The introduction of Kia’s latest three-cylinder, hybridised 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is welcome. The third-generation Rio suffered for its lack of a decent downsized motor, and in the ways likely to matter to most buyers, this new model prospers where previous incumbents floundered.
Principally this is because it fulfils the modern three-pot brief of being relatively quiet, tractable from low revs and parsimonious enough to compete with a small diesel’s running costs. And given that so much was true of the old 'Kappa' version of Kia's 1.0-litre T-GDI engine, it stands to reason that the new hybridised 'Smartstream' one (which offers decent improvements on mid-range torque as well as everything else) ought to have what it takes to impress.
And so it does. Kia's range-topping 118bhp petrol makes for plentiful performance, good response and matchingly good flexibility in the Rio; you are unlikely to want your short-hopper supermini to go much faster, be more amply responsive, or be much easier-to-drive than this.
Kia's mild hybrid system melds seamlessly with the engine, and so if you didn't know or care what it's doing for your fuel economy, you can simply get on with your driving without giving it a second thought. On a trailing throttle the car simply displays a yacht icon amid its instruments to tell you that it's 'sailing' along without burning any fuel. Otherwise you wouldn't notice.
The Rio's cheaper 1.2-litre petrol engine doesn't come with high expectations on performance, but also deserves credit. Kia's latest variable valve control technology allows it to create useful torque from well under 3000rpm, and while it doesn't make the Rio quick, it's quick enough for easy urban and inter-urban hops. The cheaper engine can sound a little tappety under load, and a slightly over-sensitive accelerator pedal obliges you to be ginger with your pedal inputs while you're operating the clutch - but those are the most grating bugbears here.
The five-speed manual gearbox that comes with the 1.2-litre engine lacks much in the way of precise shift quality, and that it's a slightly heavy, cumbersome shift to operate makes for a note of dischord with the other, generally lighter controls in the car. We would recommend against seeking to avoid it by plumping for the seven-speed twin-clutch automatic in the 118bhp Rio, however; that two-pedal gearbox can shift in pretty hesitant, clunky fashion at times.