Hyundai i20 VS Kia Rio
- Cracking exhaust
- Fun rather than ferocious
- A hoot on a track or (we expect) a winding road
- Too soon to properly judge it
- Manual only will deter shoppers
- Lacks the out-and-out punch of bigger hatches
- Punchy three pot
- Interior practicality
- Safety inclusions
- Actually needs paddle shifters
- Harsh, noisy ride
- Hard interior plastics
After we spent what felt like an eternity with the Hyundai i30 N being an only child in Australia, the lauded hot hatch is finally getting a smaller sibling, with the Korean brand confirming the i20 N will debut in Australia next year, likely in the first six months of 2021.
On paper, at least, the city-sized hot hatch promises to deliver the performance thrills of the N brand to a whole new demographic, given its utterly family-proof dimensions and what will obviously be a more affordable price point.
But is it truly worthy of the N badge? We put an early prototype version to the test on the track to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium 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.
|Engine Type||1.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
We'll reserve full judgement until we've lived with a production version of the i20 N, but after our short, track-based taste test? We like it a lot.
Fun rather than ferocious, it's the kind of hot hatch you can have an absolute blast in without feeling like you're going to kill yourself or your licence, and you can't help but climb out smiling..
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.
Again, this more an arbitrary score here, as the only i20 N we've seen to date was dropped in camouflage inside and out.
That said, you can tell from its silhouette that this a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches and 18-inch blacked-out alloys, a domed bonnet, and little roof spoiler jutting out from above the rear windscreen.
Hyundai tells us the i20 N will also serve up a new air intake on front bumper, unique side sills, a new radiator grille, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser, as well as new rear lights. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue that's become the signature of the brand.
Inside, Hyundai says you'll find a "high-performance driving space" (whatever that means) with a host of N stuff, like a sports steering wheel and shifter, metal pedals, sport seats up front and blue highlights throughout the interior trimmings.
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.
Not particularly practical, to be fair. While Hyundai is yet to confirm the specification details of the i20 N, it is based on the brand's existing city car, so expect similar dimensions here.
It does, though, have four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition, and means climbing into the backseat isn't as hard as it could be. Once there, though, you won't be spoiled for space.
For reference, the regular i20 serves up twin cupholders up front, and bottle storage in each of the doors.
That car also stretches some 4035mm in length, 1734mm in width and 1474mm in height. That's enough to squeeze 326 litres (VDA) into the boot, or 1042 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat.
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
This is a tough one to answer, without yet knowing the pricing details. But Hyundai has told us that it will be priced on or around the money for the segment, which should see it land around the early $30k mark.
In terms of exactly what you get for that money, well, that remains to be seen. But here's what we know so far.
Expect 18-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a digital driver's display and a second, central touchscreen that will deliver both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote unlocking with push-button start, power windows, and...
Well, that's about all we could glean from our very camouflaged car. But you will also get a whole heap of performance kit, which we'll touch on under the Engine and Transmission section.
For everything else, though, you'll just have to watch this space.
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
I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either.
That's enough grunt, Hyundai says, to deliver a "class-leading" power to weight ratio of 126kW per tonne.
So how does it stack up? It puts the i20 N about a touch under segment standard, power-wise, with cars like the Polo GTI making 147kW and 320Nm, while the Fiesta ST makes 147 and 290kW. Unsurprisingly, it’s also comprehensively shaded by the Toyota GR Yaris, which makes a whopping 200kW and 370Nm.
We have managed to extract some other key details surrounding Hyundai’s newest hot hatch, too. We know, for example, that there’s torsion-beam rear suspension, a mechanical LSD, Sachs dampers, dual-mode exhaust and, like it’s i30 N big brother, the i20 N should get Pirelli rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. It also weights just 1250kg.
More? Well there's rev matching for the manual gearbox, launch control and the brand's N Grin Control System which allows you to dial through Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom drive modes.
The chassis and suspension have been overhauled, too, and there's bigger performance brakes fitted.
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.
That I can't tell you, at least not yet. We were driving pre-production cars exclusively on a race track, and so taking an computer reading would have been grossly unfair, and Hyundai hasn't dropped an official figure on us yet.
We do know that the i20, in regular guise, is fitted with a 50-litre tank.
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.
How should the success of a city-sized hatch truly be measured? Raw power and out-and-out pace? I don’t think so. There are bigger, more powerful vehicles for that.
Price? Well, at least a little. This segment forms the stepping stone to the performance vehicle world, and so they really can’t be too inaccessible, right?
If you ask me, the biggest - and possible only - criteria a car has to hit in this segment is that it’s fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you want to take the longer, twister way home, emerging at the other end of a winding road with a face-splitting grin and fighting the urge to turn around and do it again in the other direction? Or does it make you want to stick to the freeway?
Well, it’s safe to say that in the i20 N - in prototype form at least - the answer is definitely the former.
Yes, the light hot hatch segment has been in something a power arms race of late - one now won by the GR Yaris - but the i20 N doesn’t really step into that ring. Its 150kW and 275Nm puts it at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs.
But damn if it ain’t fun. The numbers on the page only really tell half the hot hatch story. The rest of it is how it feels, or how big a smile it paints on your face, and I can tell you this car painted a plenty big grin on mine.
One of the things I like about the i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like, in that you don’t need to be traveling at warp speed to feel like you’re having a good time behind the wheel. It means you can unleash it on any twisting road you come across, and have a whale of a time, without risking your entire driver's licence.
There are some cars where you really need to be travelling at pace to feel like you’re having a good time in them, but this isn’t one of them. It feels fun all the time.
It feels really connected to the track, too, like you’re in control of the vehicle, And I think the mark of a hot hatch is one that makes you feel like a better driver, and this does that. It forgives you mistakes, it urges you to push a little bit faster, a little bit further, and all of which results in a pretty good time behind the wheel.
Now a caveat, of course. This is a pre-prod car, and this test also took place on a race rack, so how this thing drives on the streets near your place, and what it's like to live with, is anyone’s guess, but as a taste test, it certainly seems to continue the N legacy of building cars that are simply a ton of fun.
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.
More mysteries here, I'm afraid. Hyundai is yet to confirm full safety specification for the i20 N, but we would expect it to get most of the brand's advanced safety kit.
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.