Published on February 4th, 2017 | by Seán Ward0
First Drive: The 2017 Kia Rio
This is the all new Kia Rio, but you might not have guessed it. The last generation Rio was launched back in 2011, and seeing the new and the ‘old’ car side by side you’re left wondering whether the refresh was entirely necessary.
But as I discovered the new Rio is more than just a facelift, as Kia has strived to improve the car’s quality and has introduced a turbocharged petrol engines to the Rio for the first time. Not only should the new Rio feel and drive better, but it should have better economy and better performance.
The front end of the new Rio looks remarkably similar to the old car, but the rear much fresher. Perhaps the design is a little bit plain, a little safe, but it isn’t unattractive by any means. Annoyingly, the top of the line ‘First Edition’ car gets a really nice rear light design that the other trim levels don’t get.
Inside is where you’ll notice a real change. Kia brought along all four generations of Rio to the car’s launch to show just how far they’ve come in such a short space of time, and the difference in quality is massive, even from the previous generation. Everything feels more rigid, more durable, and less likely to break. The driving position is absolutely spot on, too, perhaps one of the best driving positions of any small car on sale today, with a seat that you can get nice and low, and a steering wheel that can come right to your chest and at the right height.
Underneath you’ll find the most significant changes. The Rio gets a new three-cylinder, 1.0-litre T-GDi (Turbocharged Gasoline Direct-injection) engine in two different versions, one with 99bhp and the other with 118bhp, but both with an identical 126lb/ft of torque. You can opt for older four cylinder, naturally aspirated engines too, one a 1.25 litre with 83bhp and 89lb/ft of torque, the other a 1.4 litre with 98bhp and 98lb/ft.
On the diesel front, you can buy a 1.4 litre turbo-diesel with either 76bhp or 89bhp. Both have 177lb/ft of torque.
I tried the 89bhp diesel first. Mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox, 0-60mph takes 11.6 seconds and the top speed is 108mph. It delivers its power smoothly and has quite a decent throttle response, but the engine’s sound is disappointing and it’s really quite loud. Some modern diesel engines have quite a nice voice to them, but not this one.
The petrols on the other hand were much quieter. I tried both the 99bhp and 118bhp versions of the new three-cylinder engine, with a five-speed manual and a six-speed manual gearbox respectively. 0-60mph for the 99bhp model takes 10.3 seconds and the top speed is 115mph, whereas 0-60mph in the 118bhp version is over in just 9.8 seconds and the top speed is 118mph.
Out of the two, the higher powered petrol would be my choice, but not just for the sake of “it’s got more power”. The 118bhp car has a six-speed manual, whereas the 99bhp car has a five-speed. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but the five-speed isn’t as nice to use. Also, because both cars have the same engine with the same torque numbers but just with different power outputs, they feel exactly the same up until about 4,000rpm, when the 99bhp car’s electronics rein the engine back. It’s just an unnatural feeling.
What does work in the 99bhp car’s favour is that the 118bhp engine is only available in the top of the range ‘First Edition’ car (Kia often launches their cars in four trim levels, ranging from 1 to 3 with the highest spec ‘First Edition’ at the top of the tree), so you’ll need to pay quite a lot more money for the privilege. There is a chance that the First Edition will morph into the 4 trim level in about a year’s time, but chances are that engine will only ever be available in the top spec car. The 99bhp model is also marginally more efficient, managing 62.8 mpg while the 118bhp model will get 60.1mpg.
To drive the little Rio is good but not exciting. There’s not much in the way of steering feel and there’s too much tyre and road noise, but the six-speed manual in both the diesel and petrol is nice to use, the steering has a nice weight and speed to it, and, as I said before, the driving position is excellent – it felt more like a Subaru BRZ than a small Korean hatchback. And because the new Rio’s body is stiffer than before thanks to an 18% increase in the amount of high strength steel, the suspension doesn’t need to be as hard as it might otherwise to keep the body under control.
Deliveries for the new Kia Rio will start in a few weeks time but the car is technically on sale now, with prices starting at £11,995 for the entry level Rio ’1′ with the 1.25 litre petrol engine. The ’3′ 89bhp diesel I tried is available for £17,245, whereas the ’2′ 99bhp 1.0 litre petrol will set you back £14,545 and the 118bhp ‘First Edition’ £17,445.
The new Rio is better than any previous incarnation, but each of the models we tried seemed to have something holding it back, whether it was the gearbox, the engine noise, or the trim level needed for a particular engine.