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REVIEW: Kia plays ball with new Rio

2018-01-18 10:40

Charlen Raymond

Image: Charlen Raymond

Cape Town - Earlier in 2017, Kia launched its new Rio in South Africa and it immediately found favour with local motorists. The Rio, designed and built for city life, sells around 500 units locally each month and has been a contender in the monthly list for top 10 passenger cars on a regular basis.

And that’s no mean feat, considering the vast list of vehicle options SA buyers can choose from. Up against the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, the Rio has its work cut out in terms of offering a package that can compete against the best.

Kia knows this, which is why the automaker has made its city car a more complete offering in its tightly contested segment. Sporting a fancy shade of blue and striking 17” rims, the Rio 1.4 Tec arrived for a short stint to show whether or not Kia has hit the mark with its new hatchback.

Non-turbo engine

A naturally aspirated engine does duty under the bonnet, driving power to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. Given the trend by manufacturers to implement turbocharged technology on their engines, it is somewhat strange to see Kia go the non-turbo route. With only 74kW and 135Nm of torque, the 1.4-litre engine delivers varying levels of performance.

Around town the Rio is a comfortable car to drive. It has some oomph to move from robot to robot swiftly, while managing to not tire your left foot with a heavy clutch. The Rio does not shy away from doing the daily run to the office or the quick sprint to the store, and there is rarely the sense that the car will suffer from a performance deficit; given its lack of a turbocharger.

Though it performs well in the city, it’s a different story with a full boot on the open road. Gradually increasing speeds, the Rio will run without hassle at 120km/h. And when sixth gear is hooked, the car will plod along and average between 6.0 and 7.0-litres/100km with regards to fuel. When a hill looms in the distance, it’s best to switch to a lower gear (fifth, maybe even fourth) to ascend inclines with enough momentum.

Compared against some of the competition that offer turbocharged engines in the same price range, the lack of lowdown grunt hurts the little Rio. On the suspension the Rio’s front has enough grip and there is sufficient feedback through the steering wheel. It inspires enough confidence on the open road with little to no steering numbness. But it’s the rear suspension that lets the ride down a bit. On some backroads it felt a bit uneasy, lively and a tad too jumpy. Overall, though, the Rio’s ride is comfortable.

Comfort and features

To better understand what the Rio has to offer, one has to look at two of its direct rivals: the aforementioned Fiesta and Polo.

Specifically the Fiesta 1.0 T Titanium (R265 900) and Polo 1.2 T Highline (R278 600). At R274 995, the Rio 1.4 Tec is a rather well-rounded offering in terms of the technology and features it has on board.

For starters, both the Fiesta and Polo offer cloth upholstery (leather optional) opposed to the Rio’s standard leather. All three vehicles have all-round electric windows but only the Rio and Fiesta offer climate control/automatic air con (optional on Polo).

The Rio and Fiesta also offer voice control. When it comes to making that perfect parking manoeuvre, only the Rio offers a rear view camera. This feature is optional on the Polo, but not available on the Fiesta.

On the safety front, the Rio offers six airbags while the Fiesta offers seven. The Polo? It offers four airbags, but at a cost Volkswagen will increase this to six. The Fiesta and Polo offer stability control whereas the Rio does not. And for the number junkies amongst us, the Fiesta’s 1.0-litre engine offers 92kW/170Nm and the Polo’s 1.2-litre 81kW/175Nm. Both these engines feature turbo technology.


Kia has come a long way the last decade or so. Gone are the days when Kia was not given a second thought, but instead, nowadays, it is often the preferred vehicle over many of the established players. And the Rio is testament to that.

Though it doesn’t run with the Polo and Fiesta when it comes to monthly sales figures, it does offer a package that may just offer greater value for money.

The Rio’s ride is not as pleasant as, for example, the Polos, but it does not take away from the fact that the little Rio is as competent as the market leaders. All things considered, the Rio can dance with the big boys.

Read more on:    kia  |  charlen raymond  |  cape town  |  review  |  rio

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