THE new Kia Rio is light years ahead of its predecessor of the same name in design, build, specification and appeal. In fact the name badge is the only thing common to both models. Kia Australia's chief operating officer Tony Barlow described the new Rio as a revolution, not an evolution, which would profoundly alter customers' perceptions of Kia and its vehicles. On the evidence presented at the car's media launch and test drives it will do just that.
The revolution begins with the look of the entry-level S, higher spec Si and top-of the-range SLi models for which California-based design manager Massimo Frascella said he sought a modern, sporty and dynamic look that stood out from the crowd. On test drives the car certainly drew admiring glances. In addition, the new Rio has a ground-hugging profile that with a longer wheel base is larger than its predecessor and gives more head and leg room and large luggage space.
The car comes in a choice of 10 striking colours, but it is its ``green' credentials that stand out. Target CO2 emissions start at 133g/km, which make the new Rio a top-15 contender in the Green Vehicle Guide. In addition, 85 per cent of the car is recyclable. For example, its tyre well liners are made from recycled bumpers.
By early next year the new Rio will come in five-door and three-door hatch and four-door sedan configurations. With the price for the entry model S starting at $16,290 and rising to $21,990 for the top-of the range SLi the car will certainly make Kia's rival manufacturers sit up and worry and should put a smile on the faces of Kia dealers when they reach their showrooms.
For the driver in the transformed interior there is a clear instrument cluster, precise instrument graphics that are scanned with only a slight dip of the eyes, wide windscreen and fine side and rear visibility. There are also easily reached central toggle-style switches. Standard on all models are Bluetooth, radio CD player with MP3 compatibility plus AUX, iPod and USB connections all controlled from the steering wheel controls.
At the heart of the performance are a choice of 1.4 or 1.6 litre Gamma engines matched to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic with manumatic shift gate in the S and SLi models, and six-speed manual or four-speed manumatic in the S. The 1.6 has gasoline direct injection (GDi) technology while the 1.4 litre has MPi. Both are smooth, quiet yet eager engines providing oodles of power and acceleration on demand.
Nevertheless neither of them is a fuel guzzler. The 1.6 returns figures of 5.6l/100kms for the manual and 6.1l/100kms for the auto, while the 1.4 gives 5.7l/100kms for the manual and 6.3l/100kms for the automatic.
The new Rio also scores high marks for safety with a body shell of high-strength steel and boasting a five-star crash integrity rating. The car has a reassuringly solid feel, plus other standard safety features include six airbags, electric stability control, projection headlamps and new front ``cornering'' lamps, ABS anti-lock brakes and emergency brake assist (EBA).
For the Kia engineers the focus was on drive, handling and ride characteristics and they have done a wonderful job. The car is a delight to drive with the electric power steering and 15, 16 or 17-inch low-profile tyres combining for precise and nimble handling on twisting, wet hill roads that recalled happy memories of driving my Mini Cooper.
There is great stability under braking and when accelerating, plus the tuned suspension ensures a smooth ride on surfaces ranging from wet, pot-holed gravel tracks to unevenly surfaced country lanes. The overall drive comfort is greatly enhanced by superbly supportive sports-type seats.
Price: from $16,290
Warranty: 5-years/unlimited kilometres
Resale: 46% (based on outgoing model) Source: Glass's Guide
Service Interval: 15,000km/12 months
Safety: 5-star NCAP (estimated)
Engine: 1.4-litre 79kW/135Nm four-cylinder; 1.6-litre direct-injection 103kW/167Nm four-cylinder
Body: 3 & 5-door hatch, 4-door sedan
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 4-speed auto (S), six-speed auto (Si and SLi), front drive
Thirst: 5.7-6.3L/100km, tank 43 litres, 91RON, CO2 135-150g/km.