IT wasn't that long ago that owning a Kia Rio was nothing to brag about. Sure, it was an adequate runabout, but lacked looks, style and performance.
Luckily the new-generation Rio bears little resemblance to its predecessors, bursting onto Australian roads with all the sparkle of a dancer at Carnivale time.
It has been quick to find its rhythm, leaving more-established competitors in its wake, wasting little time in picking up some of the most sought-after car awards around.
The Rio has traded in the "cheapie" tag, choosing instead to concentrate on drive quality, value and safety. And it is paying off.
It has come to symbolise Kia's determination to be world beaters and is in keeping with the Korean manufacturer's promise to elevate the level of prestige across its range.
Space is always a factor to consider when opting for small cars but the Rio does well in this department.
Seats are comfortable and bolstered although they may lack some support for taller occupants.
Kia has opted for above average materials which make a nice change in this segment so seats and the centre console have a nicer appearance.
The dash is well laid out and set back enough to allow for knee room. Instruments are clear and snazzy with buttons and bobs of the more expensive variety.
The steering is weighty to the touch and includes controls for the stereo and Bluetooth.
The backseat is ideal for two, three if you must, provided they are kids.
A small back window makes rear vision patchy and there are large blind spots when turning right. The boot is pretty good for this class and can be improved by dropping the back seats although they don't fold flat.
On the road
The Rio's 1.6-litre engine is a punchy package and makes for a spirited performance.
It is an easy, fun car to drive, responding well to changes in direction and pressure on the accelerator.
It's smooth too, dealing well with everyday imperfections and those brought on by torrential rain. It struggles a bit in mid-range and has to be urged along but settles down quickly when it hits its stride.
The Rio has been specially tuned for Australian conditions with different shock absorbers and springs, unique steering calibrations and a 44% larger stabiliser bars which combine to deliver a comfortable, balanced ride.
Road noise can be intrusive at higher speeds but this is common in its competitors too.
What do you get?
Kia seems happy to back up the quality of the new Rio with an extensive inclusions list.
The entry-level S is equipped with Bluetooth, single CD audio with MP3, iPod and USB connection, power windows, trip computer, heated mirrors and a full-size spare wheel.
Our Si test vehicle added a 1.6-litre engine, cruise control, higher grade audio, folding mirrors, upgraded instruments, fog lights and a centre console arm rest. The top-of-the-range SLi also boasts LED running lights, auto on/off headlights, 17-inch alloys, a six-speaker sound system and leather upholstery.
Safety is a top priority for Kia with six airbags, stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist and hill-start assist as standard.
Performance and comfort push the Rio beyond your average runabout.
The poor rear visibility is a concern and the lower roof line means adults in the back will have to bend quite low so as to not bump heads when entering and exiting.
Kia claims a combined 6.1 litres/100km for the Si.
Our test car was more around the seven litres/100km mark due much in part to having to push the Rio through those mid-ranges.
Services are reasonable and can be done at an extensive range of Kia dealerships and the Rio comes with a five-year unlimited kilometres warranty.
The Rio's new-found popularity has been helped by arresting good looks.
It is stylish and modern with bold, athletic lines and muscular rear haunches to incorporate a more masculine look.
It is easy to see why the new Kia Rio has caused such a stir.
It has stepped up a gear and is great for the young and young at heart. Kia is aiming at a 10% share of the light-car segment and it would be foolish to bet against it.
- Model: Kia Rio Hatch.
- Details: Five-door front-wheel drive hatch.
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic or six-speed manual.
- Engine: 1.6-litre inline four-cylinder GDi generating maximum power of 103kW @ 6300rpm and peak torque of 167Nm @ 4850rpm.
- Consumption: 6.1 litres/100km (auto, combined average).
- CO2: 145g/km (auto).
- Bottom line: From $18,990