The third-generation Rio’s handling was some way short of compelling. This would have been less of a problem for it if the car didn’t necessarily rub shoulders with some standout supermini specimens; but now the Kia’s Ford Fiesta, Mini Cooper, Seat Ibiza and Mazda 2 rivals provide concrete evidence of the sporty and engaging dynamic compromise that can be successfully struck in a supermini.
Instead, they have persisted with something of a route-one approach, and produced a car that is easy to use and operate; competent and contained both in town and out of it; but ultimately not very memorable. Something firmer than a VW Polo, but plainly less agile and vivacious than a Ford Fiesta or Renault Clio. Something middle of the road almost by design.
The Rio's ride is medium-sprung; firm at times around town, when dealing with bigger inputs particularly, and guilty of seeming just a little wooden and under-isolated over rougher Tarmac. At higher speeds, though, that firmness of both spring and damper makes for good body control even when you're hurrying it along. You wouldn't call the result fun, and it could be more fluent-handling, too; but, even at B-road speeds, the Rio works well.
The car's wheel control lacks the light-footed, rubbery élan that some rivals benefit from having plumbed into their suspension travel, yet, and on motorway journeys in particular, it’s hard to find fault with the deliberate care Kia has taken in solemnly covering the dynamic bases.
The obvious drawback is that any attempt to break out of the suspension’s spongy morass is at once very difficult and singularly unrewarding.
Where its rivals seek to lift a driver’s mood via the levity that comes with the instant handling agility of a compact wheelbase, the Rio prefers an unruffled sort of plod that makes it seem larger and heavier than it actually is.
The mismatched weighting of the control surfaces don’t help: the light steering is too keen to promote muscle atrophy in your right arm, while muscle growth is promotedin the left arm working the gear lever.
The clutch pedal is a shade heavier than it ought to be, too, and the result is a mild unevenness to the driving experience. It’s a minor gripe, but one that would nevertheless be noted by any owner of a Volkswagen Polo or Skoda Fabia.
At the limit of grip, the Rio remains stable and predictable, if dull. Placed under the microscope of the endless gradient changes of the Alpine Hill Route at Millbrook, the car occasionally feels a mite under-damped (although it seldom does on the road) and can fail to settle properly after crests, or else to hunkering down in the flat-bodied way that one of its more purposeful rivals might.
Off-camber corners also tend to unsettle the slightly blunt-feeling front end, which lacks both the precision and purchase generated by some (a facet hardly helped by the steering’s failure to find any weight at speed). Grip levels are meeker with near-base versions that on the 'GT-Line S', but even the latter has limited ambition to engage. There is also a tendency for the ABS to fire a little earlier than is realistically required.
Nevertheless, front-drive predictability and fail-safe composure are present in ample quantities in the Rio. Ultimately they are still the benchmarks for any dynamically respectable hatchback - and the Rio is certainly now one of those.