A turbo engine and sports suspension will later this year cap the more subdued Kia Rio light hatchback range that launches this week, featuring in a new, more performance-focused variant.
The addition of a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol model - with optional six-speed automatic - is Kia's worst kept secret but one management has consistently downplayed.
However, at the launch of the Rio range in Melbourne this week, Kia Australia general manager of product, Roland Rivero, stressed that the new SLi model was the "current" flagship, indicating a higher-grade variant was on its way.
The Rio 1.0-litre T-GDI (for turbo-gasoline direct injection) is the most likely candidate and will become the flagship of the other 1.4-litre naturally aspirated variants that go on sale this week, becoming the go-to choice if buyers want a six-speed automatic. The 1.4 model is available with a four-speed auto or six-speed manual.
Available in some parts of the world, the T-GDI delivers 88kW of power and 172Nm of torque from 1500rpm. A 73kW/172Nm version is available in Europe but is unlikely to be added alongside the similar 73kW/133Nm 1.4-litre unit.
The engine is a derivative of the 50kW/95Nm 1.0-litre triple naturally aspirated unit used in Kia's light-car class Picanto in some markets.
Rumours exist about the hot-hatch Rio being shoehorned with the Cerato Koup's 1.6-litre turbo petrol four that pumps 150kW/265Nm - rumours that were answered by Kia executives today with a flat denial and suggestions that the suggestion should be filed under "urban myth."
Suspension work has already been completed on the Rio range, including hot-hatch specific components such as firmer springs, new dampers, bigger anti-roll bars and 17-inch alloy wheels that are not available for 1.4-litre versions.
Kia explains that the T-GDI wasn't launched at the same time as its more pedestrian sibling due to the huge demand for the engine from the Korean factory and the ability to get consistent supply of the six-speed automatic transmission - the most favoured transmission for Australia.
CarsGuide understands the T-GDI Rio - in right-hand drive - has already been driven in Korea by Kia Australia staff with the six-speed manual gearbox, although this specification is aimed at the UK market.
The Rio T-GDI is expected to cost about $26,000 plus on-road costs and would compete in the small-car segment with the Renault Clio TCe with an 88kW/190Nm engine and $26,500 plus on-road cost price tag.
It would also bump gloves with the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo (81kW/175Nm) at $23,490 before on-road costs, and the Volkswagen Polo which uses the same engine as the Fabia priced from at $18,690.
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