Plenty of new car choices are available for under $20 grand on the road, but pretty much all are in the light car or smaller micro car segments.
In total, some 26 models are available from about 15 manufacturers which gives consumers a wide selection to choose from. Offerings come from all quarters... India, Thailand, Japan, Korea and Europe with the lion's share of sales going to Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris with Hyundai's i20 and Suzuki's Swift on the scent.
Kia is in there too with the Rio, arguably one of the better lookers in the segment and priced from an affordable $15,990…. plus on roads which takes it to about $18 grand... drive away.
We were interested in the bottom dollar car - the one that, on price alone, would get you, the buyer, through a Kia dealer's door. We couldn't actually do that because the absolute base model wasn't available so we drove the next one up - the five door, manual, Rio S hatch that sells for $16,990 plus on roads.
Kia recently freshened Rio adding some kit and fiddling the model range adding some more choices. Rio's sporty style has been enhanced with a revised bumper, grille and other minor body hardware changes while the interior gets a new style centre fascia, audio unit design and metallic highlights.
Not much at all really but enough to stay in the race in the face of a new generation Mazda2, Honda Jazz and revised Yaris.
Under the bonnet
The Rio S is powered by a 1.4-litre, fuel injected, four cylinder petrol engine that achieves 79kW/135Nm output. If you want the more up to date direct injection engine you'll have to go for the 1.6-litre car at significantly more money. It also gets an optional six speed auto whereas the 1.4 engine makes do with an old school four speed auto. Why?
The manual across all Rio variants is a six speeder offering a smooth shift action and relatively closely spaced gear ratios. It needs them in the 1.4 because engine performance is OK as long as you are prepared to work the gearbox.
Fuel economy is a claimed 5.7-litres/100km, a figure we got close to on test and it runs on regular unleaded which is a bonus.
Kia Australia takes great pains to give its cars a sporty 'Euro' feel on the road and such is the case here with the Rio S delivering a sporty ride with a decent level of comfort and control. The same applies to the car's steering and overall dynamics and it has disc brakes all round unlike many competitors which have drum rear brakes - say what?
Kia takes its cars out into the Aussie countryside with a bunch of suspension parts, laptops and engineers to get the ride/handling right. The process works a treat with the Rio ahead of most rivals in this area even with a fairly rudimentary strut front/torsion beam rear suspension. Pity it weighs so much as 1221kg for the one we drove.
The test car had a reasonable amount of kit including air conditioning, trip computer, Bluetooth phone and audio, steering wheel audio controls, trip computer and phone controls, hill start assist, remote central locking, OK cloth upholstery, gear shift indicator, reasonable seats (no lumbar adjustment) and a 60/40 folding rear pew.
Happily, the Rio has a full size spare which isn't matched by many of its competitors. It also scores a five star crash rating with all that brings.
Rio is OK on this score... at the better end of the scale thanks to its dynamics but is no firecracker that's for sure. The silent at idle engine is 'adequate' and when you put the foot down you get more noise and a bit more acceleration. Best as an urban runabout.
Rio is a handsome little beast from all angles and is acceptably modern inside even though there's too much hard grey plastic
We like the look of the Rio with its distinct European lines setting it apart from most of the competition many of which are stylistically challenged (ugly).
In contrast, Rio is a handsome little beast from all angles and is acceptably modern inside even though there's too much hard grey plastic. Plenty of storage compartments are provided and it's an easy car to drive and live with.