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What Car? says

2 out of 5 stars

For It’s roomy, has a big boot, and is cheap to buy

Against It won’t excite you, and - even at these prices - the cabin feels cheap

Verdict Spacious and cheap, but bland in too many ways

Go for… 1.3 LX

Avoid… 1.5 SE

Kia Rio Hatchback
  • 1. The cabin materials are cheap and unappealing, and way off the standards set by European rivals
  • 2. Look out for problems with the suspension and engine - both have been reported
  • 3. Both engines need to be worked hard and are coarse at high revs
  • 4. There are known problems with the ventilation system, so check it all works properly before you buy
  • 5. There's plenty of room in the back, and cabin space generally is excellent
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Kia Rio Hatchback full review with expert trade views

The Rio is not particularly nice to look at, it’s not particularly nice to drive and it isn’t particularly well finished. In fact, it's pretty bland.

However, although it does nothing particularly well, it does nothing particularly poorly either. It’s a decent all-rounder and, most importantly, it’s really, really cheap.

The drive is limited by stodgy handling, with too much body roll in corners and vague steering. Noisy engines lead to problems with refinement, but other mechanical noises are kept well at bay, and the car does ride comfortably at any speed, though.

There’s not much adjustment for the seats or steering wheel, but at least there’s plenty of space for the car’s other occupants, thanks to one of the biggest cabins in the supermini class.

Where the Rio really struggles, however, is cabin quality. The materials are cheap and unappealing, and way off the standards set by European rivals.

Trade view

John Owen

Family motoring on the breadline

John Owen
Buyer,
Fords of Winsford

There are two engines, but neither is particularly capable. Both need to be worked hard to make half-decent progress and are coarse at speed. The 1.3 has 74bhp and is a bit short on flexibility and pace, but it does have the advantage of being cheaper to buy and run. And, although the 1.5 has 97bhp, doesn't perform that much better on the road.

The 1.3 comes in three trims – standard, L and LX. Don’t bother with the standard - equipment is so basic that even power steering is omitted. L is slightly more generous, with power steering and height adjustment on the wheel. LX trim adds anti-lock brakes, central locking and electric mirrors. It doesn’t cost much more than the L, and the ABS alone is worth the extra cash.

The 1.5 is only available in SE trim, which gives you everything on the LX plus air-con, alloy wheels, electric front windows and seat height adjustment.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Has some retail appeal, especially automatic models

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The Rio was one of the cheapest cars on the market when it was new, and, with residual values being far from spectacular, used models can be picked up for the kind of cash you’d pay for a much older competitor.

However, running costs aren’t spectacular for the class, mainly because of the size of the car and the size of the engines. The 1.3 will return an average of 39.8mpg, while the 1.5 will only manage 38.7mpg. Insurance costs are also lower on the 1.3, which is in group 3, whereas the 1.5 is in group 6.

Servicing costs will be where Rio owners lose out. It’s one of the costliest superminis to maintain, and that gap in price between the Rio and its mainstream competitors is a bit too large.

Trade view

John Owen

Family motoring on the breadline

John Owen
Buyer,
Fords of Winsford

Kia has demonstrated a so-so record for reliability in recent years. The Korean firm wasn’t included in the last What Car? Reliability Survey, but it managed mid-table respectability in the most recent JD Power customer satisfaction survey.

The Rio did Kia no favours in the study, though, scoring poorly for mechanical reliability and finishing too near the bottom of the table for comfort. Problems with the suspension, the engine and the ventilation system were the main areas of complaint.

Kia also issued two recalls on the car, so check the service history to see whether the car you’re looking at was affected and whether the repair work has been carried out. Cars with ABS built between November 2002 and March 2003 needed to have their braking systems reprogrammed, while all cars built before March 2004 needed to be checked for a potential fuel leak.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Has some retail appeal, especially automatic models

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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