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The Kia Rio is an inexpensive supermini that more than punches its weight. June Neary tries it.
My only previous acquaintance with the Kia Rio was many years ago and it's an experience I've tried to scrub from my mind. It wasn't particularly edifying. I remember a car with suspension that seemed to be made of Victoria sponge and upholstery that generated more static electricity than a Van der Graaf generator. Therefore you can understand that when I was informed that I would be running a Rio for a week, I was hardly jumping for joy. How wrong I was. When the latest fourth generation model arrived, I was very pleasantly surprised. It looked very modern, the interior styling was neat, it was well equipped and build quality immediately seemed better than the much more expensive Alfa Romeo I'd just been driving. Call me impressed.
The Rio competes against cars in the Fiesta and Corsa supermini class, so it needs to be very good to even feed at the scraps from this particular table. Fortunately it looks to have what it takes. At this point, I should confess that the Rio and I didn't get off to the most harmonious start. I reached over to put something in the boot and managed to get a carpet burn from the parcel shelf edge right across the bridge of my nose. Things had to get better after that. There's a decent amount of space in the front seat and the driver's seat and the steering wheel are multi-adjustable. The seats are firm and the rearward visibility isn't particularly good. Shorter drivers might find reversing round a corner a bit nerve-wracking. The boot isn't long but it's fairly deep and measures 325-litres in all. There's a nice soft-touch pressure pad that you use to open the tailgate and the doors all shut with a reassuring thunk. Rear seat space is more than adequate for a six-footer to sit behind a six-foot driver.
The Rio that I tried was a 1.0-litre three-cylinder T-GDI petrol variant. Although it only generated 99bhp, that's plenty for city duties and Kia has worked hard at engine refinement at low engine revs, that part of the power band you'll be using in urban areas. The 0-62mph of 10.3s promised plenty of pep and the torque figure of 171Nm means there's even more zip than the sprint figure suggests. You have to work the gearbox to extract it though. The variant I tried is capable of 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and 102g/km of CO2. I think this 1.0 T-GDI unit is a much better bet than the two older-tech 'Kappa' family petrol engines in the range, the 83bhp 1.25-litre unit that budget buyers will choose and the 98bhp 1.4-litre variant that's the only Rio powerplant you can order with automatic transmission. If you want a diesel, there are two 1.4-litre CRDi options, with a choice between 76 and 89bhp outputs. On the move, the steering is crisp and accurate, the brakes powerful and body control is very good. The ride is fairly firm in a manner that's not unlike a Volkswagen Polo. The major controls are very well planned and I particularly liked the centre-dash 7-inch touchscreen supplied on my top-spec test model, complete with navigation and a full suite of 'Kia Connected Services'. These include wi-fi options and an opportunity to link in your smartphone via either 'Apple CarPlay' or 'Android Auto'.
Kia might be positioning the Rio affordably in the supermini sector (prioces sit in the £12,000 to £17,000 bracket) but it hasn't stinted on kit. Even the base '1'-spec model gets air conditioning, auto headlights, front foglamps, LED daytime running lights and Bluetooth with music streaming, as well as powered heated mirrors, front electric windows and a four-speaker audio system with USB and Aux-in ports. Almost certainly though, you'll be wanting to at least trade up to a Rio with the mid-spec '2'-trim level that'll be recognisable by its chrome-framed front grille and 15-inch alloy wheels. Other '2'-trim features include a much nicer cabin that includes smarter upholstery, a centre console armrest and storage box, an upgraded 3.5-inch instrument binnacle screen and a 5-inch colour centre dash infotainment monitor that also includes a rear view camera. At this level, you also get cruise control with a speed limiter, power-folding mirrors, rear parking sensors and rear electric windows.
There aren't too many vehicles which are easier to live with than a Kia Rio, especially if you're the one footing the bill. True, it's not the most dynamic supermini in the sector to drive: but it is one of the better ones in the class to ride in, which is arguably more important. If Kia could complete the package with a more sophisticated engine range, then the opposition really would start to worry. As it is, the impressive 1.0-litre T-GDI petrol unit that I tried represents just a taste of what's to come.