Rio throttled by archaic four-speed

What is It?

It’s an updated version of the top of the range five-door hatch. Sizewise, it sits between the petite Picanto and i30 sibling, Cerato.

Powered by a 1.4-litre naturally aspirated four cylinder petrol engine and bolted to an archaic four-speed auto, the Rio does offer a six-speed manual in the entry level S.

Otherwise it’s a four duo (that’s four cylinder, four speed) with the Si and SLi.

Once also available as a three-door, Kia Australia has bumped the sporty variant, making it exclusively a family deal.


What’s it cost?

The S starts the range priced from $16,990, taking the manual to $20,399 with on-roads. The SLi tested is $22,990, with on-roads taking it to $26,632. Metallic paint is a $590 option.

Techwise the SLi has digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 7.0-inch touchscreen mounted high on the dash, with guidelines for the reversing camera.

There’s no driver’s kneebag nor is there Autonomous Emergency Braking. Blind Spot Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are also not to be found.

The touchscreen itself defaults to a split screen. There’s a map and the audio, which at the tap of a finger enlarges the selected side to fill the whole screen. The options for display, be it navigation, radio, setup, etc, are found on tabs embedded in the screen’s surrounds. Safety alerts can also be enabled from the tabs. It’s user friendly and easy on the eye.

Yes, there’s the usual suite of electronic driver aids, ISOFIX rear seat mounts, LED daytime running lights, and projector front lights. But auto headlights and rain sensing wipers don’t make up for the lack of what’s considered essential safety equipment nowadays.

The interior feels more upmarket, more roomy, than the previous version.

The SLi has man made leather covering for the seats. The seats are perforated but neither heated nor vented. Plastics are a mix of glossy black, with a silver swathe across the dash, and soft touch pattern.  

The dash display itself has something Kia calls a “supervision instrument cluster”. Try as I might, my eyes became no better for looking at it.

Up front are a pair of 12V sockets, and one USB port. There’s also one USB port in the rear of the centre console for the back seat passengers.

Legroom is good up front but push the seats back and rear seat passengers may lose a limb.

Fold those rear seats and the 325L cargo space becomes a not indecent 980L.

Outside there’s a noticeable change in the shape. It’s squarer, less rounded, with less bulbous looking headlights. Dare we say it’s looking more Germanic? In fact, the Rio has won the Red Dot Award for product design.

The rear lights have the now familiar looking “neon light” style design motifs. Rolling stock are 195/65 tyres from Kumho, fitted to twin spoke alloys.

Chris Kia Rio SLi 2

What’s it go like?

With 74kW and 133Nm of torque, the engine itself is a willing revver. But the weak point of the drivetrain is the four-speed auto.

The lack of an extra ratio or two holds back the performance of the small four, with substantial drop off in revs from first to second and from second to third. And, because it’s a substantial drop, it can be a bit jolty, for want of a better technical term.

Kia says, however, it uses only 6.2L/100km, running on standard unleaded, sipped from the 45-litre tank. My final figure was 6.8L/100km — but imagine how much better that could be with a six-speed auto. Maybe even a CVT?

The ride and handling package tends towards an unsurprisingly, non-sporty setup. It’s a touch on the soft side, but Kia’s constant Australian input has the car tuned well enough that most bends and curves can be enjoyed without too much roll or understeer.

The steering is nicely weighted, not overly assisted, and does allow a sportingly inclined driver to extract a reasonably fun drive on one of the tighter and twistier roads in the lower Blue Mountains.

Straight line ability is good enough for its intended market, as are the brakes.

Chris Kia Rio SLi 7

What we like?

  • More appealing interior and exterior
  • DAB radio as standard in a $26K car
  • Better than expected handling on twisty roads


What we don’t?

  • The four-speed auto.
  • Missing some safety features
  • Did we mention the four-speed auto?

Chris Kia Rio SLi 5

The bottom line?

It’ll be a matter of conjecture as to how much better in driving and economy the Rio could be with a better transmission. A CVT would be preferred over the current box and a definitely better choice than a dual clutch auto.

That’s the big letdown in what is otherwise a pleasant enough driver and a handsome enough looking small to medium hatch.

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Kia Rio SLi, priced from $22,990
  • Looks - 7.5/10
  • Performance - 5.0/10
  • Safety - 7.0/10
  • Thirst - 8.0/10
  • Practicality - 7.0/10
  • Comfort - 7.5/10
  • Tech - 7.0/10
  • Value - 7.0/10

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