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ROAD TEST - Kia Rio 1.4 TEC
Talk about a good-looking car. It’s not often that I say the sedan-equivalent of a hatch looks better – the last time I said this was with the Focus sedan – but with Kia’s Rio sedan it’s hard to ignore. And the Rio hatch is not exactly conservative or boring in the looks department to begin with either.
In most cases you look at such sedans (think Polo and Polo Vivo) and can’t help but feel that the boot was an afterthought, with the level of design execution of a toddler with a crayon.
But in the case of the Rio there’s a definite spicy flavour and message with that back end. It’s sexy and seems to complete the package.
So yes, in a B segment populated by sedan rivals like VW’s Polo, Ford’s Fiesta and Toyota’s Yaris – to name a few – the runaway beauty pageant winner, for me anyway, is the Rio sedan.
Sharing a platform with Hyundai’s Accent, the Rio sedan is available in fleet, rep, and rental-friendly 1.2-litre, 5-speed manual petrol (65kW/120Nm) – or with the engine on test here, the 79kW/135Nm 1.4-litre petrol mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox (4-speed auto is an option).
A BIT SLUGGISH
But it’s more a case of what the looks giveth the engine taketh away, with 79kW from a 1.4 sounding impressive on paper but lacking somewhat in real life.
For highway cruising you’d almost wonder what I was on about, but get into the work-shops-home cycle and there’s a definite lack of mid-range grunt. Uphill equals down-change, it’s a mantra you get used to in the Rio sedan.
Which is a pity really as the suspension felt quite capable and sure-footed – happy with a bit of windgat through the odd suburban traffic circle, and happy to carry a bit of speed through that sharper corner. Even the steering, which in sister products like the Picanto had our psychiatrists on speed dial, in this Rio seemed sorted. There were no issues around self-centering, the steering actually felt reasonably weighted with decent feedback.
The consumption, though, even with six gears and that small cubic capacity of the engine, was not a happy place at 8.2l/100km. But, to be honest, I can probably count on one hand the number of times the Rio saw sixth, not so much because of the lack of highway cruising but just that it needs fifth to stay in the powerband. The gearbox itself though was a pleasure, silky smooth in feel, and helped along by the light clutch.
Having already waxed lyrical about the exterior styling, I have to admit the designers astounded me from a practicality point of view by not including any type of physical lever or switch on the bootlid to open it. Your only point of call to the boot is to press a button on the key or pull the lever below the driver’s seat.
At least the size of the boot is good and seemed to swallow the odd braai-run with ease.
The cabin itself is superbly finished with a spacious feel and plenty of all-round head and leg room. Granted, we had the range-topping TEC spec, but at R173 995 Kia have thrown in everything but the kitchen sink.
To make the point, buyers get electric windows, central locking, leather seats (and steering/gearknob), rear parking sensors, cooling glovebox, climate control, alloy pedals, bluetooth, steering controls, MP3 connectivity, rain-sensing wipers, and centre armrest. Add on electric-foldaway mirrors, a rather fancy instrument cluster, see-me-home (LED) headlights and foglamps, six airbags, and the coolest 17” alloys I’ve yet seen in this price range or segment and it’s hard to ignore the value proposition on offer here.
But more of that Korean “quirkiness” can be found in the radio which lacks RDS and the climate control which doesn’t really understand its job description.
The Rio hatch is Kia’s best selling product globally and locally, and though the carmaker won’t disclose actual numbers in SA I suspect the introduction of the sedan hasn’t changed that scenario too much.
In fact, we have a strong inclination that should the numbers be declared, the combined Rio hatch and sedan sales would give king-of-the-roost sellers like the Polo Vivo something to worry about.
There’s lots of value to be had here at that price, especially in terms of this Rio sedan’s looks and spec levels – overlook the pedestrian performance, add in the 5-year/100 000km warranty and I reckon you have a winner. -Star Motoring
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