Ford Focus VS Kia Rio
- Refined styling
- Roomy interior
- Advanced safety equipment
- Blind spot warning standard only on Titanium
- Auto transmission can seem indecisive
- No manual gearbox
- Punchy three pot
- Interior practicality
- Safety inclusions
- Actually needs paddle shifters
- Harsh, noisy ride
- Hard interior plastics
Ford has just released its new-generation Ford Focus. Do you know what that means? It means we're at a monumental point in history that, while nobody will ever really remember it, could impact you greatly.
Because like the automotive equivalent of planetary alignment, we are reaching a moment when Toyota, Mazda, Hyundai and Ford will have all brought their latest-gen small cars to market at about the same time.
Okay, you may not find that exciting. But it means you've now got the most current technology, styling and safety features to choose from right across the board, with Ford the latest to throw everything it's got at its new small-car contender.
All that and more as we take you through the launch of the 2019 Ford Focus, where we tested the hatch in the Trend and ST-Line grades, and the new wagon, too.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
It’s dark times in the world of small hatchbacks.
Once a strong segment in Australia’s market, safety, emissions, and logistics challenges have driven the price up on stalwart favourites (like the Toyota Yaris) and pushed many nameplates (like the Honda Jazz) out of Australia altogether.
So in this bleak scene, it’s a refreshing story to see Kia’s Rio soldiering on with minimal price increases and even a mild update for the 2021 model year.
Read More:Kia Rio S Auto 2021 Review
Is the top-spec and warmed over and top-spec GT-Line still a winner two years after its introduction? I took the keys for a week to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Different but more refined looks, a smaller but powerful-for-its-size engine, plenty of advanced safety equipment and more room than ever before, the new Ford Focus is much better than the model before it. And it has to be – the competition is fierce.
The sweet spot in the range is the ST-Line hatch with its long list of standard features, comfortable ride and impressive handling.
Is the new Focus a car to take on the might of Hyundai and Toyota? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The Rio GT-Line offers a great balance of spec and price, and a genuine warm hatch alternative in a shrinking segment where fun seems to come at a premium.
It’s nice to see the safety inclusions from this car start to make it across the range, but it is in danger of being left behind while the Suzuki Swift beats it on price and the Yaris beats it on safety.
Still, with this segment suffering from a case of shrinking options and runaway price tags, the Rio GT-Line is more appealing than ever, hence an increased score since last time I drove it.
This new-generation Focus is completely new, and that goes for its design, the structure of the vehicle and the platform that underpins it all.
That grille, though poutier than before, still makes this new car recognisable as a Focus, but the rest of the car’s styling is a fairly big step away from the look of the previous model. The nose looks more elongated and turned down, and the headlights have an irregular shape (which somehow works) and they're helped to look more defined by the LED running lights that sit above each headlight like an eyebrow.
That front-end may take some getting used to, but I think most will like the rear exterior styling straight away. The hoisted-up style to the rear of the previous car is gone and the illusion is now a car which sits lower and level. I particularly like the Focus badging across the tailgate, too, which is reminiscent of Fords of the 1960s.
The car’s profile has changed, too, with the window structure simplified. Previous versions of the car had rear quarter glass; a small porthole which looked into the boot. That's now been incorporated into the door glass, which means the rear passenger aperture is larger.
Inside, the cabin has been decluttered of its galaxy of buttons, and that busy interior has given way to a more minimalist design with many of the functions moved to the large dash-top screen. That said, the steering wheel still has way too many buttons for my liking or need.
Telling the grades apart may not be obvious at first, but the ST-Line car is recognisable thanks to the blacked-out grille, more aggressive bumper treatment with its air-blade style design around the fog lights, and its twin exhaust. The car itself sits 10mm lower on sport suspension.
You can pick a Titanium from the inside by its leather-accented seats, multi-colour ambient lighting and the B&O sound system speakers.
The ST-Line’s seats are upholstered in a mesh-fibre material with leather accents and red-stitching, and there’s a flat-bottomed steering wheel and metallic brake and accelerator pedals. The wagon version of the Focus only comes in the ST-Line grade, and it comes with roof rails and a cargo cover.
The Active grade is the most recognisable of the Focus family due its higher-riding stance and its plastic wheel-arch cladding. The Active suspension has it sitting 35mm higher than a Trend grade, and while that doesn’t seem like much, the overall affect is quite dramatic, giving the Active a true SUV-like appearance.
There are nine colours to choose from, including Ruby Red, Orange Glow, Desert Island Blue, Blue Metallic, Shadow Black, Magnetic, Moondust Silver, Metropolis White and Frozen White.
At 4378mm end to end, the Focus hatch is 18mm longer than the previous model, while at 1454mm tall it's 13mm shorter, and it's 1979mm wide including the wing mirrors.
The Rio has been one of the more attractive offerings in this segment since the launch of this generation back in 2017, and this remains the case with the mildly updated GT-Line for this model year.
From the outside it is pretty much indistinguishable from last years model, but this isn’t a bad thing. I like its low profile compared to the Yaris or Swift, its angry face and tail accented by piano-black highlights, and its quaint little dual exhaust ports hint at a modicum of aggression.
The squared-off design elements, from the roofline to the light clusters offer a welcome alternative to the curvy style of the Yaris, Swift, and Mazda2.
Even the alloy wheels, which are again, unchanged, fill its wheel arches well, and nicely tie the Rio into Kia’s family of halo variants.
Inside has received a few updates from last year, now dominated by the relatively large screen, and elements like the upgraded climate cluster and sportier seats help lift its cabin ambiance.
The flat-bottomed wheel is a nice touch, as are the leather accented shifter and seat edges, but there is still an abundance of hard materials in the door trims and dash, as in the rest of the Rio range.
The new Focus is longer by about 18mm, but it’s the wheelbase which has increased the most dramatically (by 52mm) and that means more space inside.
I’m 191cm tall and I can just sit behind my driving position without my knees touching the seatback – I wasn’t able to do that in the previous Focus. Headroom is also great for me in the backseat.
The entire cabin feels roomy, actually. For this new model the dashboard was moved 100mm further forward, opening up more space in the cockpit. Even the gear shifter being a rotary dial has freed up room.
Storage throughout is pretty good, with a deep centre console bin covered by the armrest and a hidey-hole in front of the shifter, plus two cup holders and big bottle holders in the doors up front. The door pockets in the back are big, too, but there are no cupholders in the second row.
Boot space is for the hatch is 341 litres packed to the cargo cover with a space saver spare, while the wagon’s cargo capacity is 575 litres. With the back row down, the hatch can fit 1320 litres and the wagon can do 1620 litres.
For a hatch in this class, the Rio does very well. It has a huge interior space thanks to low-slung dimensions, a healthy width and a relatively tall roofline. This little hatch also carries the rest of the practicality philosophy from the rest of the Kia family, filling the cabin with bottle holders, nooks, and crannies for storing things away. There’s even a small console box and armrest which is rare but very welcome for this segment.
Front passengers are treated to large binnacle and bottle holder combos in the doors, a decent glovebox, a massive storage bin under the climate unit, with separate shelf housing the USB and 12v outlets.
On the downside there are no extra outlets in the console box, and the door trim is a bit hard on the elbows for long drives. The seats are manually adjustable only, but offer leagues of headroom and surprising width.
In the back seat it is a less positive story, with passengers benefitting from a large bottle holder in the door trim, the same comfy seat trim, but no adjustable air vents, power outlets, and just one pocket on the back of the front left passenger seat. There is no drop-down armrest. At least it’s roomy back there, with impressive legroom behind my own seating position and no lack of headroom either thanks to the low seats.
Boot space comes in at 325 litres (VDA) which is not just good for this class, but competitive with hatches in the next class up, so full points there.
Price and features
Ford has priced its new Focus competitively compared to rivals like the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 and Mazda 3, but its most affordable grade does kick off at a slightly higher level than the entry-level cars for those other brands.
That start point for the Focus hatch range is the Trend grade, with a list price of $25,990. Above it is the ST-Line, which is a sporty spec, for $28,990. And at the top of the hatch range is the $34,490 Titanium. There’s also a wagon version of the Focus in the ST-Line grade for $30,990.
But wait, there’s more. Ford is offering an SUV-style version of the Focus for the first time. It's called the Focus Active, and it'll cost $29,990. We’ll cover the physical differences between it and the rest of range in the Design section below.
Coming standard on the Trend is an eight-inch display screen with sat nav, Ford’s Sync3 voice activated media system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, a six-speaker stereo, a Wi-Fi hot spot, single-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a rotary-style gear shifter, LED running lights, paddle shifters, halogen headlights and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The mid-spec ST-Line takes the Trend’s features and adds dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, floor mats, puddle lamps, privacy glass and 17-inch alloys wheels. There’s also the sports suspension, which we’ll cover in the Driving and Engine sections.
The top-of-the-range Titanium brings a B&O 10-speaker sound system, heated front seats, leather accented upholstery, roof rails and LED headlights.
The goalpost here has well and truly moved. In 2019 one Honda executive told me “the days of cheap city cars are over”, and in the year since he has been proven to be well and truly correct.
Most base model small hatches are now close to or above $20,000, so it would appear the “$14,990” drive away era is history.
Where does this leave our Rio GT-Line? At $23,990 before on-roads (MSRP) it’s actually starting to look quite attractive. Especially since its key rivals are now the Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo ($25,290), Toyota Yaris Ascent Sport (auto - $23,630), and Mazda2 Pure (auto - $22,990). Of these options, the Yaris and Mazda2 are both base models with non-turbo engines, leaving the more expensive Suzuki GLX Turbo as the most direct rival.
Value-wise the Rio is pretty good and has had some significant additions for the 2021 model year. The headline ones include a larger 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (now with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), an upgrade from manual air conditioning to single-zone climate control, and finally three drive modes (which we asked for in our previous review) have been added.
Unlike the rest of the Rio range, the GT-Line has some much-needed active safety items, although there are still a few spec items missing which its rivals have. Keyless entry and push-start ignition (Swift, Yaris) are the big ones, and detract from this car’s halo variant positioning, but it also misses out on any higher-end stuff like leather seat trim, electrical adjust, or a digital dash cluster.
Engine & trans
The new Focus has been given a new engine! It’s a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol, but don’t let that put you off - it makes as much grunt as the four cylinder in the old Focus. Actually, at 134kW, it makes 2kW more power and the same amount of torque (240Nm). Cylinder-deactivation allows the engine to run on two when not under much load, which is even more frugal.
The old six-speed auto has been replaced with an eight-speed automatic – it’s not a dual-clutch, it’s a traditional torque-converter auto. The Focus doesn’t offer a manual gearbox, and is front-wheel drive.
The Rio GT-Line is the only Rio in the range to get the brand’s latest compact engine, a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder.
It has been refreshed for the 2021 model year with outputs now at 74kW/172Nm (down on power but up on torque).
It is still one of the best performers in this segment and far better than the ancient 1.4-litre engine which the rest of the Rio range gets.
It’s helped along, too, by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, compared to the hopeless four-speed in the rest of the range. The Rio is front-wheel drive only.
According to Ford, the three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine in the Focus will use 6.4L/100km of fuel after a combination of urban and open-road driving. My mileage in the Trend grade, according to the car’s trip computer, was 9.4L/100km after 487.9km of country roads.
Not all of those kilometres were mine, mind, but that was the average after four different drivers had been behind the wheel.
The Rio’s fuel consumption sticker says 5.4L/100km which is a reduction on the pre-update car by 0.4L. Cars in this segment tend to overshoot by quite a bit, and our week long test of mixed freeway and urban driving returned a computer-reported 7.1L/100km. An overshoot, but this little car is quite fun to drive, so I’m inclined to forgive it.
It is also capable of drinking base-grade 91RON unleaded fuel, which is rare and welcome for a small capacity turbo like this. The Rio has a 45-litre fuel tank.
The Active and Titanium grades weren’t available to drive at the Australian launch of the Focus, but I did get to drive the ST-Line in hatch and wagon form, as well as the Trend hatch.
The ST-Line hatch is the sporty one in the Focus range, even though it has the same 1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the Trend (and the Titanium). What makes it sporty is its sports suspension. Does it work? Absolutely, although I didn’t realise just how well until I drove the Trend hatch after steering its ST-Line brother for a few hours first.
Three-cylinder engines tend to have a satisfying little burble to their exhaust notes, but the ST-Line hatch I started in had a particularly deep growl to it at idle. While the ST-Line does have a dual exhaust, the engine output is the same as any other Focus, and so the gravelly voice is more theatrics than suggesting the car is any more potent than a Trend.
What the ST-Line does do without any drama is handle well, because even though it has a torsion bar set-up in the rear (like the Trend), it also has a lowered ride height and a sports suspension tune. It’s not Focus ST-level of agility by any means, but the ST-Line hatch felt nicely pinned down in the bends, with excellent steering feel and accuracy ensuring it is a genuinely fun car to drive.
What I didn’t know until I drove the Trend hatch is that the firmer sports suspension actually gives a more comfortable ride in the ST-Line than the base-grade car. The Trend, like the Titanium, has softer suspension, which you’d think would offer the best ride, but I found that over the bumps and bruises of country roads, the Trend’s ride was comfortable but bit bouncy, while the ST-Line was more composed and meant the occupants weren’t jiggled around as much.
The award for the most comfortable ride and best handling of the three cars I drove goes to the ST-Line wagon with its sports-tuned multi-link rear suspension. Yup, the cargo hauler of the range was also the best to drive from a comfort and fun perspective, with its compliant suspension keeping life civilised inside the cabin over bumps, while also feeling planted in the switchback and hairpins that cut through country Victoria.
Shifting gears is an eight-speed automatic (you can’t get a manual), but it’s super keen to shift to a higher gear as early as possible, and when sitting at about 100km/h on a motorway, it was indecisive about which gear it wanted to be in; go 104km/h and it shifted up, drop to 97km/h and it shifted down. Up, down, up, down, up... well, you get the idea.
When it came time to drive roads which went all bendy, the transmission still tried to take the fun out by shifting up and bogging the car down in lower revs. The solution was to leave the car in Sport mode, which instructs the gearbox to cling to lower gears for longer. I kept the Trend and ST-Lines in Sport mode most of the time I drove them – it didn’t affect the ride (the cars suspension isn’t adaptive), but the throttle response and shifting was perfect for all driving, whether I was flinging through the winding country roads or trundling through town centres.
All three – the Trend hatch, ST-Line Hatch and ST-Line wagon - performed well, with the ST-Line duo feeling like they were approaching or even matching Volkswagen Golf levels of agility and composure.
At no point did I feel that the three-cylinder was under powered - it’s a surprisingly responsive and grunty engine.
The Rio GT-Line offers a warm-hatch experience, both the good and the bad. On the less good front for city dwellers, the large alloys, thin rubber, and firm ride conspire for a bit of a crashy and uncomfortable ride behind the wheel on less impressive road surfaces.
The dual clutch is sometimes a bit glitchy at very low speeds, but otherwise behaves largely like a torque converter. This is admirable from a drivability point of view, but it also isn’t as snappy as a VW group transmission.
The three-cylinder turbo experiences a moment of lag, but hits with a healthy dose of torque early, helping the Rio offer a much more exciting and engaging drive than almost every other car in this segment.
The firm ride, relatively wide and low dimensions, and responsive engine makes the Rio quite a connected little car in the corners but this brings up the issue of its steering, which has been changed for the 2021 model year.
The steering in the previous iteration of this car was decent if a little firm, but in this new version there are wild changes depending on your drive mode. Oddly it seems to be the inverse of what you might expect. ‘Eco’ and ‘normal’ mode have the steering feeling overly firm, while sport mode frees it up and gives it a much more darty and direct feel.
In fact, after trying out every mode, Sport with its faster accelerator response was the only one I’d want to drive it around in every day. It was by far the best for shooting down alleyways and the steering even made it a bit easier for manoeuvring at lower speeds. One thing I will note about this sport mode though, is it has the habit of making the dual-clutch automatic hang around in gears for slightly too long.
Visibility out of the Rio is great, and its tight dimensions and impressive rear vision camera make for easy parking, even in the smallest spots. It even has a start-stop system which is thankfully so quick you'll forget its there.
Where does it sit amongst competitors? It’s not quite as smile-inducing as the Swift Sport, but offers more feel than the GLX Turbo. It also doesn’t have the refined chassis feel of the new Toyota Yaris but easily beats it on fun-factor.
It’s the blend of attitude, price, and practicality which is a real win for this car, slotting it in nicely amongst its competitors.
The Focus scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2018. Standard across the range are seven airbags, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, and lane keeping assistance and traffic sign recognition - the latter of which can read speed limits for you.
The Titanium comes standard with a lane-centre system, which I tested and found it works seriously well – drift out of your lane and the system rapidly yanks you back in again. Only the Titanium comes with blind spot warning, which is odd considering the impressive advanced safety tech that’s already standard across the range
Auto parking is optional only on the Titanium, and can be used for parallel or perpendicular parking. Also standard on all is a 180-degree split-view camera, but front parking sensors are only available to option on the Titanium – again, that’s a bit odd.
A space-saver spare is found under the boot floor for all grades. For child seats, you’ll find two ISOFIX points and three top tether mounts in the second row.
The new-generation Focus was developed in Europe and built in Germany.
All Rios carry a five-star ANCAP safety rating since 2017, but this rating was before ANCAP required active safety items for a maximum rating.
The base Rio S misses out on many active safety items, but the latest update has brought a complement of active safety items to the Sport grade. Included is auto emergency braking with forward collision warning, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, and driver attention alert.
Still absent are blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control – rare features for the segment, but if anything, the expensive Toyota Yaris has raised the bar in this department.
Elsewhere the Rio gets six airbags, the expected electronic stability, brake, and traction controls, as well as hill start assist and dual ISOFIX and three top-tether child seat mounting points across the second row.
Kia has become known for its seven year and unlimited kilometre warranty which is rivalled in this segment only by the MG3 which has a matching promise, and is even out-done by the Mitsubishi Mirage, although this car will reach the end of its life in Australia shortly.
Service pricing is capped for the life of the warranty. The Rio needs to visit the shop once every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first, and prices per visit vary between $285 to $625.
These work out to a yearly average of $457 which is surprisingly not cheap when lined up against some rivals.