Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Sorry, there are no cars that match your search

Kia Rio 'could do better' with a better drivetrain, executives admit

The current-generation Kia Rio runs a 1.4-litre engine and - for the majority of buyers - has an old-school four-speed auto.

The Kia Rio looks set to continue with its underwhelming drivetrain for some time. And no, it’s not just automotive reviewers saying that the engine and transmission in the Rio could do with some tweaks, with some frank admissions made by Kia Australia senior staff.

Kia Australia general manager of product planning, Roland Rivero, indicated at a recent press conference that the drivetrain is potentially meaning the Rio isn’t living up to its potential in the market.

Locally, the current-generation Rio - which is powered by a dull 1.4-litre four-cylinder and has the choice of a six-speed manual or dreary four-speed automatic - has actually fared relatively well in terms of sales. In 2017, the Rio saw a sales jump of 13.2 per cent in a segment of the market that was down by 10.6 per cent overall.

This is a car built to a price, and that price has meant missing out on some of the better technological options under the bonnet.

And while buyers are seemingly fine with the drivetrain, it falls short of what’s expected in the class. For instance, there are some mainstream rivals with downsized turbo engines, and the engine in the Rio doesn’t even feature direct injection - while the previous generation model did.

But this is a car built to a price, and that price has meant missing out on some of the better technological options under the bonnet.

Mr Rivero said it isn’t just Australia where the Rio is going strong - but that the Australian arm wants to see a change as much as the motoring media does.

“Globally the major markets that are purchasing it are quite content with the offering. We’re probably making the most noise in terms of dissatisfaction with the powertrain - but probably more so the transmission,” he said. “We’re the only market screaming for this sort of change.

“In fact, supply is a bit of an issue because other markets are buying plenty of Rios. So there’s a challenge here, but we agree - it is let down by that powertrain and the transmission in particular,” Mr Rivero stated matter-of-factly.

Kia Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith suggested buyers who choose a Rio are possibly more focused on needs.

“Whether a remedy is coming in the future is really a challenge for us at the moment to be negotiating when it comes to the pricing and specs. There may be a transmission option in the future, but we’ve got to assess the feasibility and cost of it,” he said, highlighting the importance of sharp pricing in the light car segment.

Kia Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith said Australian buyers have specific wants, but suggested buyers who choose a Rio are possibly more focused on needs, rather than wants.

“Rio is definitely our second strongest nameplate after Carnival,” he said. “You do get a cycle of people who have had a Rio beforehand, and then they buy it again. They seem to be happy - you guys say it’s underpowered and needs a better transmission, but our customers like the car.

“But to be quite honest, we requested that right at the beginning when we were planning for this model, but it just wasn’t available,” Mr Meredith said. “The Australian market is a little bit different - a more powerful engine and a few more cogs [would be welcomed].

“Rio has got a strong heritage in Australia for us to build upon. It’s going alright - but can it improve? Yes, it can,” he said.

Is it time for the four-speed auto to be put out to pasture? Tell us what you think in the comments below.