What is it?
There’s something refreshingly unpretentious about the Kia Rio. It doesn’t present itself to the class with brash claims of sporting ability, premium feel, or any of that. Based on the 2016 Hyundai i20, fitted with decent equipment and a new turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol engine (available in 99bhp guise with a five-speed manual gearbox as well as the six-speed, 118bhp version tested here), the Rio simply seems to do the small car job well, and without fuss.
Whether that’s enough to make it worth your wedge of cash, or more likely the circa £150 monthly payment that the Rio will be available from, is what we’re here to find out.
What's it like?
Everything about the Rio feels eminently fit for purpose but nothing more. The three-pot motor thrums along quietly when you’re pottering around and delivers a progressive rate of acceleration right through to around 4000rpm. Keep going past that and it starts to get very buzzy and feel strained in a way that something like a Ford Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost engine doesn’t. So while the Rio is just as fast and flexible in everyday stuff as its rivals, there isn’t the enjoyable, goading-you-on character that the Fiesta – and indeed the Mazda 2 1.5 and Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI – count in their favour. The shift on the six-speed gearbox is a bit vague, but the leggy sixth gear means you can sit on the motorway at fairly low revs.
Handling is a similar story. The steering is light and quick enough to suit about-town wheel twirling, and it weights up at higher speeds to deliver a reasonably confident front end. For all that, there isn’t any of the vim and vigour that the aforementioned competitors offer. So as long as you’re just after a stable, inoffensive drive, the Kia does the job.
Ride comfort is a bit disappointing. It’s adequate most of the time, but on the 17in wheels of our First Edition test car, you get a rather lumpier ride than you might expect around town, albeit with a soft-edged initial bump absorption.
The cabin is a strong point in the Rio. Sure, some of the plastics on the door cards and around the window switches feel cheap, but in this class, that’s to be expected, and generally the variety of textures look and feel pretty good.
The 7.0in colour touchscreen and nav system in our car were great: user-friendly and with all the media functions you’d want, including Apple CarPlay, although you only get this on '3'-trim cars and up, in which form the Rio is more expensive than many of its rivals.
Impressively, two average-sized adults can settle comfortably in the back, even behind a taller driver, and the boot is a really good size, albeit with a huge drop to the boot floor over the load lip.
Should I buy one?
Sadly, the only trim you can get this engine with is the limited-run First Edition, which you’d be a bit mad to buy, given the price, even taking into account the full-fat media system, heated leatherette seats and steering wheel and other luxury car features.
We had a brief spin in the 99bhp, five-speed Rio, which is much cheaper and still generously equipped in '2' or '3' trim and feels much the same to drive in most situations. The problem is, even at that more moderate point in the Rio range, the Skoda Fabia stacks up just as well financially – if not quite a bit better if you want sat-nav – while also being better to drive and just as roomy inside. Meanwhile, the Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta are much more fun, if not as practical.
Which brings us back to the fact that the Rio is fit for purpose and entirely inoffensive, but – except for the tempting seven-year warranty - it’s also outclassed on some crucial fronts.
Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDI First Edition
Location Buckinghamshire; On sale Now; Price £17,445; Engine 3 cyl, 998cc, turbo, petrol; Power 118bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 126lb ft at 1500-4000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1160kg; 0-60mph 9.8sec; Top speed 118mph; Economy 60.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 107g/km, 20%; Rivals Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta