Kia Rio VS Kia Cerato
- Great design and looks
- Awesome multimedia
- GT-Line is good fun
- S and Sport drive experience
- S and Sport lack active safety
- Expensive servicing
- Great value
- Long warranty
- Is it hot or not?
- GT needs more grunt
- Steering feel
Over four generations, the Kia Rio has cemented its place in the Australian small-car landscape.
Now that it’s an established player, though, could it aim for a bigger slice of the small-hatch pie? Could it become one of Australia’s most beloved small-car nameplates?
We’ve driven the entire updated 2019 Rio range to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
You need a new small car and have $20-30k to spend, max. What do you do? Easy. You take $24,870 and go straight to our sister site autotrader.com.au and get yourself that sweet-as 2015 white Mazda MX-5 convertible with the manual gearbox and 32,141km on the clock.
What? You need more than two seats? And a proper boot? For about the same amount of money? Oh… well this is awkward. Okay, have you met the Kia Cerato, then?
I did, I’ve met them all - every Cerato from this new generation model. I’ve driven the sporty one – the GT on some of Australia’s best roads, and I’ve driven the rest, the S and the Sport, on some of the worst roads.
My family and I lived with them, too. We drove hundreds of kays, did day care drops off, had supermarket car park meltdowns where nobody was talking to each other, singalongs (that was mainly me, by myself), fell asleep in them and did the daily commute in them.
I feel I know the Cerato so well now, I reckon I could almost build one if you gave me the pieces.
Here’s what I learnt about what could be the best value small car buy out there right now. Or there’s the Mazda MX-5.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Rio is a well-designed and spacious hatch with excellent multimedia and a classy cabin.
It’s a shame the S and the Sport, with their dated engine and expensive automatic options, can’t live up to the otherwise fantastic road manners on offer.
That leaves the GT-Line as our pick of the range. With its fun-packed drivetrain and expanded active safety offering, it’s hard to look past as the Rio of choice.
Would you be willing to splash the extra dollars to get a far better car? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The drive-away pricing and big features list makes the Cerato great value, and then there’s the practicality and warranty. Also, you have choice between something a little hardcore or more comfortable.
To me, the Sport Plus is the sweet spot in the range. The leather seats, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, proximity key and heated seats clinch it.
The Kia Cerato could be the smartest choice you’ll make this year. Or there’s the Mazda MX-5.
Do you reckon the Cerato is the best value-for-money small car on the market? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Design is a strong point for the Rio. This generation of car has been imbued with strong Germanic style courtesy of Kia’s skilful design boss.
The boxy shape and well-defined lines make any variant in the range look ready to take on the Volkswagen Polo, and the plastic detail finishes are largely tastefully executed. But it’s a shame about the dorky hubcap-clad steel wheels in the base car.
Inside, the Rio’s cabin is easily one of the best in the segment. It has a primo-looking dash with tasteful patterns and colours. The 7.0-inch touchscreen taking pride of place in the dash lends a modern feel to the unit, and the steering wheel could easily be borrowed from the far more expensive Stinger sedan.
A simple dial cluster and low-seating make the cockpit a reasonably nice place to be in any variant. But as good as it looks, the interior is hard materials galore, so don’t expect stellar comfort for your elbows or knees on long drives.
Manuals make the lack of knee room obvious, as taller folks can be susceptible to bashing their knee on the steering column during clutch operation.
The seats are executed in a tasteful pattern and are reasonably comfortable, but offer hardly any side support, even in the GT-Line.
Other than the GT-Line’s carbon-look touches and bespoke seat trim, there is little difference between the interior design of each variant.
The Rio still easily possesses a better looking and more ergonomic cabin than the Swift, Yaris and Jazz.
What a time to be alive: small cars have never looked better. Have you seen the new Ford Focus or the Hyundai i30? Even the current Toyota Corolla looks sexy.
But does the same go for the new Cerato? The sedan is certainly attractive, but the hatch looks hot from some angles and not from others. The hatch has whiffs of BMW X4 around the tail-lights, although its side profile is not as pleasing as the sedan’s.
Both have the same angry Kia face with signature ‘tiger nose’ grille, while all grades in both body styles have the glossy black diffuser and lower bumper with integrated exhaust.
And that’s a bit of a tip for you right there. See, despite there being four grades and a $12K price difference between the entry level and top-of-the-range Cerato, the difference in styling is almost zilch.
Really, the only way you can tell the difference visually between an S grade and a GT is the wheels and exhaust (the S has hub caps and one tail pipe, not two).
All Cerato hatches have that same body kit, including the roof top rear spoiler. The Cerato sedans don’t miss out – they have a little boot lid spoiler.
If it came down to it, I’d say the sedan is a better-looking car than the hatch.
The cabins are also almost identical although the cloth seats in the S and Sport aren’t as premium looking or feeling as the leather ones in the Sport + and GT, and there are other similarly luxurious elements on these grades such as the push-button ignition and soft-touch plastics. Have a look at the interior photos, I took them myself.
What colours can you get your Cerato in? There are 10, but one ('Sunset Orange') is exclusive to the GT.
Only one is a non-cost option, too – it’s 'Clear White'. The rest are premium paint colours and will cost you extra. You can have 'Aurora Black', 'Gravity Blue', 'Horizon Blue' (which was the colour of my S hatch and looks great), there’s also 'Runway Red' (that was the colour of my Sport hatch and it was hard to keep looking clean), 'Steel Grey', 'Snow White' and 'Silky Silver'. No green and no yellow.
The Cerato is a small car, but not the smallest Kia – that’s the Picanto and it’s tiny. Nope, the dimensions show the Cerato hatch to be 4510mm end-to-end, while the sedan is longer at 4640mm. Both are the same height at 1800mm tall, but their widths are different with the hatch being 1445mm across while the sedan is 5.0mm narrower.
The Rio’s square dimensions lend it a spacious interior, although it is surprisingly bested in this class on boot space by several competitors.
Arm-flailing space and headroom is great for all occupants, but rear passengers get perhaps better legroom than even the driver.
There are well-sized bottle holders in each door, as well as two small ones for front occupants in front of the console box.
Speaking of which, it’s impressive this little car gets a console box at all, because the Jazz and Yaris are left without, while in the Mazda2 it’s a $495 option.
There’s also a decently sized trench in front of the gearknob which houses the USB, AUX and 12v ports. The Rio doesn’t get rear air vents, but it does have a USB power outlet in the back.
Boot space is a decent 325 litres VDA which sounds and looks good, but is bested in this segment by the Honda Jazz (354L), Suzuki Baleno (355L) and Hyundai Accent (370L).
It maxes out at 980L with the rear seats flat, which is almost double the equivalent room in a Suzuki Swift.
You can get the Cerato as a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback. They’re the same size, but which do you reckon has the biggest boot? The hatch? Nope.
See, the Cerato hatch’s boot has a luggage capacity of 428 litres and the sedan’s boot space is 502 litres.
Thing is, the hatch is the more practical of the two because of its tailgate which opens high and gives you a big aperture and you can fold those rear seats down to open up the cabin as a cargo area.
Another practicality win for the hatch is the segmented storage area under the boot floor. The sedan doesn’t get this which is a shame because it’s like a big bento box for wet clothes or muddy shoes.
Storage throughout the cabins of both the sedan and hatch is excellent with two cupholders in the fold-down rear armrest and another two up-front, while the centre console bin is deep (there’s a USB charging port in there, too) and the shelves under the dash were a great place to plonk my wallet and phone. Also hiding in there is a USB charging port, a USB media port and a 12-volt outlet. That top shelf under the dash in the GT also doubles as a wireless charging pad.
Room for people is also outstanding. I’m 191cm tall, and mainly all limbs, yet I had no elbow or legroom issues up front and I can even sit behind my driving position in both the sedan and the hatch with about 20mm of space between my knees and the seatback.
The Sport Plus and GT have directional air vents in the second row, but the lower grades don’t get these. That’s something I find pretty frustrating – my four-year-old sat for two weeks in the back of the Cerato S and Sport through the killer summer of 2019 and it was hot back there.
Price and features
Price is everything in such a competitive segment, and so every dollar matters in the small-car stakes.
The Rio range is a three-variant affair, starting with the $16,990 base-model S. The S is unchanged from last year’s model and comes equipped with either a six-speed manual or an antiquated four-speed auto at a $2100 premium.
Standard inclusions on the S are 15-inch steel wheels, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, a reversing camera and halogen headlights with auto function.
Missing is cruise control or more recent systems like AEB, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring, or cross-traffic alerts.
It’s worth noting the entry-level variants of the Honda Jazz, Mazda 2 Neo and Suzuki Swift are all cheaper, too. And the additional cost of $2100 for a lacklustre automatic is a particular let down.
The next grade up in the range is the new Sport variant ($17,790). The Sport replaces the previously-mid-spec Si, and it gains 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a leather-bound steering wheel and gear shift as well as heated and folding wing-mirrors.
The Sport can also be had with a new six-speed torque converter automatic at a $3000 premium. This transmission is better, but it still can't make up for the failings of the engine; but more on that in the Driving section of this review.
Finally, the updated Rio range tops out with the GT-Line ($21,990). The GT-Line replaces the previous top-spec SLi and comes with an overhauled drivetrain and the presence of active safety features which are not available, even optionally, on lower grades.
The GT-Line gains a bespoke body-kit, flat-bottomed perforated-leather steering wheel, carbon-look interior trim, LED DRLs, fog lights and rear light clusters.
All Rio variants score a reversing camera with rear parking sensors.
The range, spanning from $17,790 to $21,990 is a decent one, but the safety and performance improvements of the GT-Line make it our pick of the range, and it's worth spending the extra money for one.
Just be aware that the GT-Line's circa-$22k pricing will put you in a car the next size up fairly easily.
It’s a shame both the S and the Sport do not get any active safety features and are burdened with antiquated (or expensive) automatic transmissions.
You’ve had a look online and you’re a bit shocked to find that your $20-$30k may not go as far as you originally thought, especially when you include the on-roads costs.
But, take a look at its ‘cousin’ the Kia Cerato, too, because I reckon it’s the best value-for-money car on the market right now, and one that no doubt keeps its rivals awake at night as it steals buyers away from them.
The Kia Cerato sedan and hatch are priced the same and the value-for-money is outstanding. The entry grade S with a manual gearbox lists for $20,990, and at the time we published this review you could have it for $19,990 drive-away.
You’d probably think the ‘S’ stands for ‘Sport’ but it doesn’t because there is an actual grade called the Sport which is the next tier up and lists for $25,790 or $24,190 drive-away. Then there’s the Sport Plus which lists for $28,840 and can be had for $27,740 drive-away. At the top of the range is the GT which lists for $32,990 or $31,990 drive-away.
Standard features on the S include an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker stereo, air-conditioning, cloth seats, 3.5-inch LCD instrument screen, electric mirrors, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and 16-inch steel wheels with 205/55 R16 tyres.
Standard features on the Sport are almost identical to the S. The only difference is the Sport’s premium steering wheel and shift knob, sat nav, plus 17-inch alloys wheels with 225/45 R17 tyres.
The Sport Plus has the Sport’s features and adds leather seats, dual-zone climate control with rear directional air vents, heated front seats, push-button start, proximity key and LED running lights.
The GT has those features and adds wireless phone charging, a 4.2-inch instrument cluster an eight-speaker JBL sound system and 18-inch alloys with 225/40 R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 rubber.
Engine & trans
There are two engines and four transmissions in the Rio Range. But only one combination is likely to put a smile on your face.
The S and Sport are only available with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine which produces 74kW/133Nm. That sounds competitive on paper, but in real life it fails to deliver.
Both cars come with the same six-speed manual, but the S can be optioned with an ancient four-speed auto at a $2100 premium. This is an antiquated transmission and not good value.
The Sport is available with a six-speed auto at a $3000 premium. It’s a much better transmission and improves the drive experience, but it's expensive for an auto and cannot make up for the engine’s failings.
Up the top of the range is the much more impressive 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo in the GT-Line.
The GT-Line is not available with a manual and can only be had with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, a first for Kia in Australia.
The engine produces 88kW/172Nm but can make use of its peak torque in a much wider band than the 1.4. Combined with the slick-shifting dual clutch it's a much better combination.
So, you can get a Cerato S, a Cerato Sport and a Cerato Sport Plus, but only the top-of-the-range Cerato GT is the true sporty one in the family.
The rest of the Cerato line-up shares a 112kW/192Nm four-cylinder petrol engine. If you want a manual gearbox, then you can only have it with the base grade S, otherwise the six-speed automatic, that is standard in the others, does the shifting for you.
Both are good powerplants, the 1.6-litre is smaller but more powerful and responsive and uses less fuel. How much less? Which we’re just about to get to.
The 1.4-litre manual variants of the S and Sport have a claimed/combined fuel usage figure of 5.6L/100km. The S’ four-speed auto has a claimed figure of 6.2L/100km and the Sport’s six-speed has a figure of 6.0L/100km.
Meanwhile, the three-cylinder turbo offering in the GT-Line with the seven-speed auto has the best claimed figure of the lot, at 5.4L/100km.
In my test of the S and Sport I found a more realistic figure to expect from the 1.4-litre to be between 7.5 and 9.0L/100km. This is generally worse than fuel figures we’ve experienced in cars like the Suzuki Swift and Mazda2.
My test of the GT-Line produced an 8.9L/100km figure, but I was having a lot of fun.
All Rios have 45-litre tanks and drink base-grade 91RON unleaded petrol.
As mentioned above, the GT with its 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder is the most fuel-efficient member of the Cerato family and after a combination of open and urban roads Kia says you should see it using 6.8L/100km in both the sedan and hatch.
When I tested the GT at its launch in January 2019 the trip computer said I was using 7.6L/100km after driving the hatch on mainly country roads and 8.4L/100km in the sedan on similar open roads.
As for the other grades Kia says the combined fuel consumption for the S, Sport and Sport Plus grades with their 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines and six-speed auto is 7.4L/100km. My own testing in the Sport hatch saw me measure bang-on 7.4L/100km (measured at the petrol pump), while the S hatch did 8.6L/100km (also measured at the bowser).
A manual gearbox is available on the S and Kia says you should see it using 7.4L/100km in the hatch and 7.6L/100km in the sedan. Along with that good mileage it's nice to know both engines are also happy to run on regular unleaded petrol.
The Rio has some excellent, and some not-so-excellent driving characteristics.
It’s frustrating, really, because all Rios have a nice wide footprint, solid steering and excellent suspension tuned here in Australia.
The downside is the drivetrains in most variants can’t live up to the promise laid out by the rest of the experience.
The outdated 1.4-litre feels breathless until torque starts to arrive somewhere around 4000rpm. In manual versions, this means you’ll be shuffling gears with annoying frequency to try and keep the power up. In the four-speed auto S you’re left with no choice but to be stuck without power, then suddenly too much power, while the six speed in the Sport helps to smooth this out a little.
All 1.4-litre variants feel slow off the line no matter what you do. Overtaking is a chore.
The new 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit in the GT-Line is a different story altogether. It’s an enthusiastic little engine with a wide power band. It does have a small amount of lag to contend with, but it sounds gruff and has a heap more character than most engines in this class.
It’s not quite on the same level as the Suzuki Swift Sport, but performance-wise, it's a rung above competitors from other brands.
This is simple. There are only two types of Cerato when it comes to driving. There’s the fast and hard one, or the comfy and easy one.
If you’re looking for a Cerato which is pretty quick and has great handling, then it’s the GT for you. The catch is, the GT’s ride is firm and jarring over potholes and speed bumps.
If you’re looking for something which has a comfortable ride and is fuss-free to drive then the S, the Sport and Sport Plus are for you.
See, Kia set out to make the GT a bit more hardcore – it has a more powerful engine, firmer suspension (the torsion bar set-up in the other grades was swapped for a multi-link system in the rear of the GT), it also sits lower and rides on 18-inch wheels with low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres. The result is a hatch which is knocking on the door of Golf GTI territory.
I drove the GT in hatch form at its launch on twisty country roads and it felt planted, with excellent body control and impressive grip. The only thing lacking was more grunt.
This chassis is now so good it feels like it’s in search of a more powerful engine to match it. The steering also felt a bit ‘lumpy’ in places. Still it’s accurate and not a deal breaker.
That lumpy steering feel is also present in the S, Sport and Sport Plus, too but it becomes irrelevant because these grades don’t have the performance bent of the GT. Instead they have a ride which is composed and comfortable, with an engine that provides plenty of oomph for highway cruising, overtaking and city sprints – especially when you select 'Sport' mode which sharpens throttle response.
And while they don’t have the handling and agility of the GT, I was impressed by how controlled and planted the Sport felt when I tested it over the route I normally take sport cars on.
More importantly, the S, Sport, and Sport Plus are easy and enjoyable to drive. I clocked up hundreds of kilometres in the S and Sport and found the seats to be wide at the base and supportive around my back, and they could be adjusted to find a great driving position.
Kia tunes most of its cars for Australia roads and the job its local engineering team has performed on these lower grade Ceratos is outstanding – the ride is compliant and comfortable and the car has good body control over bumps and corners.
If I could change anything it would be to improve visibility in the rear corners – those tiny porthole-like windows aren’t big enough.
All Rio variants carry a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2017 onwards. Although, safety across the range varies geatly.
The entry-level S and Sport have no active safety items whatsoever, even optionally. This is a roaring shame given even base variants of the Swift and Mazda2 have AEB, and it is available as an affordable option on the Toyota Yaris.
The GT-Line, again, is far superior to the others in that it comes standard with city-speed auto emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning, lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), and driver attention alert (DAA).
Standard fitment across the Rio range is the standard suite of stability controls, six airbags and three top-tether or two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points.
The Kia Cerato GT and Sport Plus hatch and sedan scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2019, but the Sport and S were given four stars because while they do have AEB it doesn’t detect pedestrians and cyclists like the version on the top two grades.
You can effectively turn a Sport or an S into a five-star car by optioning the $1500 safety pack which adds that version of the AEB plus blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
The Sport Plus and GT come with all of that advanced safety equipment already. The GT also comes with LED headlights which are much brighter and more intense than the halogen units in the other grades.
As you'd expect all Ceratos come with a suite of airbags, ESP and a reversing camera. There are also three top tether anchor points across the second row – they’re easy to use, I’ve installed my four-year-old’s seat in both the hatches I had. There are also two ISOFIX anchor points.
Under the boot floor is a space saver spare.
One of the Rio’s strong points has always been Kia’s fantastic seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty. It far outstrips the now-standard five-year warranties offered by other brands.
While other brands are upping the pace, the Rio still has the best warranty in this class.
The same can’t be said for ownership costs, sadly. The Rio only needs to be serviced once a year or every 15,000km, and costs an average of $390.71 per year for 1.4-litre variants, or a significantly more expensive $484.57 per year for the GT-Line.
The Cerato is covered by Kia’s seven-year/unlimited km warranty. Most carmakers are only just making the move to five-year warranties, but Kia has had this offering in place for years. The Cerato also comes with seven years of roadside assistance.
There’s also seven years of capped price servicing. Kia recommends you service the Cerato S, Sport, Sport Plus annually or every 15,000km. You can expect to pay $275 at the first service, $469 at the second, $339, $623, $309, then $596 and finally $328 for the seventh.
It’s good to know that after seven years of regular servicing you can expect to pay no more than $2939.
As for the GT Kia recommends servicing it every 10,000km or annually. Servicing is capped at $282 for the first service, $476 for the next, then $346, $630, $317, $604, then $640 for the seventh.
The aftercare Kia offers is outstanding and so the Cerato gets full marks for its cost of ownership.