New Rio has the quality and big-car refinement to leap from also-ran to contender in one step

What is it?

This will always be the moment in history when Kia got serious about superminis. It has been clear since the new Rio's static launch in Geneva last March that with this new, third generation model, the company was moving rapidly up the class pecking order.

The Rio is now a longer, lower, wider, better equipped and much better looking model - in a class where no fewer than 45 nameplates do battle. What we didn't know, until now, was how it performed.

What’s it like?

We took to the road in the new transverse front drive 1.4-litre, 89bhp diesel Rio, which emits just 109g/km of CO2, and took a shorter drive in the 108bhp, 1.4-litre stop-start petrol version, whose emissions are hardly greater at 119 g/km.

Both cars confirmed that the Rio - 4405mm long, so one of the biggest and roomiest cars in is class - offers truly surprising big-car refinement: low wind and road noise, surprisingly little tyre noise over bumps, and very well suppressed engine noise.

The petrol model is by far the zippier, accelerating from 0-62 mph in 11.5 seconds to a 114mph top speed, whereas the diesel can only manage 14.4 seconds and 108mph, and feels surprisingly flat at around 2000 rpm, where most diesels are torquey.

This one needs to be revved, only really giving of its best over 2400rpm, but running out of revs at 4500. Both versions, admirably for this class, have six-speed transmissions and cruise very quietly.

Economy is the diesel's forte; it delivers a combined 68.9mpg against the 1.4 petrol engine's 55.4mpg, though there's even an even better economy option in the Rio range, a 1.1-litre diesel triple that sips just 88.3mpg in its most economical guise.

The Rio is generally fun to drive, stable in corners and - on 16-inch wheels at least - quiet over bumps. The steering is less impressive, a little vague at the straight-ahead, and having a feeling of 'stiction' either side of it, which you don't find in the best. This, though, is the Rio's most prominent fault. Interior quality is ahead of a Fiesta.

Should I buy one?

Though pricing and precise equipment line-up won't be decided until closer to the September launch, Rios will clap between £10,500 and £15,000 or "95 per cent of a basket of competitors" as marketing men put it. One thing is now clear: the smallest Kia is no longer an also-ran.

Kia Rio 1.4 D

Price: whole Rio range between £10,500 to £15,000 (est); Top speed: 108 mph; 0-62 mph: 14.4sec; Economy: 68.9mpg; CO2: 109g/km; Kerb weight: 1066 kg; Engine type, cc: 4cyl, in line diesel, 1396cc; Power: 89bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 162lb ft at 1750-2750rpm; Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
si73 17 July 2011

Re: Kia Rio 1.4D

i quite like it

Leslie Brook 9 July 2011

Re: Kia Rio 1.4D

Mini1 wrote:
I've never known anyone to say they're thankful for never owning a second hand car.
I avoid them like the plague. I only buy pre-owned or at a pinch used.

Mini1 9 July 2011

Re: Kia Rio 1.4D

Sports888 wrote:
Thankfully I have never had a second hand car in my life and i'm 39.
Thankfully? That sounds so INCREDIBLY snobby it's unreal. You may jump to defend yourself, but it just does. I've never known anyone to say they're thankful for never owning a second hand car.