that's not something all B-segment hatches can boast. The boot, likewise, is one of the segment's biggest at a claimed 325 litres.

Up front, the biggest change on the new model is the inclusion of an easy-to-use seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is not yet supported) and Bluetooth. The screen sits proud of a reprofiled facia featuring a soft-touch strip, tasteful brightwork on the climate control knobs and a lower-sited section with a 12 V socket, aux-in and USB ports and a stowage shelf.

Perceived quality is typically Kia solid, although some plastics don't feel like an improvement on those used in the previous Rio. That said, rattles and squeaks were absent on the vehicles we drove on the Reef-based launch that took in the Johannesburg CBD's pockmarked roads.

And on the move?

Sadly, Kia Motors South Africa has decided not to import the Rio with the company's new (and reportedly excellent) three-cylinder turbopetrol – although it is under consideration – and has chosen to stick with the familiar 1,2- and 1,4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engines. A diesel model was ruled out early on.

The 1,4-litre produces 73 kW (6 kW less than before, but the brand promises improvements in fuel consumption) at 6 300 r/min and 135 N.m at 4 200 r/min. That latter figure is telling; rival vehicles using small-displacement petrol engines, such as the Polo, Fiesta, 208 and Corsa, develop on average 35 N.m of torque more at far lower revs. And that means they feel more sprightly than the Rio, at least at oxygen-starved altitude. Judicious use of the slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox is necessary to keep the 1,4-litre engine in its 3 500-5 000 r/min sweet spot, but even then the Rio struggles to maintain momentum on slight inclines.

More impressive is the balance between composed handling and a comfortable ride. Body roll is well suppressed, the ride is fair considering the 45-profile tyres on the TEC model (there's some bump-thump, but the ride does feel more controlled than before) and the electric steering is progressive and excellently geared. The suppression of road and wind noise – which enjoyed considerable attention from Kia's engineers – is commendable.

Anything else to note?

There are four models in the new Rio line-up. The range kicks off with the 1,2 LS at R219 995 (the same price as before), moves on to the 1,4 LX (it introduces 15-inch alloys, LED daytime-running lights, a centre armrest, leather trim on the steering wheel and gear lever, among other items) at R234 995 and seems to hit a perfect balance with the 1,4 EX for R15 000 more (Kia adds that seven-inch screen, PDC with a reverse-view camera and LED rear lamps). The 1,4 TEC, at R274 995, chucks in 17-inch alloys, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, as well as cruise control, an electro-chromatic rear-view mirror, alloy pedals and leather upholstery. All models feature ABS with EBD and BA, two airbags (and six on the TEC) and Isofix anchorages on the rear bench. No ESC, sadly, but it does have a great warranty at five years/unlimited kilometres and a four-year/60 000 km service plan. All models are available with a four-speed automatic transmission at an additional R13 000.

So, what's the verdict?

I'm not quite sure, really... In a market that's overrun with immensely talented contenders (and, don't forget, the new VW Polo and Ford Fiesta are around the corner), the Rio remains a solid, viable option. But... In 2017, the 1,4-litre engine feels outdated in terms of its performance, general refinement – it gets noisy above 4 000 r/min, where it has to spend a considerable amount of time – and fuel consumption (I posted an average of 8,1 L/100 km over a weekend of relaxed driving following the press launch).

Lastly, R274 995 for this 1,4 TEC is difficult to justify when a range of excellent competitors are less expensive (and considering it finds itself priced among loads of C-segment hatchbacks). I suspect the 1,4 EX might be the Rio of choice, but taking into account Kia sold more 1,4 TECs in the previous Rio range than any other model, this flagship looks set to again capture the imagination of buyers locally and abroad. But I do wish Kia SA had launched with that 1,0-litre triple...

2019 Kia RIO hatch 1.4 Tec

Ref No: 1688064

Manufacturer Specifications

Standard - standard Optional - optional
  • Leather upholstery: Standard
  • Seats quantity: 5
  • Split rear seat: Standard
  • Folding rear seat: Standard
  • Air conditioning: Standard
  • Climate control automatic air conditioning: Standard
  • Cup bottle holders: front + rear
  • Front armrests: Standard
  • Antilock braking system (ABS): Standard
  • Electronic brake distribution (EBD): Standard
  • Driver airbag: Standard
  • Front passenger airbag: Standard
  • Front side airbags: Standard
  • Curtain airbags: Standard
  • Airbag quantity: 6
  • ISOFIX child seat mountings: outer rear
  • Approach home safe lighting time delay park headlights: Standard
  • Alloy wheelsrims: Standard
  • Power steering: Standard
  • Multifunction steering wheel controls: Standard
  • On board computer multi information display: Standard
  • Cruise control: Standard
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Standard
  • Voice control: Standard
  • Aux in auxiliary input: Standard
  • USB port: Standard
  • Powersocket 12V: Standard
  • Central locking: remote
  • Remote central locking: Standard
  • Electric windows: front + rear
  • Rain sensor auto wipers: Standard
  • Auto dim interior mirror: Standard
  • Electric adjust mirrors: Standard
  • Sun roof: Optional
  • Daytime driving running lights: LED
  • Light sensor auto on off lights: Standard
  • Frontfog lamps lights: Standard
  • Highlevel 3rd brakelight: Standard
  • Park distance control PDC: rear + rear camera
  • Camera for park distance control: rear
  • Rear spoiler: Standard
  • Metallic pearl escent paint: Optional
  • Fuel Type: petrol
  • Fuel range average: 775 km
  • Driven wheels: front
  • Driven wheels quantity: 2
  • Gearratios quantity: 6
  • Gearshift: manual
  • Transmission type: manual
  • Front tyres: 205/45 R17
  • Reartyres: 205/45 R17
  • Spare wheel size full: Standard
  • Length: 4065 mm
  • Width excl mirrors incl mirrors: 1725 mm
  • Height: 1460 mm
  • Wheel base: 2580 mm
  • Ground clearance minimum maximum: 140 mm
  • Turning circle wheels body: 10.2 m
  • Load volume / capacity: 325 L
  • Load volume / capacity: 325 L
  • Unladen/tare/kerb weight: 1130 kg
  • Gross weight (GVM): 1570 kg
  • Towing capacity - unbraked: 450
  • Towing capacity - braked: 1000
  • Fuel tank capacity (incl reserve): 45l
  • Fuel consumption average: 5.8 l/100km
  • CO2 emissions average: 137g/km
  • Power maximum: 74 kW
  • Power maximum total: 74 kW
  • Power peak revs: 6300 r/min
  • Power to weight ratio: 65.5 kW/ton
  • Torque maximum: 135 Nm
  • Torque peak revs: 4200 r/min
  • Torque maximum total: 135 Nm
  • Torque to weight ratio: 119.5 Nm/ton
  • Acceleration 0-100 kmh: 11.5s
  • Maximum top speed: 176 km/h
  • Engine position/ location: front
  • Engine capacity: 1396 cc
  • Engine size: 1.4l
  • enginedetailshort: 1.4
  • Engine + detail: 1.4
  • Cylinder layout: inline
  • Cylinders: 4
  • Cylinder layout + quantity: i4
  • Cam: dohc
  • Valves per cylinder: 4
  • Valves quantity: 16
  • Warranty time (years): 5
  • Warranty distance (km): unlimited km
  • Service plan: Standard
  • Service plan time (years): 4
  • Service plan time (distance): 60000 km
  • Roadside assistance time: 5
  • Service interval (distance): 15000 km
  • Service interval (time): 1
  • Brand: Kia
  • Status: c
  • Segment: passenger car
  • MMcode: 32121271
  • MMVariant: RIO 1.4 TEC 5DR
  • MMintrodat: 2017-05-01
  • Introdate: 2017-06-08
  • DuoportarecordID: KiaRio5h6

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