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Premier Rio 1.2 petrol road test
Driven May 2012
The updated Premier Rio came as a surprise to us because the compact SUV has been on sale for barely three years now. Yes, we know that in the auto world, three years is normally half a life cycle, but normal doesn’t apply to a company like Premier, which soldiered on with the Padmini for two decades, so when it presented a refresh in three years, it caught us off guard.
Okay, we’ll admit the updated Rio is more handsome to look at with better proportions. Its large tyres, high ground clearance and rear-mounted spare wheel give it a certain visual impact. This completes the SUV look, which we Indians are in love with.
The front is where most of the changes have happened. The new headlamps look smarter, and now blend in better with the rest of the styling upfront. The reworked front bumper and dual-tone paint finish adds to the premium feel. While most of the restyling is upfront, the rear too gets a redesigned bumper with round fog and reverse lights.
This minimalist change at the rear is welcome though as this view of the Rio always looked interesting with those wraparound windshield and big chunky spare wheel completing the SUV template. All in all, the Rio still looks nice for something that was essentially designed in the mid-1990s.
The interior though still looks a generation old. Plastics are hard and among the ergonomic lows are a skinny steering wheel and oddly-placed power window switches.
Still, there’s also enough in there in the Rio’s favour. Despite its compact dimensions, the cabin felt spacious even when we loaded the car with an overweight photographer while the boot and rear seats swallowed his equipment (which is half a photo studio rolled into a humongous backpack). But unlike in a conventional ‘SUV’, the second row seats are not quite plush and lack any sort of thigh support or padding.
The most impressive thing inside is the air conditioning, which worked well even with the mercury at around 37.5 degrees C. Of course, there’s a downside to this as well – the compressor sources its power from the 75bhp 1.2-litre petrol engine, which lacks grunt. The tranny isn’t particularly refined either, which takes a lot of the fun out of driving this.
The Rio did return an average of 13.7kpl with highway driving, which is clever because Premier is squarely aiming this car at small towns and mini-metros, where better fuel economy rates higher than outright power. But the suspension could have been more pliant considering the roads of rural India.
Premier has launched this petrol variant to extend its reach to big BS-IV cities where the ageing Peugeot TUD5 variant cannot be sold. There’s a Fiat 1.3-litre diesel engine option in the pipeline, which should be on sale very soon – which makes us wonder why bother with a petrol. Maybe Premier doesn’t want to become a victim of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
So at least it’s offering a better-looking option. At Rs 7 lakh (on-road, Mumbai), the Rio petrol looks like a bargain SUV but if it really wants to make inroads into the mainstream, it has to be more aggressive on pricing because unfortunately, the Boleros and Sumos – even most similar-sized hatchbacks – of the world prey at the same watering hole.