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Kia Rio wins Carsguide Car of the Year 2011

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    The Rio scores its success off the back of impressive design and packaging, tweaking by an Australian suspension expert, topped by smart pricing starting from $16,290.

The Kia Rio emerges as the judges' choice and a surprising favourite ...

It was the closest ever vote in Carsguide Car of the Year history. And it produced a surprise winner for 2011. It's the Kia Rio. The Korean compact claims the crown by just one vote over the impressive Volvo S60, with the funky Ford Focus rounding out the top three at the end of a year that is setting all sorts of records.

More than one million cars will again find new homes in 2011, it's increasingly likely that the Holden Commodore's 15-year reign as Australia's favourite car will end, and new brands from China - Geely and Chery - have taken the count in showrooms to more than 60 individual nameplates.

On the COTY front, the Rio becomes the second baby-class member and only the second Korean car to claim the crown, as well as the first from the junior member of the Hyundai-Kia conglomerate.

The Rio scores its success off the back of impressive design and packaging, tweaking by an Australian suspension expert, topped by smart pricing starting from $16,290.

Surprisingly, it was top choice with six of the 10 COTY judges in 2011, as the Volvo and Ford split the others.

At the end of two intensive and tiring days of back-to-back running, the Rio did best when measured against the COTY judging criteria of value, design, technology and safety.

"It's a nice, light, easy car to drive. It's got a feisty engine and some nice little touches like the hill-start system and an upshift indicator light," says chief judge, Ged Bulmer.

The safety-first Volvo S60 is also a hit with judges, apart from one obvious shortcoming in Australia.

"The only thing I don't like is the spare tyre. It doesn't have one," says Neil Dowling. "For what it is, it drives well. Inside, the design is kinda the anti-Focus."

The baby Ford is a driving favourite but loses out for its ergonomics and a higher price point than the Rio.

"It's good value, has a good sound system, and is good value. But the dash layout is ordinary - it looks like someone threw the buttons at the dash," says Mark Hinchliffe.

The COTY contest in 2011 follows a familiar pattern of recent times, with 10 judges, 10 cars and two days of tough driving on a variety of surfaces to check everything from freeway noise levels and fuel economy to dust sealing and cornering grip. There is also an intensive pre-drive briefing and quality check on all 10 contenders, which range in price from the Nissan Micra at $14,990 as an ST automatic to the heavily-loaded Range Rover Evoque at nearly $100,000.

Action starts at the Ford Proving Group at You Yangs when all the contenders come together for the first time, with the good looking Evoque and the homeground hero - the diesel-powered Ford Territory diesel - sharing the spotlight.

Everyone wants to know how they will compare, which strengths and weaknesses will be revealed, and how the eventual contenders will stack up against the reigning COTY champion, the Volkswagen Polo.

One change for 2011 is an early cull which takes out five hopefuls.

At then end of a rugged first day, with many laps of the right-and-handling course at You Yangs, a gravel-road circuit and road time in and around Geelong, there are a few surprises.

The Evoque is out early because it is poor value, quality and driving failings let the Micra down, while the Volkswagen Scirocco is way too sports focussed - one judge asks for a kidney belt because the ride is almost rock hard - and the Hyundai i40 is nothing special for design or driving. The Territory also goes out because of its basic age, despite the updated front-end styling and diesel for 2011, and shortcomings in a variety of areas.

So day two starts early with five cars - with the Holden Cruze hatch as the only local - and two judges aboard each for a series of real-world road loops and plenty of swapping and changing.

Then it's time for a sit-down, talk-through and the final voting. Each judge lists their cars from top to bottom and the one with the lowest score wins.

The Cruze looks good but has plenty of shortcomings, from lacklustre rear suspension to reflections on the instruments.

"Back-to-back it with the Focus and you have to go with the Ford," says Stuart Martin.

The BMW is a driving favourite, but it has a cramped cabin and falls down on value.

"It's not what you expect for that sort of money. The packaging is compromised," says Neil Dowling.

So the final three emerge, at the end of a tight contest with no truly standout car. The Toyota Camry might have been The One, and Ford also has the four-cylinder Falcon coming soon, but both arrived too late for the COTY cutoff.

Eventually, the Rio emerges as the judges' choice and a surprising favourite despite its compact size and value-first pricing. It's definitely helped by the suspension work by Graeme Gambold, as well as a six-speed gearbox and feisty engine.

"It looks good and it's value for money. All the audio stuff is there.  It's got cruise control and a spare," says Karla Pincott. "Is it better than the best cars in the class? Yes."

And there it is, the Carsguide Car of the Year for 2011.


1. Kia Rio
2. Volvo S60
3. Ford Focus
4. BMW 118
5. Holden Cruze
6. Range Rover Evoque
7. Ford Territory
8. Volkwagen Scirocco
9. Hyundai i40
10. Nissan Micra.

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 36 comments

  • Compared to the US model, this Rio is overpriced and under-equiped. Check out the Rio SX Where is one like that here in Australia?!

    Mark of Perth Posted on 30 June 2012 11:32pm
  • And yet the the biggest contradiction/paradox of all this is that this kind of competition is good for the market. Just makes each generation of these cars even sweeter. I can't wait for the vw golf mk7.

    Jerry Posted on 22 December 2011 2:26am
  • But seriously if I am over this argument about jap vs korean and euro cars. I am still getting Euro cars because they simply are more superior. I'm chinese and I have nothing to be ashamed about. Nobody wants a chinese car anyway because they are 10-15 years away. I don't have anything againts the Japanese or koreans but stop deluding yourselves that their cars are better. Government taxes make you think so. The biggest contradiction is for all the supporters is that it is so European influenced and designed they'd might as well pass it off as a car built by a German car manufacturer subsidiary with a plant in Korea. I'd rather buy an Australian car that is built in Korea or has a korean engine. At least it helps the industry or so I think...whatever. My other car will be the cruze.

    Jerry Posted on 22 December 2011 2:00am
  • To Dean of Melbourne Posted on 19 December 2011 10:11am - If the massive government tax on Euro cars are dropped then they'd sell like hot cakes here and then there would be less issues as maintenance can be cheaper and mechanics would have better experience/training. All the issues you described happen to any car manufacturer. Me still shakes his head at Kia trying to be a polo but at least it's design is german and italian influenced(that I shall correct).

    Jerry Posted on 22 December 2011 1:45am
  • The RIO may be a reasonable car, but I really don't believe that the Hyundai/Rio stable have done anything to surpass what other cars have already offered. To say that the Rio is better than a Fiesta or Polo is stretching it. Most other mags and features knocked out the Rio early in their evaluation for COTY and the reasons are all valid. Carsguide has simply ignored these here.

    Galaxy of Sydney Posted on 21 December 2011 3:50pm
  • Sumpguard, you mean the steel that they produce in their own factory to 'VERY' high standards, using all australian iron ore?

    DaleW Posted on 21 December 2011 12:04pm
  • Hyundai and Kia use cheap steel and will always have the chasis strength of cooked spaghetti, no wonder they wont handle or steer. All their cars are cheap and cheerful to cater to the pretend rich poseurs.

    Sumpguard Posted on 21 December 2011 9:33am
  • Hyundai/Kia have improved very significantly in the last 5 years, we have had a previous gen Elantra for 5 years and a Lantra before that, it was like they were built by different companies. That being said I am not sure how the Rio beats the Elantra, the interior of the Elantra leaves the Rio for dead, infact it leave nearly all cars in similar size and/or price bracket for dead. It looks better, and drives better, same vehicle underneath better clothing.

    DaleW of Central Vic Posted on 21 December 2011 8:02am
  • Denot the Optima is stunning but just like my Sportage the ride is only "most of the way there". I think Kia made a marketing mistake also by only bringing in the top spec model (due to supply constraints). They need to bring in the base model and work up from there. It is a fantastic car don't get me wrong and the styling leaves pretty much everything else for dead this side of $150 grand but Aussies are slow to catch on. They have only sold one up here in Cairns since its release but that one car gets a hell of a lot of stares! If you take the Rio for a test drive as I have done you'll see what I mean about the ride. It is just about spot on for our roads. The only criticism I had was the steering is a tad light. We will most likely be buying one in the new year at some stage. Hopefully Kia can dial a tad more weight into the steering at speed in the meantime.

    Neal of Cairns Posted on 21 December 2011 7:50am
  • Dont get me wrong, Rio is a good car, but I don't think it can beat Optima as COTY! It has too much hard plastic, road noise and not enough gadgets! If I could pick a COTY out of Kia, I would pick Optima or Sportage. But why these "professionals" pick RIO over others in the magnificent Kia line-up (and pick Micra over them as well) is hard to tell ...

    denot of Australia Posted on 20 December 2011 2:43pm
  • Well done KIA ... what an awesome exciting car company offering all the mod-cons and not looking like a fridge! Thinking of trading my 2010 VW Jetta Highline for a Kia Optima Platinum. What a car!

    David of Springfield Lakes Posted on 20 December 2011 12:19pm
  • Having worked in a VW service department I can tell you that the Polo and any other VW for that matter are a complete waste of money and likely to send you broke once the warranty runs out. As for the Koreans, they are improving in leaps and bounds! Go KIA, congrats on the COTY!

    Navman of Sydney Posted on 20 December 2011 11:01am
  • Why bother reading this if your not happy with the outcome. Here are a bunch of professional people testing cars against each other. Well done with the Kia winning, it just shows how far they have come in a short period of time. Being a Ford fan, i think companies like Kia have surpassed companies like Ford who have been around for a 100 years in only 15 years.

    johnboy76 of Brisbane Posted on 19 December 2011 10:37am
  • I spy some BADGE SNOBS...

    herb Posted on 19 December 2011 10:14am
  • Jerry! The designer of the Kia Rio/Sportage is an Italian by the name of Massimo Frascella working out of the Kia Design studio in Califorinia. And, by the way with your German superiority dream, the first VW Golf in the 70's was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. VW has just aquired Ital Design and intergrated it into their portfolio. Go Korea! Making great cars for the people with 7 year warranties in Europe. VW and other German car manufacturers have had many reliability issues - esspecially the DSG gearbox and other electrical gremlins. Finally, this last generation of BMW's and Merc's have apparently improved their game but the rest are over rated in quality. My wife owns a Mercedes A160 and it has its good points but we will not buy German again - no thanks! Cracked plastics, computer failures, steering rack rattles, rough idling, unusual gearchanges (auto) and my sister's BM has had many issues as well.

    Dean of Melbourne Posted on 19 December 2011 10:11am
  • Me shaking my head at Kia trying to be a Polo. But hey at least the looks are designed by a German.

    Jerry Posted on 18 December 2011 1:16pm
  • How did the Lexus Is 200 or 250 rate. Lexus, wonderful car that it is.

    youdy beaudy of gold coast Posted on 18 December 2011 10:14am
  • You marked down the Focus for being at a higher price point than the Rio - that is because it is in a larger size class too!!! Very unfair to mark down based on that, as if you compare the Fiesta to the Rio (same class range), the pricing points are very simila. As for the centre console layout, that is a matter of taste. Again, the layout (on the lower priced Focuses) appears in the Fiesta, and I love it in mine - very easy to use and intuitive. Not saying that the Focus should have won, but the reasons listed above to justify not choosing it are not the fairest you could use. Also , "baby Ford"? Um, forget about the aforementioned Fiesta???

    Bridget Posted on 18 December 2011 8:07am
  • Wow, you must have been well paid to make this award. Have you actualy driven one of these. My daughter asked me to look at one for her. I reckon they are rubbish.

    James of Central Coast, NSW Posted on 18 December 2011 7:54am
  • You've got to be kidding Carsguide!! This is a JOKE! Where is the C Class Benz Diesel? I just bought one recently and its an absolute GEM! ...Whats sort of Tuppenny experts do you have on Staff these Days? A Korean COTY! Hah! Humbug!! Now we are a Third World Country.....well at least your Motoring Journalists seem to be from one....

    John Laine of Rosemeadow Posted on 17 December 2011 9:29pm
  • Interesting to note also, that the Rio's 1.6 liter engine has just one a place on Ward's top ten engines for 2011. Quite amazing the progress that Hyundai/Kia have made in recent times. Can't wait to get mine next year. Well done Kia!

    Wombat of ACT Posted on 17 December 2011 12:33am
  • I am looking forward to having one of these in my driveway BUT I am disappointed that many of the cool features in the overseas model (SLi) haven't made it to the Australian vehicle. Tempted to wait for the 3 door + sedan to arrive incase they add some of those missing features across the range but I don't want to miss out on the SLi wheels!!!

    Jamesw of melbourne Posted on 16 December 2011 7:54pm
  • cool.......I can seem to remember the camira was car of the year...and what a bobby dazzler that machine was!.....aah the memories...I used to drive a tow truck.

    paul robinson of melb Posted on 16 December 2011 7:43pm
  • Just bought one for my wife 4 weeks ago and she loves it ... so do I! As a matter of fact, I was so impressed with how Kia have turned the corner into manfacturing quality cars, I bought a new Sportage last week! Tested all the other SUV's and this one really streaks ahead on value for money and the features list is endless. Well done Kia!

    MG Posted on 16 December 2011 2:48pm
  • LOL! What a joke! Once I heard that Micra was on the top 10 list, we knew the judges are pretty bias (or weird). "The Evoque is out early because it is poor value" ... What about the Micra? Probably better put Chery as the COTY!

    drive Posted on 16 December 2011 2:42pm
  • And Drive COTY the great C-Class Diesel (and or coupe diesel) is not even on the top 10? Beaten by Cruze? What's the category to be the top 10?

    denot Posted on 16 December 2011 2:36pm
  • I agree with Harry. Kia Rio over the Polo any day. The Rio will still be on the road in 10 years time, while the Polo will be bankrupting yet another unsuspecting owner.

    John Posted on 16 December 2011 2:05pm
  • My partner and I just purchased a little black one of these last weekend. Very roomy, very nippy, good finish and comfortable! The fuel efficiency, safety and looks sold us (same designer/designers as Audi). Not only that but doing a bit of research on it as well ... Certainly have come a long way in the past 10 years to build this little car. Don't let the history of the KIA badge fool you.

    Joe of melbourne Posted on 16 December 2011 1:34pm
  • Yet another feather in the cap of Kia who is emerging explosively onto the world scene and yet another reason to back up my already rock solid decision to buy one of these next year. Can't wait to begin my job selling new Kias in Jan/Feb next year as well, makes it a breeze to sell when they have so much backing and I love them enough to buy one over everything else! Go Kia!

    Cameron B of Mt Gravatt, QLD Posted on 16 December 2011 1:12pm
  • ...and Galaxy you're one of those brand snobs clealry. I've driven the RIO have you? Didn't think so. The auto is seemless.

    Neal of Cairns Posted on 16 December 2011 12:43pm
  • Awesome news and about time the stigma of Korean vehicles was eroded by at least one motoring site with the guts to break with the traditional badge snob brigade.

    Neal of Cairns Posted on 16 December 2011 12:39pm
  • Galaxy, you're a fool if you'd buy a Polo over a Rio. The Polo would be great during the warranty (if a bit bland for the money), but outside it's unfortunately a ticking time bomb. The TSI engines and DSG gearboxes are awesome, but frightfully expensive if they break, which they seem to do a bit too often. The Rio is still great to drive, looks awesome and has a quality build to match. The 6sp auto is hardly rubbish either.

    Harry Posted on 16 December 2011 12:06pm
  • Cool, but shame at the same time. Volvo really could have used the market plus the advertising if they won COTY. Kia already has enough good press going about.

    alex Posted on 16 December 2011 10:53am
  • Well done Kia!

    herb Posted on 16 December 2011 10:15am
  • Its 6 speed auto is rubbish. How do you justify this b-grade movie at a-grade pricing. Surely anyone would just buy a Polo.

    Galaxy of Sydney Posted on 16 December 2011 9:49am
  • I agree that the Scirocco was not a legitimate contender being too sports focused but your comment that the suspension was rock hard seems surprising given that it has adaptive dampers with three settings, normal, sport and comfort as standard fitment. Did anyone think to change the setting?

    Rob of Taylors Lakes Posted on 16 December 2011 8:25am
Read all 36 comments

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