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Kia Rio S manual 2017 review

The new fourth generation Rio, launched here in January this year, is critical to Kia.
EXPERT RATING
7.4
Kia's entry-level Rio S boasts upgraded multimedia and enhanced safety tech, not to mention improved dynamics and more space. Sounds good, but is it enough to get a jump on the light car big guns?

As it becomes clear they're swimming in a shrinking pool, fish instinctively take up the struggle for available space and oxygen. Suddenly, all bets are off and only the strongest and most competitive manage to rise above an increasingly agitated pack to fight another day.

And so it goes in the Australian new car ecosystem. The 'light' category is still one of the largest in market, where the likes of Hyundai's Accent, the Mazda2, and Toyota's evergreen Yaris live. But the line on the sales chart is ever so consistently heading south.

Year-to-date sales for light cars under $25k are down no less than 20 per cent, and that's on the back of 16 per cent drop over the course of 2016. Meanwhile, medium SUVs are up close to 10 per cent.

So, clearly our automotive tastes are changing, but that big school of little cars is still spinning itself into a frenzy, with an intensifying battle for market share resulting in new and upgraded models offering a seemingly endless stream of advanced technology and ever-lengthening standard equipment lists.

Enter Kia's Rio hatch, the brand's global best-seller, with claimed annual sales "approaching 500,000", which is undoubtedly a big number. But in Australia, the Rio is a middle order player in a light car field of around 15 determined competitors.

Which means the new fourth generation Rio, launched here in January this year, is critical to Kia's chances of grabbing a larger slice of the rapidly diminishing light car pie.

Not surprising then, that the entry-level S model boasts upgraded multimedia connectivity and enhanced safety tech, not to mention improved dynamics and more space. Sounds good, but is it enough to get a jump on the light car big guns?

Kia Rio 2017: S
Safety rating
Engine Type1.4L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.6L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$11,950

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

The architect of Kia's recent styling revolution is Peter Schreyer, a gifted designer that raised automotive eyebrows around the world when he upped stumps at Volkswagen Group in 2006 to join the Korean carmaker.

Under his watch, the Kia design team has internationalised and unified the look of the entire range, from the tiny Picanto to the jumbo-size Carnival people mover.

  • Measuring just over 4.0m long, 1.7m wide, and 1.45m high, the Rio fits the light car template to a tee. (Image credit: James Cleary) Measuring just over 4.0m long, 1.7m wide, and 1.45m high, the Rio fits the light car template to a tee. (Image credit: James Cleary)
  • Inoffensive but uninspiring, with a generic approach to the profile and rear treatment. (Image credit: James Cleary) Inoffensive but uninspiring, with a generic approach to the profile and rear treatment. (Image credit: James Cleary)

A signature element across the line-up is the tabbed 'Tiger Nose' grille, and the new Rio proudly wears a sleek and neatly refined version of it, with distinctive, raked headlights sitting either side.

From there though, the overall look is pretty much hatch by-the-numbers. Inoffensive but uninspiring, with a generic approach to the profile and rear treatment.

An odd touch is a pronounced handle on the rear hatch door. Flying in the face of the current trend towards low-key integration of this type of function, it looks like a clumsy throwback to the 1980s.

The Rio S interior colour palette ranges all the way from grey to dark grey. (Image credit: James Cleary) The Rio S interior colour palette ranges all the way from grey to dark grey. (Image credit: James Cleary)

Inside, the dash is cool and clean, with the central 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen standing proud of the main fascia. Key controls are clear and simple, while the soft-form instrument binnacle houses a large speedo and tachometer, with a multi-function LCD display (including a digital speed read-out) between them.

The Rio S interior colour palette ranges all the way from grey to dark grey, with tightly woven and subtly textured cloth trim on the seats.

There's plenty of space up front, with two cupholders in the centre console and bottle bins in the doors. (Image credit: James Cleary) There's plenty of space up front, with two cupholders in the centre console and bottle bins in the doors. (Image credit: James Cleary)
 
One small whinge relates to the four button blanks in the console. Yes, the S is the base model, but blanks in place of controls for 'stuff' fitted to higher variants really rams the fact home.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

Measuring just over 4.0m long, 1.7m wide, and 1.45m high, the Rio fits the light car template to a tee. Its 2.6m wheelbase plants the wheels close to each corner to maximise interior space, and the result is surprisingly generous accommodation.

Plenty of space up front, with two cupholders (of different sizes) in the centre console and bottle bins (big enough for 1.5-litre bottles) in the doors. There's also a storage box between the front seats and a decent glovebox.

Open the rear hatch and you're greeted with 325 litres of cargo space. (Image credit: James Cleary) Open the rear hatch and you're greeted with 325 litres of cargo space. (Image credit: James Cleary)

For powering and connecting purposes you'll find a 12 volt outlet, an auxiliary line-in socket, a USB port, as well as a drop-down sunglasses box in the roof. And if you're on the gaspers, there's even a cigarette lighter (the ashtray is removable).

Swings and roundabouts in the back, with a handy amount of head and legroom (for this 183cm tester) offset by the lack of controllable air vents, central armrest or cupholders.

It's enough to hold our CarsGuide pram, albeit in an awkwardly side-on position. (Image credit: James Cleary) It's enough to hold our CarsGuide pram, albeit in an awkwardly side-on position. (Image credit: James Cleary)

Three adults across the back will be uncomfortably tight for anything other than short journeys, but there's a 12 volt power socket, USB port, a map pocket on the back of the front passenger seat (only), and (500ml) bottle bins in the doors.

Open the rear hatch and you're greeted with 325 litres of cargo space with the 60/40 split fold rear seat upright. That's enough to hold our three piece suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres), or the CarsGuide pram, albeit in an awkwardly side-on position.

Fold the rear seats down (flat) and the load space increases to a substantial 980 litres. As well as the main cargo area, there's a handy storage bin on the passenger side, a light, parcel hooks, and four tie down anchor points. The spare is a space saver.

Fold the rear seats down (flat) and the load space increases to a substantial 980 litres. (Image credit: James Cleary) Fold the rear seats down (flat) and the load space increases to a substantial 980 litres. (Image credit: James Cleary)

Towing capacity is understandably limited, with 450kg allowed for an unbraked trailer and 1000kg for a braked trailer.

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

The Rio S manual wears a $16,990 price tag (before on-road costs) which positions it more than 10 per cent above entry-level offerings from key segment players like the Hyundai Accent Active, Mazda2 Neo, and Toyota Yaris Ascent.

For that money you'll be on the receiving end of standard features including remote central locking (with keyless entry), the 7.0-inch multimedia screen managing a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, (manual) air conditioning, auto headlights, and reverse parking sensors.

Inside, the dash is cool and clean, with the central 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen standing proud of the main fascia. (Image credit: James Cleary) Inside, the dash is cool and clean, with the central 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen standing proud of the main fascia. (Image credit: James Cleary)

Not bad for a five-door hatch at the budget end of the spectrum, but forget cruise control, sat nav or alloy wheels. For those you'll need to step up to the Si at $21,490, and if your heart's set on rain-sensing wipers, climate control air and a sunroof, the top-spec SLi is your only choice at $22,990.

Worth noting there are seven colours available, and only one of them (white) doesn't cost extra.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The single Rio engine option is the 'Kappa' 1.4-litre, naturally aspirated petrol four cylinder, producing a modest 74kW at a peaky 6000rpm, and 133Nm at a relatively high 4000rpm.

It's an all-alloy, overhead cam, 16-valve design, featuring variable valve timing (inlet and exhaust). It drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual (as tested here) or four speed automatic transmission.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Kia quotes combined (urban/extra urban) fuel economy of 5.6L/100km for the six-speed manual Rio S, emitting 129g/km of CO2 in the process.

That's a pretty handy number, and the other good news is the engine is tuned to run on regular 91 unleaded. At that rate, the tank's 45-litre capacity equates to a theoretical range of around 800km.

Over roughly 350km of city, suburban and freeway running, we recorded 8.4L/100km (courtesy of the on-board computer), which still converts to a handy 535 kays between fills.

What's it like to drive?   6/10

Kia claims the new Rio's bodyshell is stiffer than the outgoing model's, which has allowed a more compliant (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension set-up, and like every other Kia model offered in Australia, the Rio's underpinnings have been comprehensively revised and tweaked by local tuning guru Graeme Gambold.

The results are impressive, with a balance between ride comfort, body control and dynamic response cars costing at least twice as much would be proud to call their own.

That's the good news. The not so good news is the powertrain.

It's an all-alloy, overhead cam, 16-valve design, featuring variable valve timing (inlet and exhaust). (Image credit: James Cleary) It's an all-alloy, overhead cam, 16-valve design, featuring variable valve timing (inlet and exhaust). (Image credit: James Cleary)

With just 74kW on hand to shift 1.1 tonnes of hatchback, and that peak number arriving at a lofty 6000rpm, you'd hope for some low down torque to help with step-off acceleration and mid-range kick.

But no such luck. Torque is less than mega, and with the peak arriving way up at 4000rpm, when you need some extra urge for a snappy lane change or overtaking there's simply nobody home.

To compound the issue, the manual shift is mushy, and the steering is overly light and remote.

Its 2.6m wheelbase plants the wheels close to each corner to maximise interior space. (Image credit: James Cleary) Its 2.6m wheelbase plants the wheels close to each corner to maximise interior space. (Image credit: James Cleary)

In terms of the driving environment, while the interior looks good, the feel bit doesn't exactly measure up. The plastics used around the dash, doors and console are so hard, it's like driving a Tuppaware container on wheels. In fact, those trusty, air-tight receptacles are probably more forgiving than the Rio's main cabin surfaces.

Having said that, the front seats are comfortable, with a decent amount of lateral support, braking by disc front and rear (ventilated front) is reassuringly progressive, and all around vision is good.

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

On the active side of the safety ledger the Rio S features ABS, EBD, EBA, stability and traction control, a specific vehicle stability management system, hill assist, and rear view camera. That's solid for a car in this part of the market, although higher order tech like AEB, cross traffic alert, and blind spot warning isn't available, even on the higher grade Rio models. And it's worth noting we found poor resolution made the rear camera next to useless at night.

Swings and roundabouts in the back, with a handy amount of head and legroom. (Image credit: James Cleary) Swings and roundabouts in the back, with a handy amount of head and legroom. (Image credit: James Cleary)

In terms of passive safety, there's a solid compliment of six airbags (driver and front passenger, front side, and curtain), as well as three child restraint top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX mounts on the two outside positions.

The new Rio hasn't been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP.

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

The oversize ace up the Rio's sleeve is Kia's industry-leading seven year/unlimited km warranty, which includes seven years roadside assist and seven years capped price servicing. Whoa.

Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first), and the cost of each of those services is detailed on Kia Australia's website, including detail on everything that's replaced, inspected or otherwise checked each time. Cue applause...

For the record, (guide) costs over those seven years are - $226, $382, $277, $561, $255, $470, and $270.

Verdict

There's a lot to like about the Kia Rio S. It's comfortable, roomy, and economical, with heaps of safety tech on board, plus the only seven year, unlimited km warranty offered in this market. But its breathless engine is a sizable drawback, the hard plastics through the interior will be a turn-off for many, and a higher asking price than its key competitors doesn't help. Harder swimming is required to get ahead of the light car pack.

Is the Rio S on your light hatch shopping list? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$13,980
Based on 408 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$11,950
Highest Price
$18,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
S 1.4L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $11,950 – 14,999 2017 KIA RIO 2017 S Pricing and Specs
S Premium 1.4L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $9,900 – 13,530 2017 KIA RIO 2017 S Premium Pricing and Specs
Si 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $10,560 – 14,520 2017 KIA RIO 2017 Si Pricing and Specs
SLi 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $17,485 – 18,990 2017 KIA RIO 2017 SLi Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.4
Design7
Practicality7
Price and features7
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption8
Driving6
Safety7
Ownership10
James Cleary
Deputy Editor

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