Hyundai i30 VS Kia Rio
- Appealing design
- Excellent cabin upgrade
- Lively performance and handling
- Too much highway road-noise intrusion
- Misses out on i30 Elite’s top-drawer safety kit
- Firm ride and rack rattle over bumpy roads
- Punchy three pot
- Interior practicality
- Safety inclusions
- Actually needs paddle shifters
- Harsh, noisy ride
- Hard interior plastics
Since 2007, the i30 has consistently been Hyundai’s best model.
A car so focused on being an amiable Volkswagen Golf alternative, it’s even been co-developed in Germany. As such, over three distinct generations, there’s never been a dud version.
But does the i30 N-Line have the same impact in the non-full-fat, semi-skimmed warm-hatch category – you know, the sporty hatches that don’t cost the earth?
We drive the latest, 2021 i30 N-Line Premium to find out.
|Engine Type||1.6L 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.
|Engine Type||1.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Right now, the N-Line with the DCT is the fastest auto i30 you can buy, and that – plus all the luxuries and features that the Premium includes – makes it an attractive grand touring small car with sufficient speed and athleticism to entertain the keener driver.
But the manual i30 N at only around $5000 more significantly elevates the driving experience and thrills, while an auto is imminent. That’s what we’d save up for.
Still, as a fun and entertaining warm hatch, the i30 N-Line still offers enough consistency to warrant your attention. Easy to respect but hard to get really rapt over.
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.
For some people it’s what hasn’t changed that is the most interesting visual aspect about the 2021 i30 N-Line.
The “Sensuous Sportiness” nosecone found on all other i30s including the base grade does not apply here, for reasons which still aren’t clear, as most models bar the i30 N and Fastback are out of same South Korean factory. Yet even the latter (imported from the Czech Republic) are about to gain the fresh proboscis.
But is this a bad thing? Frankly, no, as the original front-end styling is arguably prettier than the fussy new visage.
Another thing is how well this pleasing 2017 design is ageing, with sober, elegant proportions and confident stance that reflect Hyundai’s desire to be classed as a credible Golf alternative. Plus, the N-Line body kit makes a statement without it being in your face. Listening, Honda Civic?
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.
Given the basic ingredients are shared with the i30 Active, the N-Line’s interior presentation is an impressive step up.
Not immediately obvious are small changes for MY21, including the 2.25-inch larger central touchscreen with its modernised graphics and repositioned and simplified access button. From the handsome steering and matte grey leather/vinyl upholstery to the red piping and stitching as well as brushed metallic accents, the look and ambience agrees with the N-Line Premium’s price positioning.
The new digital instrumentation, with its BMW-style (or is that Honda-like) hexagonal tacho and central speedo, provides enough differentiation from bread-and-butter i30s for it to feel a bit more special.
As do the panoramic sunroof, thick-rimmed wheel, sports front seats, black trim, double stitching and red seat belts, while the MY21 multimedia update has fresh graphics that is easy and pleasurable to use.
But while there’s no missing the digital speedo, the instrumentation lacks the clarity and elegance of the previous, classically analogue iteration. And it cannot be configured like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. Where’s the scope for personalisation? It feels like a wasted opportunity.
Otherwise it’s all normal-i30 inside, which means big doors for unimpeded entry/egress, sufficient space, loads of practicality, excellent ventilation and a first-class driving position, offering a welcoming, intuitive interface between car and driver. Vision out isn’t too bad, either, aided by that huge central touchscreen and big exterior mirrors.
The N-Line Premium’s heated and vented front seats are superb, with the driver’s offering a 10-way electrical adjustment including lumbar support. They ensconce their occupants in all the right areas, with bolsters that grip you in tight through tight turns, and immediately make you feel like you’re in a sporty hatch. Their accompanying red seatbelts look great too.
The rear seat area is a bit smaller than in many rival small cars nowadays, but it isn’t a disaster, as the back bench/backrest combo is firm yet supportive, promoting a comfy posture. Rear face-level air vents, a centre armrest, huge door pockets, overhead grab handles, coat hooks, individual reading lights and windows that drop almost all the way are further bonuses. But betraying the i30’s age is the lack of USB ports, with only a 12V outlet in the (huge) centre console between the front occupants.
Finally, the cargo area is big, deep and handy, with a huge space available and a low lip to negotiate heavier objects over. Under the floor is a space-saver spare. Capacity is rated at 395 litres, extending to 1301L with the rear backrests dropped.
Overall, then, with its racy yet classy trim, the i30’s cabin in N-Line Premium guise is as inviting as you’d wish for in a warm hatch.
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
In October, 2020, Hyundai facelifted the PD-series i30 hatch.
Known as the PD4, most of the range gains a wide toothy grille with chrome bars and a sleeker shape to the front bumper as well as fresh lighting elements – but not the N-Line. Why? More on that later. You’ll also find a revised rear bumper and diffuser. The inevitable price rises have also struck, to the tune between $2400 and $3100 depending on grade.
However, there are plenty of new features for all MY21 i30s, including auto-folding side mirrors with heating, a 7.0-inch multifunction display and a restyled steering wheel and gear selector, while on the safety front all models include autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep and steering assist, lane following assist, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go functionality, driver attention warning and auto high beams.
Priced from $36,220, the N-Line Premium as tested here is on the expensive side, but it does usher in two significant changes over the regular i30 – a turbo-engine and dual-clutch transmission powertrain and an upgrade from a torsion beam to a multi-link rear suspension system. Both are transformative additions.
Additionally, you’ll find keyless entry/start, dual zone climate control with rear-seat air vents, heated and vented front seats, a powered driver’s seat, solar control glass, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing LED headlights, front as well as rear parking sensors, sunroof, sunvisor extenders, digitised instrumentation display and wireless smartphone charger.
Meanwhile, a somewhat larger (to 10.25-inch) central touchscreen houses the wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto display, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming connectivity, a premium audio system upgrade, digital radio, satellite navigation and rear-view monitor, while a body kit, 18-inch alloy wheels shod with Michelin Pilot 4 performance tyres and a temporary spare round out things nicely. This i30 is heaving with gear.
Should buyers of the $29,490 Ford Focus ST-Line, $35,790 Honda Civic RS, $33,690 Kia Cerato GT Turbo and $35,290 Mazda3 G25 Astina be turning Hyundai’s way? Maybe, as the South Korean-built five-door hatch matches or exceeds most for kit – with the curious exception of blind-spot monitoring and front and/or rear cross-traffic alert (the Mazda’s got both) as well as the Civic’s excellent side lane-watch camera – while offering substantially more power and torque to boot than the lot (related Kia excepted).
One of the few options is metallic paint for $495.
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
While most i30s are stuck with a dull 120kW/203Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated unit, the N-Line steps up to Hyundai’s 1591cc 1.6-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-pot turbo from the Gamma GDI gasoline direct injection family of engines, delivering a healthy 150kW of power at 6000rpm and 265Nm of torque from a low 1500rpm to 4500rpm.
Tipping the scales at 1436kg, it results in a lively 104.5kW/tonne power-to-weight ratio.
It drives the front wheels only via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), with a trio of drive modes – eco, normal and sport with corresponding green, blue and red instrumentation illumination – as well as a manual tip-shift (with forward/up and backward down) and a big pair of paddle shifters behind the wheel.
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.
Hyundai says the i30 N-Line Premium’s 1.6 T-GDi engine should average a combined 7.1 litres per 100km – 9.4L/100km around town and 5.9L/100km on the open road – but we managed a still-acceptable 9.2L/100km at the pump. That’s a fine effort considering how hard and fast we extended that four-pot turbo.
For the record, the Euro-5 emissions rated engine officially averages 167 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions.
Fitted with a 50L tank, some 700km between refills is possible. Standard 91 RON unleaded is recommended or 94 RON E10 mix is tolerable.
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.
It should come as no surprise to learn that this i30 is very much a warm – rather than sizzling hot – hatch.
Strong performance, eager steering, a taut chassis, a supple ride and strong brakes makes the N-Line walk the fine line between rorty girl/boy-racer runabout and comfy, refined grand tourer.
Around town, this means smooth and progressive acceleration – rather than all-or-nothing lunges forward – accompanied by light steering for easy manoeuvrability. Aided by a large camera and fairly good vision out, parking in tight spaces isn’t a chore.
Unlike most DCTs, Hyundai’s is tuned for eager off-the-line response and a minimum of hesitation, lacking the lag and jerkiness of most similar systems. What you’re left with is a smooth, speedy and slick shifter that is in keeping with the N-Line’s sporty aspirations.
In Sport mode, the turbo engine holds on to each ratio a little longer, for sustained thrust right up to the 6500rpm red line. A keen driver can have fun exploring the Hyundai’s outer limits safely, without spills… or thrills, for that matter.
That’s because the N-Line falls somewhat short of an i30 N as far as dynamics are concerned… shorter, in fact, that the price gap would have you expect.
While the handling and cornering characteristics are defined by accurateness and agility, with expected high levels of road-holding, mid-turn bumps do transmit through to the steering rack, making it rattle and shake; the front end can lose traction quite easily in damp conditions, and grip carving up through bends isn’t quite as tenacious as the best hot-hatches. What this car cries out for is a limited slip differential.
The ride quality – though a tad firm around town – isn’t uncomfortable by any stretch, with sufficient wheel travel for the Hyundai to be a happy urban commuter. Yet there isn’t quite the controlled and planted grip on offer to make this a satisfying driving machine.
That all said, this isn’t trying to be a Ford Focus ST or Golf GTI rival. To anticipate it as such would be naïve. That’s what the N’s for.
Probably the most glaring issue is noise intrusion, as there’s far too much tyre roar intruding into the cabin. Like most Hyundais, the i30 benefits from an Australian-specific chassis tune.
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.
Tested in 2017, the i30 scored a five-star rating in the ANCAP crash-test results.
Each model includes seven airbags, AEB as part of Hyundai’s Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist driver-assist suite of features that includes pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep and steering assist, lane following assist, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go functionality, driver attention warning and auto high beams.
Additionally, vehicle stability management (stability control and traction control), anti-lock brakes with Emergency Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, hill-start assist, lane-keep assist, driver-attention warning, auto on/off headlights and tyre pressure monitors.
There are also two rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as three top tethers for straps.
Meanwhile, the AEB system operates between 10km/h and 180km/h (other vehicles), with a complete stop possible at speeds of up to 55km/h (stopped vehicle), 80km/h (moving vehicles) and 65km/h (pedestrians and cyclists).
Oddly, only the i30 Elite features Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Blind-Spot Collision warning and Safe Exit Warning (great for not dooring cyclists).
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.
Published online, the prices for the N-Line service is $299 for each of the first five annual services, then rises to $495 (year six), $585 (year seven), $370 (year eight), $310 (years nine to 11), $555 (year 12), $310 (year 13) and $585 (year 14) – and then onwards with similar varying numbers on Hyundai’s website right up to 51 years/510,000km service ($275 in 2021 dollars). Seriously!
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.