There’s a choice of two diesels, a 1.1-litre and a 1.4, and two petrols, a 1.25 and a 1.4. All models have long gearing which blunts flexibility and means only adequate performance is on offer up to cruising speed. The diesels require too many revs to really get going, making them hesitant around town. The petrol versions are easier to live with. Once up to speed though, even the 1.1-litre diesel will pull sixth gear with reasonable conviction.
The Rio’s suspension has a firm edge and struggles with bumps and potholes, so the ride never feels totally settled. The Rio is far from being as sporty or agile as a Ford Fiesta, but it’s assured at speed: body control, grip and the feelings of safety and stability are better than in most superminis. The pitfall is its steering, which is curiously weighted and numb.
The petrol engines are a little on the boomy side, and things get worse the harder you work them. The diesels are worse still – even at tickover, there’s too much noise and vibration. At higher speeds, the racket from the engine is joined by the sound of the tyres slapping on the road, and the gearshift is notchy, too. It’s a shame, because wind noise is well contained.
This is one of the cheaper cars in its class, but the gap between it and its rivals isn’t as big as you might anticipate. Still, there’s also the persuasive argument of the company’s standard seven-year, transferable warranty. Go for the 1.1 diesel model, and you'll get jaw-dropping fuel economy, but the rest are only average.
The Rio’s fit and finish are very good, although the materials aren’t quite up to Volkswagen standards yet. Kia has been climbing steadily up the ranks in the last few JD Power customer satisfaction surveys, and the previous Rio was rated as average for mechanical reliability in the 2012 study.
The Rio has earned a five-star NCAP crash-test rating, and that’s no surprise when it comes with six airbags and stability control as standard across the range. It should also be as thief-proof as other contemporary Kias.
This is an easy car to get comfortable in because the driving position is adjustable and should suit everyone. The seats are flat and firm – although some testers found the seats short of lower-back support – and controls are of the simple, well-placed variety. The big problem is that the small rear window and thick pillars restrict rear visibility.
This is one of the more spacious ’minis. Up front, there’s plenty of shoulder- and headroom, and the long wheelbase creates plenty of rear legroom for adults. The high boot sill is annoying, but at 288 litres, the boot itself is on a par with anything else in the class, and the 60/40 split seat back allows you to extend luggage space into the cabin if required. The load area is stepped, though.
Standard kit includes USB/Aux In sockets and electric front windows, while only 1 trim does without air-conditioning. 1 Air trim rectifies this, but if you want alloys, front foglights, electrically operated door mirrors and chrome trim on the grille, you’ll need to stretch to 2 or 3 trim. Unique to top-spec 3 are daytime running lights, climate control, reversing sensors and cruise control.
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While this 1.25 petrol isn’t a tower of power, the Kia Rio 1.25 1 Air represents the best value for money, and the engine we’d go for. 1 Air trim gives you most of what you need, including air-con, but without costing as much as a 2 trimmed car.