Kia Rio Review
Believe it or not, the Kia Rio supermini is the Korean brand’s best-selling model. The latest fourth-generation version wades into a congested field dominated by established rivals including the Ford Fiesta, VW Polo and Skoda Fabia.
What's not so good
Kia Rio: what would you like to read next?
On the outside, the Kia Rio is an evolution of the style set out by its predecessor. A similar face with piercing headlights flanks the ‘tiger nose’ grille – now finished in glossy black plastic. The new Rio’s body now takes a more conventional hatchback shape compared to the last car’s quirkier outline, and to our eyes it’s pleasing but doesn’t stand out much.
The cabin has seen the most significant improvements compared to the last model. Gone are the swathes of hard black and grey plastic that covered the dash, which is now framed by a piece of body-coloured soft-touch material. The same colour transfers to the arm rests on the doors and the sides of the seat bolsters and generally helps lift the cabin ambiance.
Under the bonnet, the Rio gets a choice of 1.25 and 1.4-litre non-turbo petrol engines in lower trims or a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol. Diesel buyers can pick a 1.4-litre unit with either 76 or 89hp but, thanks to its inflated purchase price compared to the petrols, you’ll need to cover really high mileages each year to make it worth it.
It’s easy to drive thanks to light controls and it’s easy to put the car where you want it. That said, enthusiastic drivers should 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.
Equipment is fairly generous and simply divided across four trim ranges – dubbed 1, 2, 3 and First Edition. All models get air conditioning, front electric windows, Bluetooth connectivity and LED daytime running lights. ‘2’-grade cars get alloy wheels, DAB digital radio, a five-inch infotainment screen, reversing camera and rear parking sensors. ‘3’ adds luxuries such as faux-leather upholstery, a sat nav with a larger infotainment screen, heated seats and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The Rio is pretty decent but you need more to stand out in class nowadays
The Kia Rio is agreeable in many ways but, compared to the best models in the class, there’s little to recommend it for. Its interior quality is easily a match for the VW Polo but that car strikes a much better balance between comfort and control. Likewise, its cabin design is more modern and spacious than the Ford Fiesta’s, but that car is a genuine hoot to drive.
The 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine is commendable, with better responses and a more satisfying noise than the equivalent fitted to Ford models. Equally, while the build quality is as high as ever, the material quality has been lifted to the top end of the class – an improvement desperately needed over the grey predecessor.
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 its 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.
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 is 13 per cent larger than the one in the outgoing model – giving a total of 325 litres. This compares favourably to the Polo and Fiesta’s 280 and 276-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.
It's not going to get me out of my Ford Fiesta anytime soon
The Rio comes with a choice of four basic engines – 1.25 and 1.4-litre non-turbo petrols in entry-level models, a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol in 99 and 118hp guises, and a 1.4-litre diesel in 76 and 89hp versions. All are equipped with five or six-speed manual gearboxes while the 1.4-litre petrol can also be fitted with a four-speed automatic.
The 1.25 and 1.4-litre petrols are quite long in the tooth now so are best avoided, unless you really need an automatic gearbox – in which case, a VW Polo would be a better bet. 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 in the top-of-the-range model 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.
There is only one 1.4-litre diesel fitted to the Rio but it comes in 76 and 89hp versions. The power is delivered evenly across most of the rev range, avoiding the ‘surge’ some poorer diesels have around 2,000rpm. That said, the engine is noisy when accelerating and, even in its most potent 89hp iteration, feels quite slow compared to the much nicer petrols.
Naturally, the diesels return excellent fuel economy. The best claims to average 80.7mpg while even the more potent version can return 74.3mpg meaning very low fuel costs. They do, however, cost a lot more to buy than the petrols in the first place so, like almost every other small diesel car, only makes sense for those who cover exceptionally high annual mileages.
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. Weirdly, the diesel’s ride quality suffers less so than the petrols – possibly as a result of the heavier engine counteracting the bouncing effect of the firm suspension.
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, but the touchscreen isn’t the best to use