Johannesburg – Back in 2011 Kia’s local representatives were given the task of predicting how many South Africans would want to buy the then-new, third-generation Rio and, for the first year’s allocation, they boldly ordered ten times what the previous version had sold in its final year. The South Koreans at HQ clearly thought our local lads were smoking their socks, and yet in the end it actually sold more than double that.

Since then Kia has gone on to sell over 7000 Rios a year on average and it’s also become one of the carmaker’s most popular models abroad. So a lot is riding on the all-new, fourth-generation Rio that you see here, which was launched to the media in Johannesburg this week.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Kia’s design team has played it rather safe with the styling. You could certainly accuse it of being conservative, but in my opinion it’s a pleasing kind of conservative, the dignified, easy-on-the-eye, not-a-line-out-of-place kind that also seems to work well for Volkswagen.

That newfound maturity continues inside the cabin, where high-quality materials and a sculpted design create a more upscale, even slightly sporty vibe, and the top half of the range gets an 18cm touch-screen infotainment system that’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and (subject to it becoming available in SA) Android Auto.

The new Rio is 5mm lower than its predecessor but has grown 15mm in length, 10mm of that having gone into the wheelbase. Rear legroom is fairly ample and boot space has increased by 37 litres to what Kia call’s a class-leading 325 litres.

Kia won’t be offering a sedan version of the new Rio, at least for now, as it’s not currently available in right-and drive. However Kia is busy building a new factory in India and it’s very likely that SA will be able to source RHD sedans from there when it comes on stream in 2019. The current sedan will continue to be offered until at least the end of this year.

The new hatch is being launched with two carry-over normally aspirated four-cylinder engines in the form of a 62kW/120Nm 1.25-litre and 74kW/135Nm 1.4. The smaller engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox only, while the larger unit can be had with either a six-speed manual or four-speed auto. While power is down slightly on their predecessors, there is more torque available lower in the rev range.

I got to sample a 1.4-litre manual model on a short launch route and the car felt easy and painless to drive, and while engine performance felt perfectly adequate for fast-paced city driving, it’s not in the same league as the turbo-charged engines that some of its rivals are offering in this price range, particularly at altitude.

But what about the new 88kW 1-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol that Kia offers overseas? Kia SA’s Marketing Director David Sieff told us that it is under consideration for our market, just not within the next six months and ultimately it’ll depend on how those pricing planets align.

The current range does at least offer a good selection of trim grades:

1.2 LS (above) kicks off the range, offering air conditioning, a four-speaker MP3/Aux/USB audio system linked to steering wheel controls and featuring Bluetooth connectivity. The LS also comes with central locking, electric windows and mirrors, and the steering wheel is adjustable for both height and reach.

1.4 LX, in addition to getting the bigger engine, replaces the base model’s 15-inch covered steel wheels for a set of alloys of the same size and also adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic light control, a centre console arm rest and UV protection solar windscreen glass.

1.4 EX adds the 18cm touch-screen with rear-park assist and reverse camera, and this deputy flagship also comes with projector headlights and LED taillights.

1.4 TEC tops the pile with added luxuries such as leather seats, cruise control, automatic climate control, electro chromatic rear-view mirror and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.

All versions come with a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and four-year/60 000km service plan.

KIA RIO PRICES

1.2 LS manual 62kW/120NmR219 995
1.4 LX manual 74kW/135NmR234 995
1.4 LS auto 74kW/135NmR247 995
1.4 EX manual 74kW/135NmR249 995
1.4 EX auto 74kW/135NmR262 995
1.4 TEC manual 74kW/135NmR274 995
1.4 TEC auto 74kW/135NmR287 995

ALTERNATIVES

Base-spec:

Suzuki Baleno 1.4 GL68kW/130NmR199 900
Renault Clio 0.9T Authentique66kW/140NmR206 900
Mazda2 1.5 Active82kW/145NmR215 100
Kia Rio 1.2 LS Manual 62kW/120NmR219 995
Hyundai i20 1.2 Motion61kW/115NmR224 900
Ford Fiesta 1.0T Ambiente92kW/170NmR225 300
VW Polo 1.2 TSI Trendline66kW/160NmR226 900

Mid-spec:

Toyota Yaris 1.5 Pulse82kW/136NmR228 700
Suzuki Baleno 1.4 GLX68kW/130NmR229 900
Ford Fiesta 1.0T Trend92kW/170NmR240 900
Renault Clio 0.9T Dynamique66kW/140NmR244 900
Kia Rio 1.4 EX 74kW/135NmR249 995
VW Polo 1.2 TSI Comfortline66kW/160NmR253 100
Hyundai i20 1.4 Fluid74kW/133NmR261 900

IOL Motoring

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