Kia Rio VS Kia Picanto
- Great design and looks
- Awesome multimedia
- GT-Line is good fun
- S and Sport drive experience
- S and Sport lack active safety
- Expensive servicing
- Fun and funky styling
- Good suspension and steering
- Added safety features and tech
- Carry-over engine feels outdated
- Four-speed transmission grates outside the CBD
- Elements of interior feel cheap
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|
The Kia Picanto is a cheap car. There's no two ways about it. But that doesn't mean what it used to mean.
There was a time, not so long ago, when our cheapest cars sported panels forged from old Coca-Cola cans, were as technologically advanced as a shoe horn and would offer all the structural integrity of an Easter egg should you ever have had the misfortune of being in an accident.
But this new Picanto isn't any of those things. For one, it's nice to look at. Plus, it's filled with clever safety things like a reversing camera and rear parking sensors. And it will mirror your smartphone so you can play your music or display navigation instructions up on the 7.0-inch screen inside.
So it's cheap, then, but not really 'cheap' at all.
|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 Kia Picanto is now less cheap and more cheerful, adding the technology and safety stuff sorely missing from the outgoing model. For us, the pick has to be the five-speed manual, squeezing the most bang from the little engine.
Could Kia's new Picanto be your next city car? 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.
It's as perky as your morning cup of coffee, the Picanto. The car's designers - it was a shared job between teams in South Korea and Germany - set out to broaden the car's appeal by strengthening its character relative to the outgoing model, ironing out the sharp crease that ran the length of the body, and making the grille bigger and wider.
We quite like the look of it, especially viewed front-on, which starts narrow at the headlights before widening as it descends into the gaping, whale-shark-mouth grille.
There's a few other blink-and-you'll-miss-them changes, like a redesigned boot handle, C-shaped tail-lights and a new number plate housing. But overall we think it looks rather fetching.
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.
Kia has robbed Peter to pay Paul here. Provided, of course, Peter is riding in the back seat and Paul is sitting up front.
While the Picanto's length and width hasn't changed, it is 5mm higher, and it sits on a 15mm longer wheelbase. And while those numbers seem microscopic, Kia has used them to shake up the interior set-up, adding head, shoulder and legroom for front seat passengers, but stealing a little space from those riding in the back seat.
But the true Tardis is the boot, which now offers up 255 litres (+55 litres) of luggage space with the rear seat in place, and a genuinely impressive 1010 litres (+140 litres) with the 60/40 split rear seat folded flat.
Front seat passengers share two cupholders, and there's a USB, aux and power connection in the dash, along with room in the doors for bottles. Sometimes it's the little things you appreciate, too, like an integrated phone holder under the multimedia screen that's big enough to house one of those new jumbo-sized iPhone Plus smartphones so it won't slide around the cabin when you're plugged in to the USB point.
The backseat is a little barren, though. There's a single seat pocket and a single cupholder for your backseat riders to Hunger Games over, and that's about it. There are no pockets in the doors or pull-down dividers, either, but you do get automatic window controls.
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're not exactly spoiled for choice with the Picanto, with a single trim level (S) on offer, which can be had with an automatic transmission or manual gearbox.
The pricing is slightly mysterious, with an official starting point of $14,190 for the manual version, but with Kia hinting heavily that it will actually be $13,990 drive-away in any of its dealerships. The automatic, however, is a little more straightforward, wearing a simple $15,690 drive-away price tag.
No matter, there's no escaping that it's a price-led offering. The seats are cloth, the 14-inch wheels have hubs caps on them and the interior plastics are rock hard. But there have been some key, and critical, updates inside. The new 7.0-inch touchscreen, mounted high above the dash, is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped, and that means, provided you have a smart phone that's in range, you get standard satellite navigation.
Among the other new stuff is cruise control and automatic headlights, which are tacked onto the (actually, pretty extensive) standard feature list of the outgoing model. So, power windows in both rows, halogen DRLs and keyless entry all still appear, along with a rear fog light, electric (and heated) mirrors and a 2.6-inch driving display screen housed between the traditional dials in the instrument binnacle.
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.
Just the one engine available, a carry-over 1.25-litre petrol unit that will produce a non-pulse-quickening 62kW at 6000rpm, and a slightly improved 122Nm at 4000rpm. It's paired with a new five-speed manual in the cheapest model, or a four-speed automatic in the more expensive version, with both sending power exclusively to the front wheels.
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.
It's impressively frugal. Sipping a miserly 5.0 litres per hundred kilometres on the claimed/combined cycle in the manual car, and 5.8L/100km in the automatic. But even after some, well, vigorous driving on a twisting backroad, the number was still only sitting on 5.8L/100km in the auto, and 4.8 in the manual.
Emissions are pegged at 117 grams per kilometre of C02 in manual vehicles, and 134g/km in the automatic.
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.
Because the last car was really only a case study, Kia never bothered to subject it to the local suspension and steering tuning process it puts the rest of its cars through. But this new Picanto has undergone the full treatment, and the results are very good. If it's not the most dynamic-feeling car in its segment, it's got to be damn close.
But those changes are let down a little by the largely carry-over engine-gearbox combination. The engine feels lethargic on anything steeper than a gentle climb, and the four-speed automatic being fidgety and loud when you've got your foot pinned. Which you will have. A lot.
Things are so much better in the new five-speed manual version, though, where you can wring every ounce of power out of the engine, but Kia tells us the market for self-shifting is miniscule. But if it was us, we'd be taking the cheaper manual every day of the week.
Better still, wait for the incoming sportier version, powered by a clever turbocharged three-cylinder engine (74kW/172Nm) paired with a five-speed manual 'box. Kia confided it's already got a sportier suspension tune waiting and ready for the Picanto - and now they just need the car, which they're pushing for by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, though, the cloth seats are comfortable, but lacking much in the way of bolstering - which becomes pretty apparent when you start pushing it into bends - a task to which the Picanto is surprisingly well suited.
But by far the biggest and most positive change is the new screen perched above the air vents in the centre of the dash. It's big, clear, easy to use and, most importantly, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto equipped, unlocking a world of easy - and free - navigation for budget minded shoppers.
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.
When we drove the old car, we pointed out a lack of key safety kit now generally expected to be present and accounted for, but this new model addresses most of those concerns.
There are six airbags (dual front, front sides and curtain bags) and rear parking sensors, like the old model. But new for 2017 is a reversing camera, a new brake-based torque vectoring system and what Kia calls 'Straight Line Stability' - designed to keep the car tracking straight under heavy braking. Kia is also pushing to introduce AEB sometime this year.
The Kia Picanto is yet to be evaluated by ANCAP in Australia.
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.
Kia's ownership offering really can't be beat, and the Picanto is covered by the brand's seven-year/ unlimited-kilometre warranty with capped-price servicing and roadside assistance for the duration. Which is not just very good, but the best in the Aussie industry.