The new Rio has a lot going for it in an ultra-competitive supermini class

The appeal of superminis remains a constant in the forever changing car world. As breadwinners go, the Rio is crucial to Kia. It’s worth 475,000 annual sales globally and in the UK is its third best-seller. Can a mid-cycle refresh preserve the status quo?

WHAT’S THE DEAL HERE THEN?

When it comes to facelifts Kia doesn’t do things by half and as a sign of just how important the Rio is, this is an abridged list of the changes that have been applied to this fourth-generation car second time round. It gets a petrol mild-hybrid powertrain, a ‘clutch-by-wire’ manual transmission, the second iteration of the company’s ‘UVO Connect’ multimedia software, and a roomier cabin despite the car being structurally the same as before. Attention has also been paid to the styling – a collaborative effort between Kia’s studios in Germany and America. A slimmer ‘tiger nose’ grille, revised bumpers and driving light housings, fresh alloy wheel profiles and two additional colours – ‘Storm Grey’ and ‘Azure Blue’ – is the net result for this Ford Fiesta rival. We think the Rio really looks the part in range-topping ‘GT-Line S’ in any of the colours, but grey, blue and white especially. Heck, even ‘Zest Yellow’ is classy.

QUITE THE LOOKER, ISN’T IT?

Kia sells the Rio in entry-level ‘1’, mid-table ‘2’ and ‘3’ spec, and tree-topping ‘GT-Line S’ which is on test here and is sold exclusively with the 48-volt mild hybrid assisted T-GDI petrol. In this trim a whole host of design flourishes help to set the Rio apart, chiefly two-tone multi-spoke 17-inch wheels, rear privacy glass, LED ‘ice cube’ fog lights, twin exhausts and a gloss black coating for the smoke framed grille, side skirts, wing mirror caps, roof spoiler and shark fin antenna. Strangely, though, there is no mention of LEDs for the sharply rising headlights – but they do have a self-levelling function. And like the Fiesta and similar B-segment offerings from Volkswagen with its solidly built and sensible Polo, Vauxhall the immensely popular Corsa and Renault the fun-to-drive, grown-up Clio, the Rio fails to lose any of its kerbside shine despite only being built in more practical five-door guise.

CHANGE ON THE INSIDE, TOO

Kia designs and builds functional and ergonomically sound cabins. OK, the prevailing colour inside the Rio is black but effort has been made to lift the mood with silver on the steering wheel, around the air vents and lower console and the door handles. Considering the list price, ‘GT Line S’ models usher in black cloth, faux leather upholstery and bright contrast stitching for the seats, metal sports pedals and a carbon fibre-effect dashboard. Those are the visual changes taken care of and on the technological front all Rio cars bar ‘1’ derivatives receive a better resolution 4.2-inch instrument cluster and a larger 8-inch touchscreen which, among other things, can now handle wireless smartphone mirroring. As for material quality the Rio can hold its own against the majority of nameplates in the crowded supermini class save for the Clio, Peugeot’s 208 and the Fabia – a car completely reinvented by Skoda recently.

SPACE FOR FOUR

Cubbies and pockets for oddments in the Rio is in the ballpark for what you would come to expect in a 21st century supermini, with two cup holders – one for the driver, one for the front seat passenger – a small ledge directly below the heater controls for a phone or wallet, and a reasonably-sized storage box that reveals itself when the sliding centre arm rest is lifted. Kia is at pains to point out that it has “reprofiled the door trims and dashboard and headlining to increase passenger space” but, in truth, the gains are marginal. Still, the slowly arcing roofline does not impinge on head room, the largely flat rear bench will – at a push – cater for three abreast, and entering and exiting the back chairs is simple. One downside of the 48-volt battery pack housed in the boot floor is space: it fills the void that would usually be occupied by a space saver tyre.

DOES ‘GT’ TRANSLATE INTO GOOD TIMES?

The on-paper figures would lead you to think so. Powered solely by a 118bhp turbo petrol badged ‘T-GDi’, it can be paired to either a 6-speed manual or, as we sampled, a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. In ‘Sport’ the 48-volt mild hybrid tech comes on stream for a none too shabby 0-60mph time of less than 10 seconds and a 118mph top speed – figures mirrored by the equally lukewarm Fiesta ST-Line from Ford. It is a strong motor in this particular Rio and brims with get-up-and-go from little revs, although the two-pedal gearbox has a jerky – even hesitant – character, so if it was our money we would have the manual purely from a driver engagement point of view. Dynamically, the Rio’s suspension continues to be based on independent MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear for ride and handling that neither excites nor offends. The Rio’s ride is settled and cushioned on the largest wheelset, the springs only struggling to round the edges off cat’s eyes and common imperfections such as sunken Tarmac.

PROS AND CONS

+ Smooth and urgent engine
+ Interior is nicely presented
+ Smart, grown-up looks
Bumpy ride quality
DSG is unconvincing
Petrol can be thirsty

INFOTAINMENT: The focal point in the new Rio is the 8-inch ‘widescreen’ that features in ‘2’, ‘3’ and ‘GT-Line 2’ cars. Incorporating sat-nav and smartphone integration, the system is user-friendly if a little tired on the graphics front. We would also have liked Kia to at least make a fully digitised instrument binnacle at option instead of soldiering on with the uninspiring hybrid arrangement.

STYLING: 17-inch alloys, LED fog lights, privacy glass and a sprinkling of gloss black for the front grille, side sills and subtle roof spoiler add some pizazz to ‘GT-Line S’ – the competition-themed model in the new range. ‘Azure Blue’ and ‘Storm Grey’ also really help it to stand out. It’s just disappointing that the driving experience struggles to align with a car that is brimming with so much sporting pretence.

INTERIOR: Cabin in ‘GT-Line S’ examples feature silver garnishes, fake leather upholstery for the seats and lookalike carbon fibre detailing on the dashboard. Automatic air conditioning, heated front chairs, cruise control with speed limit function and ‘Drive Mode Select’ are all standard along with a host of active safety aids such as forward collision-avoidance assist, lane keep assist and blind spot detection.

PRACTICALITY: Boot size has never been the strong point of any supermini but in the Rio it should be large enough for most owners’ needs. The cargo area’s seats-up capacity is a competitive 325-litres and this expands to 1,103-litres if the 60/40 split-folding chairs are lowered flat. All models get driver seat height adjustability as standard in addition to extensive rake and reach steering wheel movement.

SPECIFICATION

Price: £22,145 (as tested) 
Engine: 1-litre, 3cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque: 118bhp/148lb ft    
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, front-wheel drive         
0-62mph: 9.4 seconds    
Top speed: 118mph       
Economy/CO2: 51.4mpg/126g/Km 

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