When the current generation Kia Rio launched back in 2017, it looked fantastic.
But, when it came to the experience behind the wheel, the car was hampered by a less-than impressive engine and lacklustre transmission options.
It was such a shame. Now though, the powers that be over at Kia have imbued the Rio with new life. It has new transmissions and a new engine, and at the top of the pecking order is the car reviewed here, the GT-Line.
So, has Kia finally explored the Rio’s potential? Is the GT-Line as hot as it looks? Read on to find out.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
Fittingly, the Rio GT-Line looks like an angry little car with a lot to prove. In this ‘Mighty Yellow’ (love it) shade, it looks like it’s ready to hunt down cars in the segment that own the whole ‘fun’ thing.
Specifically, it looks ready to take on the Suzuki Swift Sport with its flared side-skirts, black highlights adorning the front and rear bumpers. And the little gloss-black highlight spoiler round the back which looks like a nod to its distant cousin, the i30N. There’s even a gloss-black highlight diffuser and a peppy-looking dual-exhaust.
For what it's worth, I think it looks fantastic. It’s aggressive, but not overtly so and strays away from using tacky carbon-look trim on the outside. But it’s more than just sporty bits. The GT-Line maintains every bit of the excellent spacious design of the Rio range on the inside.
Fittingly, the Rio GT-Line looks like an angry little car with a lot to prove.
It’s aggressive, but not overtly so and strays away from using tacky carbon-look trim on the outside.
Present are low, comfortable seats, although there isn’t a shred of sportiness about them. The cabin features lots of nice leather touches, and setting the GT-Line apart is the carbon-look dash, which surprised me by being more than just a plastic insert and having a half-way decent texture on it.
The flat-bottomed GT-Line-specific leather steering-wheel is just the right size and has nice ridges for sitting your hands on as well as ergonomic controls for the multimedia and drive information functions.
The flat-bottomed GT-Line-specific leather steering-wheel is just the right size and has nice ridges for sitting your hands on.
There are some cheap bits which tarnish the look and feel though. Unlike its direct competitor, the Mazda2 GT, the Rio GT-Line misses out on leather trimmed seats and door trim. In fact, there’s no door trim at all and a basic pad for resting your elbow on, which is hardly comfortable…
The GT-Line also has basic-looking air-conditioning controls which are the same ones you get in the base-model car, although this isn’t unusual for a car in this class.
The GT-Line has basic-looking air-conditioning controls which are the same ones you get in the base-model car.
Completing the package is a classic four-dial instrument cluster and a colour LCD screen in the centre which presents relatively basic, but welcome, trip information.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
Surely, the GT-Line is a pricey car then, right? Well… surprisingly, no.
The GT-Line comes in at $23,090, or just $4070 more than an entry-level automatic Rio S, but in terms of features there’s not too much difference.
Apart from the already mentioned interior and exterior trim, the GT-Line also scores LED DRLs, fog lights and rear lights, a stop-start system and the same 17-inch alloys available on the ‘Sport’ grade that sits beneath it.
It would be nice at this price point to have built-in nav, DAB+ radio, push-start, and leather seats like the Mazda2 GT, but it still outclasses most of the mainstream competition like the Honda Jazz and Suzuki Swift.
Available across the range is the same easy-to-use and well-laid out 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system.
You’re probably wondering where the rest of your $4k goes, given the rest of the Rio range gets most of the same features – but stay with us – because the GT-Line more than makes up for it in the safety and engine departments.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
The big news is here. The GT-Line is the only Rio to score a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine which produces 88kW/172Nm.
The rest of the range has the holdover (and critically-panned) 1.4-litre 74kW/133Nm engine which has hampered the Rio’s score in the past.
Even though you only score an extra 14kW, the three-cylinder is a much more modern and punchy little unit packed full of character. It allows you to actually explore the better properties of the Rio’s chassis with the solid dollop of extra torque (39Nm) making all the difference.
The GT-Line is the only Rio to score a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine which produces 88kW/172Nm.
At this price, you can also say farewell to the archaic (and also critically-panned) four-speed automatic, as the GT-Line gets a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, a first for Kia in Australia.
While not as slick as a VW offering, the Kia dual-clutch is still a pretty quick-shifter and can be placed in manual mode by tilting the shift-lever to the right. Frustratingly though, there are no paddle-shifters which would really help extract a little more fun out of the combination.
There’s also a start-stop system on the GT-Line which is better than the irritating Volkswagen ones, but still not quite as intuitive as Mazda’s ‘i-stop’ system.
Kia claims the Rio will use 5.8L/100km on the combined cycle, and although the little engine is a modern turbocharged unit, it will happily drink base-grade 91RON petrol and E10.
On my week of fun-packed driving, I extracted 8.9L/100km.
Understandable, given I was pushing the little engine to see what it was capable of, and frequently turning off the stop-start system. Still a miss if you drive the car how it really should be driven, though…
How practical is the space inside? 7/10
The GT-Line loses none of the practicality from the rest of the Rio range. The cabin feels spacious, thanks to a low seating position and high roof, and there’s decent legroom for all occupants thanks to the boxy design and wheels far to the edges of the Rio’s chassis.
As mentioned earlier, the steering wheel and multimedia system offer excellent ergonomics, but there’s nothing to rest your knee on in the tight foot-well. While this was a little awkward, it was no where near as irritating as it was in the manual version of the ‘S’ I tested last year.
As mentioned earlier, the steering wheel and multimedia system offer excellent ergonomics.
Front passengers benefit from a deep storage trough in front of the shift lever and under the air conditioning controls there's a little shelf suitable for phones and wallets. The USB, 'aux-in' port and two 12-volt outlets are also located here.
There are two deep cupholders in the transmission tunnel and a small top-box providing some extra storage.
Like all current Hyundais and Kias, the door inserts for both front and rear passengers have huge cupholders.
Like all current Hyundais and Kias, the door inserts for both front and rear passengers have huge cupholders which will hold almost any bottle you throw at them, as well as deep hollow troughs for tidbits.
Aside from those storage bins and a single 12-volt outlet, rear passengers don’t get much, there aren’t even any air vents back there but I found the leg and headroom excellent (I’m 182cm tall) for a car this size.
I found the leg and headroom excellent (I’m 182cm tall) for a car this size.
The boot remains the same as the rest of the Rio range, at a decent 325 litres VDA. That’s good for the segment, although it is bested by the flexible Honda Jazz (354L), Suzuki Baleno (355L) and distant cousin, the Hyundai Accent (370L) which is the segment leader.
Under the boot is a space-saver spare. It’s no full-size, but better than a repair kit.
The boot remains the same as the rest of the Rio range, at a decent 325 litres VDA.
With the rear seats down, there's 980 litres of boot space. (VDA)
Under the boot floor is a space-saver spare.
What's it like to drive? 8/10
The Rio is awesome to drive compared to it's lesser 1.4-litre versions. The little turbo three-cylinder engine has small amounts of lag to contend with, but generally shoots up the rev range and into its power band with gruff enthusiasm.
After my initial drive, though, I found myself desperately searching for a ‘Sport’ mode. The GT-Line is loads of fun… but if it were just 15 per cent better the Suzuki Swift Sport (the only hot hatch left in this price segment) would have a serious competitor on its hands.
It would be as simple as adding paddle-shifters, upping throttle response and sharpening each shift. It’s that close to being something truly great.
This is thanks to the Rio already having fantastic locally-tuned suspension, responsive - if a little stiff at low-speed - steering, and wheels that sit way out to the edges of the chassis.
This Rio is awesome to drive compared to it's lesser 1.4-litre versions.
The GT-Line rides super-flat, dispatching corners with ease, and despite the large alloys with slim rubber allowing quite a lot of road noise into the cabin, impacts with potholes or imperfections are smoothed out reasonably well.
I’m sure the Continental ContiSportContact 2 tyres (costing just under $1000 for a set…) on our test car helped with the feel… I don’t doubt most examples will end up with much cheaper rubber after a year or two on the road.
Make no mistake - the Rio GT-Line is nowhere near a track-ready hero like the Clio RS, Peugeot 208 GTi or soon-to-arrive Ford Fiesta ST, but it’s such a warmed-up improvement over previous Rio offerings it proves little Korean hatchbacks have the potential to be a lot of fun.
Warranty & Safety Rating
7 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 8/10
All current-generation Rios have a five-star ANCAP safety rating as of 2017, but the GT-Line scores extra points as it is the only one in the range that comes with city-speed AEB and Forward Collision Warning as standard. It also scores Lane Keep Assist (LKAS) which is speed-dependent with Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Driver Attention Alert (DAA). A nice set of inclusions which put the GT-Line ahead of most of its competition.
Missing features are Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) – both available on the Mazda2 – as well as active cruise control, but realistically it’s hard to expect the full suite of active safety features on a $23k car.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
The solid ownership promise of a seven-year/unlimited km warranty has always been a strong point for Kia, and it’s no different in this segment for the Rio. It outclasses the five-year warranties on the Mazda2 and Honda Jazz, and makes the three-year offerings on the Toyota Yaris and Suzuki Swift look comical.
The GT-Line requires a service once a year or every 10,000km and the brand provides costing for each service for the first seven years, ranging from $285 - $778.
It averages out at a really quite expensive $484.57 over the seven years, though. The Mazda2 costs an average of $301 over the same period. Worth considering.
The changes under the bonnet and to the standard safety offering are ones that the car has desperately needed since it launched in Australia and help push the Rio back to the forefront as one of the best-equipped, well-priced and most entertaining to drive small hatchbacks on the market.
If it was just a little faster and sharper it would reach beyond itself and into hot hatch territory, but there’s still room for a fully-fledged ‘GT’ grade… Are you listening, Kia?
Do you need the creature comforts of the Mazda2, the performance of the Swift Sport or does the Rio GT-Line sound like a good middle-ground? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication. Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.