First Drive

2017 Kia Rio review

The all-new Kia Rio has had a growth spurt to improve its practicality. We drive the 1.0-litre turbocharged version of the Ford Fiesta and Skoda Fabia rival

Words ByAlan Taylor-Jones

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2017 Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDi review

The Kia Rio is an important car for the Korean brand; it’s the company's global best seller, with nearly half a million leaving showrooms every year. In other words, it’s a car that needed to be replaced carefully, especially with such strong competition in the small car class.

This all-new, fourth-generation car may be bigger than its predecessor but is still very much a rival for the Ford Fiesta, Skoda Fabia and Renault Clio). Under the bonnet there’s a choice of petrol or diesel engines with between 83bhp and 118bhp. Almost all emit less than 110g/km of CO2 and all of the diesels drop below 100g/km.

The biggest news is the addition of a new turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine that's available with two different power outputs. The Rio also benefits from an improved infotainment system, and only the entry-level trim misses out on automatic emergency braking.

What's the 2017 Kia Rio like to drive?

We had the opportunity to try both versions of the new 1.0-litre engine – a 99bhp model with a five-speed gearbox and a 118bhp example with a six-speed transmission. Both are impressively refined with little in the way of vibration transmitted through to the driver. They do have emit a characteristic three-cylinder thrum when you work them hard, but it isn’t at all intrusive.

In normal driving there’s little discernible difference in performance between the two engines. Even when revved hard, there isn’t really enough of a gap to justify the extra cost of the 118bhp version, so we wouldn't bother.

A pair of non-turbocharged petrol engines (a 1.25-litre and a 1.4) are carried over from the old Rio and will save you a few hundred quid. The 1.4-litre is also the only engine available with an automatic gearboxl, although it's a decidedly old-school unit with only four gears, and we'll have to wait to try it before we can pass judgement.

Kia has aimed to give the new Rio a more β€˜grown-up’ feel compared to the old car. Changes to the suspension and a stiffer chassis should, in theory at least, improve both ride comfort and handling. In reaity, though, the Rio is too firm. Even over relatively smooth roads and on 16in wheels, you feel yourself moving up and down in the seat, while potholes cause a real thump. We’d avoid upgrading to 17in wheels, as these make the ride even more jittery.

Sadly, that firm ride doesn’t even translate into entertaining handling. True, there’s not much body roll, but the steering is a bit too light and doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. The new Rio is definitely an improvement over its predecessor, but plenty of other small cars are much better to drive.

What's the 2017 Kia Rio like inside?

Unlike its predecessor, the new Rio is only available as a five-door model – no three-door version is offered. The majority of plastics inside are hard and unyielding but textured to make them more appealing (a trick used effectively in the Skoda Fabia). In any case, the Rio's interior is inoffensive and we found the infotainment system both intuitive and mounted high enough for it not to be too distracting to use while driving.

All models get air conditioning, Bluetooth and electric front windows, although we’d recommend upgrading to more generously equipped 2 trim if you can. This will get you a DAB radio, rear parking sensors and even a reversing camera. Unfortunately, sat-nav isn’t available unless you jump up to 3 trim, which pushes the price up considerably.

The Rio's increased size means there’s plenty of room in the front and reasonable space in the back. There isn't quite as much rear head room as in a Fabia, but even six-footers won't feel cramped.

The boot is even more impressive – it's about the same size as that of a Fabia or a Hyundai i20. There is a fairly high load lip and no option of a height-adjustable boot floor, but you do get a multitude of hooks, lashing points and cubbyholes. Meanwhile, the front door pockets can hold a drink upright.

Should I buy one?

Despite a modest price rise, the Rio is still good value given the amount of space and equipment it offers. The standard seven-year warranty is also a big draw if you plan on keeping hold of your car for a long time.

Even so, the Rio still can’t quite match the best small cars. A Fiesta is far more fun, a Volkswagen Polo is classier inside and a Fabia still wins for space, comfort and value. In such a hotly contested class, the new Rio isn’t quite good enough to stand out.


What Car? says...

Rated 3 out of 5


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Rivals:

Ford Fiesta

Skoda Fabia


Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDi

Engine size 1.0-litre turbo petrol

Price from Β£11,995

Power 99bhp

Torque 126lb ft

0-62mph 10.3sec

Top speed 115mph

Fuel economy (official combined) 62.8mpg

CO2/BIK band 102g/km/17%