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Kia Rio 2019 review: S

EXPERT RATING
6.9
How is the Kia Rio S like a plan from an over-promising telecommunications provider? I spent a week in a very red one to find out.

You know that feeling when your telco introduces some cool new feature - like free Netflix or cheap international roaming – only for you to discover you didn't spend enough on your plan to qualify for them?

That’s like the Kia Rio S. While the new and improved Rio formula for 2019 includes two new transmissions and one new engine, the base-model S misses out on any of those needed improvements.

Sure, it still has those killer Rio looks, but is the rest of the package enough to justify its $17,490 cost of entry in 2019?

I spent the week before Christmas in a Santa suit-red one to find out.

Kia Rio 2019: S
Safety rating
Engine Type1.4L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.2L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$19,090

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

As I mentioned, the cost of entry for the automatic Rio S is $17,490. With the $520 ‘Signal Red’ paint, the as-tested for this car comes to $18,010.

In the base-model stakes, every dollar is going to count, so consider you can have Honda’s entry-level Jazz VTi with an automatic for $16,990, the Mazda2 Neo auto at $16,990 and the Suzuki Swift GL Navigator auto at $17,990.

So, the Rio S is more expensive than two of those very appealing options, but multimedia inclusions are one of the Rio’s strong points. You get easily one of the best looking and functioning 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreens at this end of the market. It has a sensible design, a responsive touch interface, big-chunky shortcut buttons, supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Kia leads the charge with what has to be the best multimedia offering in the small car segment. (image credit: Tom White) Kia leads the charge with what has to be the best multimedia offering in the small car segment. (image credit: Tom White)

There’s also an excellent reversing camera and rear parking sensors, but that’s about where the good equipment comes to an end. You do get the expected inclusions at this price; halogen headlamps, hard-wearing cloth interior trim, dorky-looking 15-inch steel wheels and auto headlamps.

Missing is cruise control - available on all three of those competitors - alloy wheels and sat nav (both standard on the Swift) and, most importantly, AEB which is standard on the Mazda2. More on that in the ‘safety’ section, though.

The Rio's 15-inch steel wheels look particularly dorky. (image credit: Tom White) The Rio's 15-inch steel wheels look particularly dorky. (image credit: Tom White)

In terms of value, the Rio S would be in strong contention if it were $1000 cheaper, but could use the addition of AEB, alloy wheels, or at least cruise control to justify its current price-point.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

Here is where you certainly won’t be disappointed. The Rio looks and feels fantastic for an entry-level car. 

The design is simple but modern. (image credit: Tom White) The design is simple but modern. (image credit: Tom White)

The European design influence of Kia’s ex-Audi design boss, Peter Schreyer, is clear through the car’s signature grille, neatly squared-off dimensions and its wonderfully resolved rear.

It’s more conservative than the design of the Mazda2, but much more modern than that of its distant-cousin, the Hyundai Accent, or competitors like the Jazz or Yaris.

The Rio's silhouette blends angles and curves well. (image credit: Tom White) The Rio's silhouette blends angles and curves well. (image credit: Tom White)

The Signal Red on our car really makes the most of those black plastic highlights in the grille, window linings and wing mirrors, although it perhaps brought a little too much attention to those 15-inch steel wheels and their average-looking plastic hubcaps.

Inside is also fantastic. The seat design is up to date, with nice synthetics and a modern-looking pattern, and the three-spoke wheel is slick, but finished in a nasty plastic. The real highlight is the almost premium-looking dash design.

Inside is just as good looking, and betray's the Rio's price-point. (image credit: Tom White) Inside is just as good looking, and betray's the Rio's price-point. (image credit: Tom White)

The matte-grey insert running the length of the dash is an elegant solution compared to most competitor’s single-colour plastic-clad interiors, and the tasteful chrome and black contrasts around the vents and instruments adds to the European flavour.

The lack of legroom under the steering wheel was a bit of a let-down in an otherwise great-looking and spacious cockpit.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

The sturdy, squared-off design gives the Rio’s interior heaps of room for occupants. Apart from the limited legroom for the driver, the car feels almost a size up in terms of arm-flailing space and headroom.

There’s a slew of sneaky spots for stowing items, including big trenches and massive bottle holders in the doors, a decently sized glovebox, and – rare for a car in this segment – a centre-console box (you can add one to a Mazda2, but it’ll cost you almost $500).

The Rio has plenty of storage areas. (image credit: Tom White) The Rio has plenty of storage areas. (image credit: Tom White)

Our car had fitted an ashtray in one of the centre cupholders if you’re into that, and there’s a massive two-tiered trench under the air-conditioning controls which house two 12-volt charge points, an auxiliary input and the primary USB port.

Rear passengers are even treated to decent legroom and decent cupholders in the doors, but there are no vents and just a single power outlet in terms of amenities.

There's not much for rear passengers, but legroom and seat comfort was good. (image credit: Tom White) There's not much for rear passengers, but legroom and seat comfort was good. (image credit: Tom White)

The boot provides 325 litres (VDA) of capacity, which ranks well in this class. It’s far superior to the Mazda2’s 250L, although it can’t beat the Honda Jazz, with it’s "magic seats" and 354L boot. The Suzuki Baleno (355L) and Hyundai Accent (370L) are also out in front.

It's bigger than it looks with the rear seats down. (image credit: Tom White) It's bigger than it looks with the rear seats down. (image credit: Tom White)

Space maxes out at a decent 980L with the seats folded flat, and in my test of the manual S last year I was able to fit a 190cm long plank of wood in there.

One small practicality niggle I had was the low front bumper would occasionally catch on ramps. A little more clearance would have been welcome.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   5/10

The Rio S misses out big time under the hood. It’s stuck with an old-fashioned 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine producing 74kW/133Nm. While those power figures aren’t tragic compared to competitors, it’s the combination with an old-feeling four-speed automatic that makes the whole set-up seem hopelessly outdated in 2019.

There's room for improvement here. (image credit: Tom White) There's room for improvement here. (image credit: Tom White)

There are simply not enough ratios to make for a smooth drive or a reasonable fuel figure. Driving the Rio was probably the first time I found myself wishing the Korean brand had simply implemented a Continuously Variable Transmission instead.

If you’re set on the Rio, consider spending the extra $1500 for the new Rio Sport which has a six-speed transmission.

How much fuel does it consume?   6/10

The four-speed transmission had its effect on my fuel usage for the week. While Kia claims you’ll extract 6.2L/100km from the Rio, my week of driving produced a significantly worse 9.5L/100km.

The 1.4-litre engine is thirsty, but drinks entry-level fuel. (image credit: Tom White) The 1.4-litre engine is thirsty, but drinks entry-level fuel. (image credit: Tom White)

I was able to get that down to 8.0L/100km in the six-speed manual version of the S, showing the value extra ratios (and the ability to have more control over the gears) offers.

Mercifully, the Rio S drinks base-grade 91RON unleaded petrol.

What's it like to drive?   6/10

Driving the Rio S proved frustrating. The excellent suspension tune and ride quality were writing cheques that the lackluster drivetrain simply couldn’t cash.

Even here in the base-model, the ride (which is tuned here in Australia) is excellent. The little hatch rides flat through the corners, and the steering is direct and full of feel. Over larger bumps it performs admirably, soaking up most disturbances without much shudder making its way into the cabin.

What does make its way into the cabin, however, is quite a lot of noise. While not unusual in the small car segment, the Rio’s road noise is harsh on most surfaces, and tyre noise really builds at freeway speeds. Freeway driving wasn’t particularly pleasant in other ways, too, considering the S misses out on cruise control.

While the engine and transmission were largely fine on flat, straight roads, anything even remotely challenging - such as driving up a hill or attempting an overtaking manoeuvre - revealed some less-than-impressive characteristics.

It simply takes too long in the top two cruising gears for the engine to reach its 4000rpm peak torque point, and pushing the pedal to the firewall out of sheer frustration causes it to surge to the redline in first or second gear.

It makes for a noisy, jerky drive which could easily have been smoothed out by a smaller turbocharged engine with a lower peak torque point, or even just a few more gears.

It’s a let down, given you are charged some $500 for the automatic version of the S, and there are much better engines and transmissions available further up the range.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

7 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

The Rio maintains a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2017, although misses out on any kind of active safety refinements.

To be fair, most cars don’t get the luxury of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) at this price, but the Mazda2 Neo proves that it can (and should) be done.

To get AEB on the Rio you need to spend an extra $4500 to get into the top-spec GT-Line (which is, by far, the best Rio anyway, read my review of it here). 

What you do get is six airbags as well as the standard suite of stability and traction controls. ANCAP gave the Rio full marks for side and pole impact scores.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   9/10

The Rio comes with Kia’s ever impressive seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty program, and it’s easily one of the car’s strongest points against its competitors. 

Suzuki and Toyota, for example, continue with a three-year, 100,000km plans, and the better offerings from Mazda and Honda are set at five years, unlimited kilometres.

The Rio's warranty is substantial, but servicing could be a little cheaper... (image credit: Tom White) The Rio's warranty is substantial, but servicing could be a little cheaper... (image credit: Tom White)

There is also a capped-price-servicing program offered for the lifetime of the warranty costing between $248 and $600 per visit, averaging out to $390.71 per 15,000km interval.

Verdict

The Rio S is a good-looking and well-sized small hatch which could easily appeal to penny-pinching buyers with its impressive warranty, fantastic multimedia offerings and its solid practicality.

It’s let down by an ancient engine and transmission combination that belongs in the past, and it would make a better proposition if it was at least $1000 cheaper or came with the Rio Sport’s six-speed auto.

Which micro machine appeals most to you and why? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$20,040
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$16,990
Highest Price
$23,090

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GT-LINE 1.0L, ULP, 7 SP AUTO $23,090 2019 Kia Rio 2019 GT-LINE Pricing and Specs
S 1.4L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $19,090 2019 Kia Rio 2019 S Pricing and Specs
Sport 1.4L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $17,790 2019 Kia Rio 2019 Sport Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6.9
Price and features7
Design8
Practicality7
Engine & trans5
Fuel consumption6
Driving6
Safety7
Ownership9
Tom White
Journalist

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