On the road, the Rio is a jack of many trades but a master of few.
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.
It's not going to get me out of my Ford Fiesta anytime soon
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.