What is it?
The old Kia Rio was hardly a household name, yet still managed to sell a few thousand every year – despite it being dull, dated, dreary and depressing in almost every way.
The latest one is a very different proposition, boasting chiselled styling by star designer Peter Schreyer and aiming straight at the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo heartland. It aims to combine these newfound good looks – sober but solid and very European – with an industry-leading warranty to steal a far bigger slice of the supermini sector.
Good news: the Rio passes muster here. That’s certainly something the old one couldn’t claim. It drives with enough panache to ensure that if someone took away your Fiesta and gave you this, you wouldn’t feel like the sky had fallen in. No, it doesn’t wildly outperform its niche and isn’t as brilliant to drive as the class-leaders, but it is good enough. We found the ride could be a bit busy and sharp when just one-up but coped well with big undulations, while the steering is quick off-centre and helps the Rio feel sufficiently agile.
Petrol engines are swift if revved (the 1.4-litre in particular is very powerful for the sector, but only if you are prepared to work its standard six-speed gearbox) and the diesels are classy. Indeed, the 1.1-litre is exceptionally economical yet somehow manages to be much smoother than you may expect, even if it’s hardly a ball of fire.
On the inside
The interior is tidy and fairly modern, thanks to detail flourishes such as the harpsichord keys for some of the climate control functions. It’s a shame these nice touches aren’t echoed elsewhere, mind, as the overall colour scheme is a bit black and dour (albeit very well put together). There’s lots of room and kit for the money though, while space in the front, rear and boot all give no cause for complaint. The Rio is reassuring at speed, feeling composed and settled at motorway speeds, although crosswinds can unsettle it a bit. There’s also rather too much road noise, particularly at higher speeds, hurting overall refinement.
Competitive prices are a given, as is the still-unbeatable seven-year warranty. On paper, it’s one of the more compelling supermini packages. The engines are economical too, particularly the 1.1-litre CRDi. Take it without air con and it emits just 85g/km and will average a mighty 88.3mpg: you need a Toyota Yaris Hybrid to beat it (or a new Hyundai i20). The best all-rounder is the 1.4-litre petrol, newly upgraded for 2013 with ISG stop-start. It’s £200 more but does 53mpg instead of 51mpg, and makes for a more peaceful cabin when stopped at traffic lights.