Styling is neat and tidy, but without any show-and-tell features it's somewhat generic.
Johannesburg - After Kia wowed the world with its design flair in recent years, the styling of the new fourth-generation Rio has taken a more conservative and ‘mature’ turn.

It is like the prom queen donning glasses and tying her hair in a ponytail, leading to Kia’s new B-segment hatch being modern and attractive in a generic sort of way, but with no real show-and-tell design features. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the market-leading VW Polo has demonstrated how sober styling doesn’t hamper sales.

The previous Rio was the Korean automaker’s best selling model worldwide so the new one has big shoes to fill, and it does so by laying on some extra refinement and sophistication to go with the matured styling. There’s more soundproofing to reduce engine and wind noise levels inside the cabin, while a stiffer front subframe minimises vibrations from poor road surfaces.

The Korean car also gets an interior redesign and improved infotainment. The cabin is neatly finished and has a high-quality feel including soft-touch surfaces, with polished metal strips to brighten up the black-dominated vibe. For improved ergonomics the dashboard is now angled towards the driver and the number of buttons on the dash has been reduced.

Tested here is the flagship Rio 1.4 Tec version selling for R274 995, which follows the trend of manufacturers super-speccing their small cars. Prices for the 1.4-litre Rio start from a more reasonable R235 000 if you’re willing to forego some of the fancier features, but the 1.4 Tec is fully stocked with items such as leather seats, automatic lights, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, cruise control, LED tail lamps, and a Rear Park Assist System with reverse camera. Those are the kind of spec levels only luxury cars used to have not too long ago.

This range-topping Rio also gets a new infotainment system comprising a high-resolution 18cm touchscreen that’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and (subject to it becoming available in SA) Android Auto. A full gamut of music connectivity includes USB, Aux and Bluetooth, which Rio 1.4 Tec also incorporates Voice Recognition. Making the tweens happy is that there’s a USB port in the rear to charge their devices on the move.

There is no stability control, but the standard safety fare includes ABS brakes and a full complement of front, side and curtain airbags.

Legroom in the new Kia has grown slightly but space in the back seats is still pretty cramped for anyone larger than a tween, but boot space has grown 37 litres to a quite decent 325 litres. The boot contains a full sized spare wheel, and cabin oddments space includes a lidded bin between the front seats.

Engines are carried over from the third-generation Rio, namely two normally-aspirated petrol units: a 62kW/121Nm 1.2-litre and a 74kW/135Nm 1.4-litre. The 1.4 powering this range-topping Rio Tec is available with a six-speed manual (on test here) or four-speed auto gearbox for an extra 13 grand.

The new 88kW 1-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol that Kia offers overseas is under consideration for our market and I’d say it should arrive sooner rather than later as performance-wise the 1.4 Rio lags behind its rivals, particularly the turbocharged ones at high altitude. It trundles along with sufficient pace for urban driving and is also reasonably capable on the open road, but downshifts are necessary to stay in the fast lane on climbs, while overtaking moves need to be planned well in advance.

The factory-quoted performance at sea level is a reasonable 176km/h top speed and 0-100km/h in 11.5 seconds, though Gauteng’s thin air will rob a fair-sized chunk of that acceleration figure. Fuel economy is what you’d expect, with our test car averaging 6.2 litres per 100km.

The four cylinder engine’s refinement is good, and the six-speed gearbox, which you’ll need to downshift fairly regularly out on the open road, moves with slick precision. Making for a sometimes jerky power delivery is a slight throttle lurch if you don’t rev it high enough before releasing the clutch, a brief power pause that’s characteristic of a number of manual Kias we’ve driven.

The Rio’s ride is fairly settled, neither particularly cushy nor choppy, and the handling is clean. The electric power steering’s very light which makes for effortless direction changes in the urban grind. Enthusiast drivers might prefer more steering meatiness but in a car like this, with no sporting aspirations, it’s not a major problem.

VERDICT

The new Rio’s grown up with more refinement and technology, but finds itself at the pricey end of the B-segment hatch market with a power deficit to its rivals, especially at high altitude against the turbocharged ones. It’s refined and solidly built, and packed with features, but that’s quite par for the course in this market segment. It has the best warranty but I don’t know if that’s necessarily enough to make this Rio stand out in a very competitive play pen. -Star Motoring

KIA RIO VS RIVALS

Kia Rio 1.4 Tec - 74kW/135Nm - R274 995

  • 5-year/unlimited km warranty, 4-year/60 000 km service plan, 5-year/unlimited km roadside assistance

VW Polo hatch 1.2 TSI Highline 81kW/175Nm - R276 300

  • 3-year/120 000km warranty, 3 year/45 000km service plan

Ford Fiesta 1.0T Titanium 92kW/170Nm - R264 900

  • 4-year/120 000km warranty, 4-year/60 000km service plan, 3-year/unlimited km roadside assistance

Honda Jazz 1.5 Dynamic 88kW/145Nm - R294 200 (Elegance costs R276 700)

  • 5-year/200 000km warranty, optional service plan, 3 years AA roadside assistance

Mazda2 1.5 Individual 82kW/145Nm - R243 300

  • 3-year/unlimited km warranty, 3-year service plan, 3 years roadside assistance

Opel Corsa 1.4 Turbo Sport 110kW/220Nm - R275 600

  • 5-year/120 000km warranty, 3-year/60 000km service plan.

Peugeot 208 1.2T GT Line 81kW/205Nm - R259 900

  • 3-year/100 000km warranty, 3-year/45 000km service plan, 3 years/100 000km roadside assist

Renault Clio 1.2 turbo GT-Line 88kW/205Nm - 264 900

  • 5-year/150 000km warranty, 3-Year/45 000km service plan

Toyota Yaris 1.5 Pulse 82kW/136Nm - R228 700

  • 3-year/100 000km warranty, 3-year/45 000km service plan