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New Kia Rio set for battle

Kia's new frontline fighter is the Rio, which becomes the spearhead for the company this year and a pivotal model in its plan to rise beyond the bargain basement and become a brand with the cars and quality to challenge Japan's best.

The new Rio, which will be sold in Australia from August as a five-door hatch priced from about $15,500, must sell far better than its predecessor and also deliver on Kia's quality promises.

"It's an extremely important car for us," Michael Choo, Kia's global communications manager, tells Carsguide.  "Here's an example - the old Rio sold 20,000 units a year in Europe. We expect the new Rio to sell 90,000 a year."

The new Rio is a pivotal car and changes start with the design. The styling was done by a team working in three countries and, though it has a similar face to other new Kias including the Optima sedan and Sportage SUV, the body shape is all new.

Action starts with the five-door hatch and it will be joined before the end of the year by a sedan and, in early 2012, a three-door model.  The new Rio is a chalk-and-cheese comparison with the outgoing car, as it is longer, wider and lower to provide greater cabin room and a sporty profile.

The wheelbase is up by 70mm to 2570mm yet overall length expands by only 55mm. The Rio is also 15mm lower than the existing model and 25mm wider to result in more cargo space.  Globally, the Rio will be offered with six engines including a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre petrol and a 1.1-litre diesel.

However, Kia Australia spokesman Kevin Hepworth says Australia will get a 1.6-litre engine and perhaps a 1.4-litre engine to set a starting price. The price penalty strikes Australia off the list for a potentially zippy - and Volkswagen Polo chasing - 1.2-litre direct-injection turbo-petrol engine.

Kia says the Rio is aimed at buyers who are downsizing into the brand.  "A B-segment car as attractive as the Rio, with its driver-oriented cabin and interior trim options, will no doubt help consumers to be more comfortable making that switch," says Kia's director of overseas marketing, Soon-Nam Lee.

"The Rio is our 'next big step' in Kia's design revolution and we anticipate this model becoming even more popular than the current vehicle."

While the Rio is the focus in Geneva, the company also unveils the Picanto city car, which is now firming for a place in Australian showrooms, as well as the Optima that is also on the wish list for local sales.