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KIA RIO

Kia’s new bread-and-butter Rio has finally arrived in Mzansi, with promises of more refinement, improved comfort, and a smoother driving experience. BERNIE HELLBERG reports that it also ushers in a new era of quality for Kia in this segment.

Kia has been producing the Rio for 17 years, with the first generation selling 3,542 units in South African between 2000 and 2006. Three generations on – the previous Rio, launched here in 2011, and Kia hopes to match the massive sales success of their previous cars, with the launch of the fourth-gen car earlier this year.

As the undoubtedly trendier sibling in the Hyundai/Kia partnership, the latter brand has always relied on design to gain an edge over its in-house Korean rival, and the new car is no exception.

Overall style is the name of the game with the new car, rather than attempting a revolutionary redevelopment of the range. This is evident in almost every aspect of the car.

NEW AT A GLANCE

Rio is now bigger, longer, and lower than its predecessor, and while it still sits firmly within the confines of the B-segment, it isn’t really a small car anymore. Thanks to its extended width and girth, the cabin is also larger and feels like it belongs at the lower end of the C-segment instead.

Looking at the exterior design, the Rio has retained the signature Kia Tiger Nose grille treatment, although it appears more purposeful and larger than before. Headlights and taillights are of a completely new design as well, and buyers have the option to upgrade to LED headlights on higher spec models.

The distinctive new rear lighting signature rounds off the exterior design nicely and gives the Rio an air of sophistication that it lacked – in this respect – on previous models.

INTERIOR

It has become increasingly more challenging to compare the new Rio with the previous generation model, which was by all accounts the brand’s most successful yet. On the inside, for example, the Rio now boasts a significantly more premium feel than before, with materials quality taking a huge leap forward.

Like most modern cars there is a lot of plastic in the Rio, but none of it appears out of place or feels uncomfortable to the touch. Trim includes piano black finishes and leather on certain models.

Four derivatives make up the range, and in high-spec guise (1.4 Tec), the Rio gets a 7” touchscreen infotainment system that ships with Apple CarPlay, and is Android Auto ready. In line with the Rio’s overall premium feel, all models get Bluetooth, USB, and auxiliary ports as standard. A full leather interior and park-distance control with a rear-view camera round off the Tec model’s interior offering.

ENGINE & TRANSMISSION OPTIONS

The range entry point is the R219,995 1.2 LS derivative that is fitted with Kia’s 1.2-litre naturally aspirated engine. Delivering 62 kW of power and 120 Nm of torque, the entry-engine is aimed at first time buyers, fleet operators, and anyone looking to scale down on power.

The rest of the line-up (LX, EX, and Tec models) is equipped with Kia’s proven 1.4-litre naturally aspirated powerplant that brings 74 kW and 135 Nm of torque to the road. Although we have criticised Kia for lagging behind the competition – Volkswagen’s 1.2-litre turbo engines being a great example – we found the 1.4-litre motor to be up to the task with its six-speed manual ‘box. Sure, it’s no ball of fire at the Reef where the car was launched, but Kia has never promoted the Rio as a hot hatch, and their buyers don’t expect as much, so the lack of low down grunt doesn’t disturb too much.

In four-speed auto guise (available as an option on all 1.4-litre models), the Rio is less lively – we drove it in Australia earlier this year – and Kia would do well to heed the call for an updated auto in the range.

REFINEMENT

The Rio is a much more composed car that handles the poor Joburg roads with aplomb. Firm when it needs to be, and supple when conditions require, while steering feel is vastly improved from previous generations.

As we reported after driving the Rio down under, the cabin deserves mention for its quietness, as extensive sound insulation and improved design play their respective parts in keeping road- and wind noise to a minimum.

Interior roominess is quite prominent, especially for the front and rear passengers. Rear seats split in a 60/40 fashion, enhancing the Rio’s already class-leading boot space.

Unfortunately, safety specification varies across the range. While all models are equipped with ABS, only the Tec range-topper (R274,995 in manual guise) gets ESC, and number of airbags differ from the entry-level car (driver and passenger only) to a full set of six in the Tec derivative.

LAST WORD

Kia has made good on its promise to improve refinement, quality, and overall desirability of the Rio. This car firmly stands its ground against more established competitors, with the bonus that the Rio has not yet made it onto any of South Africa’s “most stolen” lists.

All models benefit from Kia’s 5-year/unlimited km warranty and 4-year/60,000 km service plan.

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