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Kia Rio 2021 review: GT-Line auto

In a segment with increasingly limited choice, Kia offers a very welcome warm hatch alternative.

Daily driver score

4/5

Urban score

4/5

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.

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.

The Rio GT-Line offers a great balance of spec and price. The Rio GT-Line offers a great balance of spec and price.

 

 

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

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. Value-wise the Rio is pretty good.

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.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

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.

Dual exhaust ports hint at a modicum of aggression. 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. 

The alloy wheels fill the wheel arches well. The alloy wheels fill the wheel arches well.

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.

The dash is now dominated by a relatively large screen. The dash is now dominated by a relatively large screen.

How practical is the space inside?

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.

The Rio has a huge interior space. The Rio has a huge interior space.

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.

The back row has impressive legroom. The back row has impressive legroom.

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). Boot space comes in at 325 litres (VDA).

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.

Boot space is competitive with hatches in the next class up. Boot space is competitive with hatches in the next class up.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

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).

Featuring Kia's latest compact engine, a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder. Featuring Kia's latest compact engine, a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder.

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.

How much fuel does it consume?

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.

The Rio’s fuel consumption sticker says 5.4L/100km. The Rio’s fuel consumption sticker says 5.4L/100km.

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.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

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.

All Rios carry a five-star ANCAP safety rating. All Rios carry a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

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.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

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.

Kia has become known for its seven year and unlimited kilometre warranty. Kia has become known for its seven year and unlimited kilometre warranty.

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.

What's it like to drive around town?

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 dual clutch is sometimes a bit glitchy at very low speeds. The dual clutch is sometimes a bit glitchy at very low speeds.

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.

The Rio quite a connected little car in the corners. The Rio quite a connected little car in the corners.

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.

Visibility out of the Rio is great. Visibility out of the Rio is great.

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.

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.

$23,990

Based on new car retail price

Daily driver score

4/5

Urban score

4/5