What is it?
It’s the new Kia Rio, billing for which hasn’t caused much of a blip in the automotive industry for the past decade. But while previous incarnations of the car haven’t been that exciting, this one does have the potential to shake up the Fiesta/Polo/Corsa segment; it’s Kia’s first attack on that area of the market since it stepped up a gear with the Cee’d.
The Kia Rio takes on styling cues from that model, plus the more recent Sportage, to further develop Kia design chief Peter Schreyer’s edgy styling. It also grows, with a wheelbase that stretches by 70mm over the old car’s. As such, it’s almost 10cm longer than a Fiesta, and more than that amount clear of the Hyundai i20. It’ll be offered as a five-door initially, although a three-door variant will follow early in 2012.
The engine line-up comprises two petrols - a 1.2 (shared with the latest Picanto) and a 1.4 - and a pair of diesels, a 1.4 and the 1.1-litre three-pot tested here. The baby oil-burner is arguably the most interesting unit of the lot - it can offer CO2 emissions of as little as 85g/km when equipped with stop-start - and while Kia has yet to confirm that it’ll make it to the UK, we’ll be surprised if it doesn’t.
What’s it like?
Our brief drive at the Kia R&D test track revealed that the Rio has grown up in more than just size. The prototype’s cabin finish wasn’t representative (we weren’t even allowed to take in-car images, despite the fact that the cabin has been revealed), but the layout and architecture made it feel like a bigger car. The rear was even more impressive, with enough leg and headroom for six-footers. Customer clinic feedback has suggested buyers are comparing the Rio with Focus instead of Fiesta, and we can see why; it’s worth noting, though, that the Rio’s 288-litre boot capacity is slightly down on that of the Ford (295).
The three-cylinder motor is far from silent, but it produces a smooth kind of rumble without any great metallic rasping. You will want to work it, because a) it’s not about to melt asphalt and b) it’ll pull all the way from 1750rpm to 4000rpm. Once you reach a motorway cruising speed, it’s an audible but non-intrusive companion; depending on your choice of wheel size, road noise is likely to drown it out.
We had precious little opportunity to test the steering, but when we did turn it felt quite heavily weighted and nicely linear. And ride quality was acceptable on our test car’s 15in wheels (up to 17-inchers will be offered).
Should I buy one?
You can’t yet; it’s on sale in the autumn. We’d want to evaluate a full finished example before recommending any vehicle. And pricing will be key - although we’d be surprised if it didn’t end up undercutting Fiesta and Polo by a couple of grand.
But accepting those caveats, the Rio does feel encouraging. That stretched wheelbase has given it a cabin that feels more spacious than any of its obvious rivals’. The claimed economy and CO2 figures for the three-pot diesel are excellent. And Kia’s plan to offer ‘big car’ features - including keyless go, auto lights and a heated steering wheel - will allow it to tap into the booming market for ‘downsizers’, particularly if it delivers on its promises for soft-touch, more ‘luxurious’ materials.