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Kia Rio SLi 2017 review

Kia's new Rio is a terrific little car... almost.
EXPERT RATING
6.4
Even as the market for small passenger cars continues to soften, carmakers are still building small, light, and practical hatches. Kia's fourth gen Rio is one example, except for one glaring omission.

Even as the market for small passenger cars continues to soften, carmakers are still putting their best foot forward when it comes to building small, light and practical hatches. Kia's fourth generation Rio is one example, except for a single, glaring omission.

While the majority of the small five-door hatch is brand new, one of its biggest parts is a carryover, and just doesn't suit the new age presentation of the Rio's interior space and features.

MORE: Read the full Kia Rio 2017 review here.

Kia Rio 2017: SLi
Safety rating
Engine Type1.4L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.2L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$16,880

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

Kia's continued its good recent exterior design work with the Rio, which is simple, compact, refined and classy.

The Rio belies its small size by being quite generously proportioned when you sit inside, too, with plenty of headroom for taller drivers and passengers - even with the SLi's standard sunroof.

2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson) 2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson)

The dashboard and console is clean and modern, in the style we're now expecting from Kia and its parent company, Hyundai.

The European influence continues to shine through with horizontal lines and dark grey plastics across the dash breaking up a low key interior. A vastly simplified centre dash with minimal instrumentation and a prominent touchscreen mutlimedia system are the standout features in the cabin, along with leather trim on the seats, steering wheel, and gear surround.

2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson) 2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson)

There is still quite a lot of hard, scratchy plastic content in the cabin - after all, it is based on a cheaper car - but the textures and shapes of those plastics minimises the impact.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

A low slung centre console features two cup holders, while under the dash there is a large rubber lined device tray which will accept even the largest phones. There are oversized bottle holders in both front doors, while the rear doors can also hold more regular sized bottles.

2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson) 2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson)

There's not a lot in the way of gadgetry aboard the Rio SLi, but we're pleased to report it's equipped with a digital speedometer in its clean and functional dash display.

As you'd expect, the rear seat is quite small, although there is still sufficient headroom for medium-sized adults.

The front seats are actually very good in the top spec Rio, and are mounted low in the car for taller drivers. The small, chunky wheel falls easily to hand thanks to a reach and height adjustable column, too.

As you'd expect, the rear seat is quite small, although there is still sufficient headroom for medium-sized adults. The centre squab is flat enough for a youngster to be comfortable over even a medium journey. Curiously, there's a map pocket on the rear of the passenger seat, but not on the driver's side.

2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson) 2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson)

Two ISOFIX baby seat mounting points are present and correct, as well.

The 325 litre boot area is small but deep, and its lipped design means items are more likely to stay put. This does come, of course, at the expense of a full sized spare. When the seats are dropped, it frees up 980 litres of space.

2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson) 2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson)

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

The SLi tops the three variant Rio range, and sells for $22,990 before on road costs. For that, you get a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine backed by a four-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. There's no manual option for the SLi grade.

2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson) 2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson)

The spec sheet includes 16-inch alloys, 'premium' seats with manual controls, electric mirrors and windows, tinted rear glass, automatic lights and wipers, an instrument cluster with LCD screen, climate control air conditioning, a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with digital radio, Bluetooth streaming and satellite navigation.

2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson) 2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson)

It's also equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, which is a popular spec at this price point in the category.

Against segment rivals like the Holden Spark and Ford Fiesta, the Rio SLi stacks up well, particularly in the multimedia department.

2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson) 2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   4/10

This is the area that, unfortunately, lets the Rio down. Kia has been forced to introduce the new model with the old 1.4-litre four cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine from the previous car, that makes just 74kW/133Nm.

2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson) 2017 Kia Rio SLi (image credit: Tim Robson)

What's worse is that it's backed by a positively archaic four speed automatic transmission, with a long first gear and even longer second cog. A six-speed manual is available on the base grade Rio, but not for this one.

How much fuel does it consume?   4/10

Kia rates the Rio at 6.2 litres per 100km on the combined fuel economy cycle.

Over 375km of testing, we recorded no better than 8.2L/100km on the dash, due mainly to the fact that the little engine needs to be thrashed so hard to keep it on the boil.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

Around town, the long first gear helps the Rio get away from rest quite comfortably, but as soon as you need to put some effort in, for example, climbing even a moderately steep incline, the Rio struggles.

The engine does perform better once it hits about 4250rpm, but below that the Rio really finds it hard to dig itself out of any acceleration hole, especially in backroad and freeway situations.

Kia is all too aware that the carryover drivetrain doesn't suit the character of the new Rio, and has indicated that a one litre, three cylinder turbocharged engine is a likely upgrade towards the end of 2017.

The new Rio is a little gem to drive, and a vast improvement over the third generation car.

Along with the engine will come a new gearbox, most likely a six speed automatic unit.

Putting aside the distinct disadvantage the Rio gives itself with its powertrain, the car itself is actually quite good. The new chassis is lively and responsive, with Kia's local suspension tuning team imparting a firm yet well damped and compliant ride that goes over city bumps and country roads with ease.

Its electric steering system is more than reasonable, its all-disc brake system works well and feels excellent underfoot, and it doesn't transmit much in the way of noise and vibrations back through into the cabin, either.

Putting aside the engine for the moment, the new Rio is a little gem to drive, and a vast improvement over the third generation car.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

7 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   6/10

Six airbags (including curtain bags) and a rear view camera with sensors are the highlights of a safety package that misses out on driver aids like AEB and blind spot monitoring. Kia says the car will be updated to feature more of these systems by the end of the year.

It still scores a maximum five out of five stars in ANCAP testing.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

Kia leads the industry with its seven year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and it also offers a fixed-price service plan to cover the entire period.

With service intervals of 15,000km/12 months, seven years worth of servicing will cost $2441, with the most expensive service of $561 coming after four years/60,000km.

Verdict

Essentially, the new Rio is a sweet, well mannered and comfortable little car that's currently handicapped by its decidedly old tech engine and gearbox. It sounds like we're harping on about it, but it really is that significant.

If you're using the Rio simply to drive a handful of kilometres to and from work, the drivetrain will be more than sufficient, as long as there are no big hills or freeway sections to contend with; the lack of pulling power down low will soon drive you mad.

While the chassis and the interior is more than good enough to recommend, it can only improve with the addition of one of Kia's more modern powertrains.

Would a lack of zip stop you from looking at cars like the Kia Rio? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing guides

$13,894
Based on 155 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$9,790
Highest Price
$18,880

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
S 1.4L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $9,790 – 10,930 2017 Kia Rio 2017 S Pricing and Specs
S Premium 1.4L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $8,300 – 12,870 2017 Kia Rio 2017 S Premium Pricing and Specs
Si 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $9,100 – 13,750 2017 Kia Rio 2017 Si Pricing and Specs
SLi 1.6L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $16,880 – 18,880 2017 Kia Rio 2017 SLi Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6.4
Design8
Practicality7
Price and features7
Engine & trans4
Fuel consumption4
Driving7
Safety6
Ownership8
Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist

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