Kia Rio Review
The Kia Rio has a well-built cabin and efficient petrol engines, but it’s dull inside and you can have more fun behind the wheel in other small cars for the same money.
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The Kia Rio is a sensible supermini with decent space and a solid cabin. But is that enough when you consider the Rio is in the same shopping basket as the Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza, VW Polo and Peugeot 208?
Next to these lot, the Rio is a bit like going out for dinner at the Ritz and ordering a ham sandwich. It just doesn’t have the same sort of pizzazz as these cars inside or out.
Kia has tried, but the Rio is an evolution of the style set out by its predecessor. A similar face with piercing headlights flanks the slightly narrower ‘tiger-nose’ grille, while the front bumper is lower and wider, and the foglight surrounds more prominent.
The cabin has seen the most significant improvements compared to the last model. The materials have been upgraded, while on mid-spec models and upwards there’s a larger 8-inch touchscreen and a high-definition colour display between the instruments.
There are four equipment levels to choose from and in terms of quality, the new Rio, has an interior that’s easily a match for the likes of a VW Polo. The plastics used on most of the surfaces are soft-touch while the fit-and-finish of every component is superb. It just won’t wow you like the Peugeot 208 interior would, though.
If boot sizes wow you however, you’ll be pleased to see the Rio’s boot is bigger than the boot you’ll find in a Polo or Fiesta, though it’s not quite as easy to load thanks to its rather awkward shape.
The Rio is pretty decent but you need more to stand out in class nowadays
Under the bonnet, the Rio gets a choice of 1.25 non-turbo petrol engines or a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol with 100hp. In addition, there’s a 1.0-litre engine with mild-hybrid assistance, which generates a total of 120hp.
It’s easy to drive thanks to light controls and it’s easy to put the car where you want it. That said, if you love driving maybe look elsewhere – the Rio is untaxing to drive but definitely not fun. Refinement and comfort are likewise agreeable but don’t rival the best models in the class. A Ford Fiesta is generally better to drive while a VW Polo is more comfortable and refined.
Ultimately, if this car’s qualities appeal to your sensible side – its industry-leading seven-year warranty, its sturdy cabin and its frugal powertrain – then it’s worth a look. If, however, you demand a little more from your car – such as a fun driving experience, desirable looks and luxurious ride quality – its rivals might be better suited to you.
If you’re more bothered about a reassuring warranty and going from A to B than going around corners quickly, check out our Kia Rio deals.
The Kia Rio has lots of space for anyone in the front seats, as well as a big boot, but rear legroom can be a bit tight, if the front seats are pushed all the way back
The Rio may not be class-leading in any particular area, but it is a deceptively good all-rounder that's pretty good at everything
The Rio’s cabin is a pleasant place to sit, with plentiful space for the driver and front passenger. The rear is more limited in terms of legroom – especially if the front occupants are quite tall – but, thanks to the car’s boxy silhouette, those in the back won’t be especially pushed for headroom. Elbow room is also decent thanks to cutouts in the rear side panels.
The Rio is pretty unremarkable regarding storage space. There are no clever practical features but at least the door bins and glovebox are of decent size.
The Rio’s boot has a total of 325 litres of space. This compares favourably to the Polo and Fiesta’s 280 and 292-litre boots respectively. The opening is wide, but curved lower sections that flank a raised lip make loading items in the boot harder than it might otherwise be.
On the road, the Rio is a jack of many trades but a master of few.
The Rio comes with a choice of three basic engines – a 1.25 non-turbo petrol in entry-level models, and a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol in 99 and 118hp guises. All are equipped with five or six-speed manual gearboxes while the 118hp version can be linked to a seven-speed dual0clutch automatic gearbox.
The 1.25 petrol is quite long in the tooth now so is best avoided,. The new 1.0-litre turbo, however – available on ‘2’ trim and up – is leagues ahead.
Even in basic 99hp guise, the little three-cylinder feels peppy in the low gears with enough torque in high gears to drag itself up hills or on motorway overtakes without feeling strained. The more potent 118hp version features mild-hybrid assistance and feels palpably faster – as much thanks to its six-speed gearbox as its extra output.
All 1.0-litre units are impressively quiet when cruising but let out a noticeable thrum under hard acceleration. Far from being a problem, however, the acoustically pleasing engine note serves to make the Rio feel more exciting to use.
Both engines return an average of 52.3mpg with the manual transmission fitted; the 100hp model does 50.4 with the dual-clutch gearbox attached, while the 120hp model does 51.4mpg.
In trying to please as many buyers as possible, Kia has tried to make the Rio both sporty and resistant to body roll, but also cosseting and comfortable – unfortunately it’s achieved neither in the Rio.
It’s by no means bad to drive – the steering has enough weight when pointed dead ahead that you need not make constant adjustments to keep the car going straight. Equally, the wheel’s position correlates logically to the direction the car is turning in – meaning you needn’t guess how much lock to apply.
In addition, the setup of the clutch, accelerator and brake pedals all make it very easy to drive the Rio smoothly within a couple of hundred metres of getting in it for the first time. The brake pedal also responds well to pressure so it’s easy to modulate the braking force according to the situation. The gearshift on six-speed manual models we tried was a smooth and slick with the five-speed version being slightly less so.
The ride, however, leaves quite a bit to be desired. At low speeds, the car gets bounced around over bumps and potholes while even fairly smooth road surfaces translate into a fidgety, unsettled ride quality. That said, the ride quality noticeably improves at motorway speeds – possibly a result of being set up for smooth German roads rather than pock-marked British lanes.
Trading up to the 16-inch alloys on higher spec Rio models amplifies the problem even more, so these are best avoided.
The Kia Rio is further evidence of the way that Kia is improving its cars: the cabin is full of nice materials that are put together really well. There’s lots of high-tech features, too, and the touchscreen is better than the old versions.