Her name is Rio

Kia has been working hard to be recognised not just for providing value for money but also making desirable-looking products in their own right. Certainly, Kia’s fabulous GT concept at the Frankfurt show last year demonstrated the company’s design work is heading very much in the right direction. So how does this translate into the products available now?

The Rio arrived in bright sunshine and looked smart in a rich metallic blue. Externally it is attractively sculpted, well-proportioned and neatly finished; it’s prettier than most of the competition in its segment – a true complement.

The interior is a little plain but is intuitively laid-out and the controls are straight-forward to operate. It has a good level of equipment for a one-up-from-base: MP3 connectivity, Bluetooth, air-con, electric folding mirrors and leather steering wheel. Cabin space is good; it is a proper 5-seater and there is a respectable boot. The steeply raked windscreen and deep dashboard provide a pleasing outlook for the driver.

I didn’t get chance to drive the Rio more than a few yards for a day-or-so. When I did take it out on the road, it did reveal some shortcomings.  On the plus side, it is very economical and along with the stop-start mechanism it barely emits any naughty gases. This is down to the frugal three-cylinder 1.1 diesel engine. The trade-off is a shortness of power and slight transmission vibration to the cabin. Unlike Kia’s sonorous three-pot petrol unit which revs enthusiastically, the diesel has a very flat torque profile and runs out of steam before there’s any satisfying peak in performance. It is fine about town and cruises well on the motorway but overtaking must be planned with care. The stop-start mechanism is also quite intrusive because the absence of vibration is noticeable each time it shuts down.

Ride is rather choppy, particularly at lower speeds and its torsion beam rear suspension isn’t as sophisticated as its rivals. Essentially, there’s a bar connecting the rear wheels which means when one wheel hits an imperfection in the road, the effect is echoed on the opposite side, giving the car a tendency to skip about on uneven surfaces. Pushed harder through the bends, although not high on grip (the low rolling resistance tyres are partly to blame), handling is fairly neutral and feedback through the steering is fine.

It’s going to be tough for this Kia, its price sitting right in the middle of established competition from VW’s Polo and Ford’s Fiesta. It has excelled with the styling of the Rio but the driving experience is let down by this engine in the name of achieving that sub-100 g/km of CO2. My suggestion would be to pick a slightly less virtuous engine in the interests of comfort and performance.

Model tested:

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDI ‘2’ from £13,795 (plus £415 for Electric Blue metallic paint)

Power: 74 bhp (4,000 rpm), torque: 170Nm (1,500 – 2,750 rpm), emissions: 99 g/km CO2 (band A), 0-62 mph: 15.5 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●○○

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