Kia recently showed the 2017 version of its perennial favourite city car to the assembled media in Melbourne. It’s a far more accomplished offering than its predecessor that brings Kia’s perennial favourite compact hatchback into sharp focus yet again, writes BERNIE HELLBERG.

As cities go, Melbourne must be one of the most beautiful. Clean, sophisticated, modern, it not only provides the stunning backdrop to the season-opening round of the Formula One calendar, but also of the Australian Open. And what a year it has been for both these events.

The 105th Australian Open delivered a final game for the record books where Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal battled it out in a nail-biting five-set final. Federer wins it. Two months later, Ferrari causes an upset of the status quo in F1 when Sebastian Vettel won the first race of the season in an equally astounding show competence.

It has been a good year for Melbourne so far.

The city also played host to the international reveal of the new Kia Rio, and while the new car easily leapfrogs the competition in terms of styling, driveability and sheer class, it was let down by its old engine and automatic gearbox.


From the outside the new Rio is a stunner. Understated, yes, with a surprisingly modest silhouette, it shows the brand’s updated tiger-nose grille – it is both wider and flatter – with an overall more mature style.

Kia showed the new Rio in three different grades: S, Si, and SLi. Although pricing is not yet available for South Africa – as a final decision on standard specifications is yet to be announced – all indications are that the new Rio will retain the current model’s competitive pricing structure.

At launch, the S version was the only derivative available with a six-speed manual, as the mid-range and top models were only provided with a four-speed automatic. Yes, the same auto ‘box that is currently offered in the Rio range.

Also carried over from the current car is the 1.4-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine that delivers 79 kW in SA (74 kW in Australia) and 135 Nm of torque. Fuel economy is officially rated at 7.0 l/100 km for the auto and 6.4 l/100 km for the manual.

Considering the availability of a new 1.0-litre turbo engine in the Kia stable, it was somewhat of a surprise to find the current engine and gearbox set-up retained in the new Rio. While not an unfortunate combination per se, the global trend is towards small capacity engines mated to super-smooth new generation automatic transmissions, and Kia certainly does not want to be left behind in this hugely competitive segment.


The new Rio has grown up quite substantially, increasing in both width and length (but not height), making for an overall more comfortable interior, while its extended wheelbase delivers a noticeably smoother ride in general. Like most others in the segment, it may lack a bit of rear legroom for adult passengers, but it remains roomier than all of its competitors.

We spent some time driving the new Rio around Melbourne and outlying areas. In sedate Australian city-driving conditions the carry-over drivetrain configuration did a decent job of both off-the-line acceleration and highway cruising.

It may not be the most powerful in its class at the moment (here’s holding thumbs for the three-cylinder turbo), but it makes up for that in terms of comfort and driving dynamics. With specialised ‘RS’ suspension dampers – carried over from the larger Cerato – the Rio soaks up road imperfections with ease, to distinguish itself as a class leader.

Updates to the power steering system have added refinement to overall steering feel too, with straight-line stability and positive feedback the clear winners here.


On the inside, the new Rio is more sophisticated and better equipped than the car that it replaces. The use of a silver highlight across the dash helps to brighten up the otherwise dark interior, while plenty of horizontal lines emphasise the exterior width of the car.

While general storage space abounds, Kia added a clever rubberised smartphone holder for oversized phones and placed it above a fast-charging USB port. They also added a USB port in the rear. These seem like basic and logical features, but ones that are still lacking in plenty of its competitors.

Kia South Africa has not yet finalised local specification for the Rio, but we hope that the infotainment system offered on the Si and SLi models will make its way to local showrooms. This 7” touchscreen system runs both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and is a massive improvement over the current offering. Should the system be offered locally, it will easily surpass its rivals and, in some cases, cars twice its price.

On the safety front, there are six airbags and all the standard passive safety features that its competitors easily match.


Barring unpredictable political or economic machinations, the new Rio should enter the local market in a leading position. Kia South Africa have an opportunity to overtake multiple competitors with this car if they can get pricing and the interior and powertrain offering right.






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