Kia’s Rio started production back in 2000, and boy have Kia come a long way since then! The new 2017 Rio is the 4th generation car and it’s bigger, more technologically advanced, and arguably better looking than the previous generations.

The Range

It’s common for most manufacturers to offer us their top spec cars for testing so that we have all of the available toys to play with. But not this time. Kia sent us the base spec LX model with a manual transmission. Well it may be base spec but it isn’t basic. You get six airbags, ABS, EBD, ESP, Stability Control, Cornering Brake Control, Straight Line Braking Control, aircon, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto lights, 15” alloys, electric mirrors, trip computer. All this for a list price of $22,490. The LX auto in the same spec is $1000 extra.

Move to the EX at $25,490 in auto only, and Kia add 16” alloys, cornering projector headlights, LED taillights and DRLs, front fog lights heated folding mirrors with LED indicators built in, premium cloth upholstery, satnav, keyless entry and start, climate aircon, auto dimming mirror, improved screen in the cluster and auto windscreen defog. Quite a bit extra for 2 grand.

The top Limited spec for $26,990, in auto only, adds 17” alloys, mud guards all round, privacy glass, composite leather upholstery with more padded bits, and alloy pedals.

Currently all specs are on offer with either $3k or $3.5k discount. Bargain!

First Impressions

The Rio was styled by Kia’s German and Californian departments and it shows. It has a very European look to it, which I like a lot, with hints of Audi A3, BMW 1 Series or VW Polo about it. The front grille is less tall than other Kias and the lights are angled, giving it quite a frowny-faced look. I can’t help thinking a racier GT version would look great.

Our test car came in white, which suits the shape. Other colours available are mostly silvers, greys, black or bright red. I’d love to see a few more bold colours added as I think they make smaller cars look great, and this one could definitely pull them off.

The Inside

The inside is pretty standard Kia fare with decent materials and straightforward design. There are some hard plastics around but the materials are generally good, especially for a car at this price point. The leather-clad steering wheel looks good and has shaped grips as well as controls for phone, stereo and cruise.

There are large dials for rev counter and speedo. Both are clear and easy to read, and the speedo has 30 and 50 marked in red. In the centre is a 3.5” information screen for trip computer, odometer and fuel consumption. There’s a permanent digital speedo at the top right of this display, which I think is a great feature, and at the top left the car will suggest the correct gear for maximum efficiency. The digital speedo can be turned off if required.

The textured cloth seats look decent and are comfortable enough, with a reasonable amount of side support. The driver’s seat is height adjustable. The steering wheel adjusts for both height and reach – something not all entry-level cars provide.

In the centre of the dash is a 7” touchscreen media system with Bluetooth connectivity as well as Aux and USB sockets lower down in the console. There are also power sockets in the front and the rear. With six speakers it sounds pretty good – better than a lot of other small cars. Apple Carplay and Android Auto are supported. The interface is pretty basic and monochrome but is easy to use with big buttons. I like that there’s a physical volume knob too. It does have the same annoying feature that all Kias have – it doesn’t automatically switch back to Bluetooth audio when your phone connects. You have to wait a minute or two for that to happen then hit media, followed by Bluetooth audio. Every time you start the car. It’s a little thing but it irritates me.

Rear legroom is good for a car this size – I had plenty of knee room behind the driver’s seat with it set in my normal position. There’s good luggage space in the boot, with 325 litres available. The boot sides feel a bit flimsy and plasticky but Kia have built in some bag hooks and a little storage cubby.

The Drive

When I saw that Kia were sending us a manual Rio I was pretty pleased. I know most buyers will probably go for an automatic transmission but I think smaller city cars are at their best with a manual. The auto Rio comes with a four speed, but the manual is a six.

The clutch is nice and light, and the shift is very tight and light to move, which makes shifting a simple task. It’s a fairly long throw but that’s what I’d expect in a car like this. It works really well with the 1.4l 74kW engine. It’s not particularly fast of course but it’s fast enough for some satisfying manoeuvring around town. Kia don’t quote a 0-100kph time but I’d guess it’s around the 10-11 seconds range.

The electric power steering is very light and accurate, making the Rio easy to place where you want it, and easy to park. The reversing camera – integrated neatly into the boot handle – is clear and has moving guide lines – something a lot of cars still don’t include.

Kia really seem to have suspension sussed in their latest cars, and the Rio is no exception. It has a quite firm but comfortable ride and there’s very little body roll on corners. Road noise is well damped, especially compared to a lot of the competition at this price point, with the main noise on the motorway coming from wind. At 100kph in 6th gear it was ticking along nice and quietly at 2500 revs. The engine is quiet at low revs – in fact it’s almost silent at idle, with just a slight vibration to give away the fact that it’s still running. Over 4000rpm it starts to get a bit noisy, and even though maximum power is made at 6000rpm I never really drove it at the top of the range. It felt like I was abusing it to go over 4000. Plus it was busy telling me on the dash display it wanted to to be in a higher gear.

Driving the Rio is a pleasant experience. Everything is light and easy to use. The controls are all logical and easy to find. Nothing really stands out, but there’s nothing bad about it either. It’s just a good little car.

The Competition

I’ve stuck to only the base model manual versions for comparison.

Brand / Model Engine Power Fuel L/100km 0-100km/h Price Highest to Lowest
Honda Jazz RS Manual 1.5l 4 cylinder 97kW/155Nm 5.3 N/A $25,200
VW Polo TSI Manual 1.2l 4 cylinder turbo 66kW/160Nm 4.7 10.8s $23,990
Kia Rio LX Manual 1.4l 4 cylinder 74kW/133Nm 5.6 N/A $22,490
Holden Barina LS Manual 1.6l 4 cylinder 85kW/155Nm 7.5 N/A $22,490
Mazda2 GLX Manual 1.5l 4 cylinder 81kW/141Nm 5.2 N/A $21,495
Toyota Yaris GX Manual 1.3l 4 cylinder 63kW/121Nm 5.7 12.4s $21,190
Skoda Fabia TSI Manual 1.2l 4 cylinder turbo 66kW/160Nm 4.7 10.9s $20,990
Suzuki Swift Manual 1.2l 4 cylinder 66kW/120Nm 4.6 N/A $19,990
Fiat 500 Pop Manual 1.2l 4 cylinder 51kW/102Nm 5.1 12.9s $19,990

The pros and cons

Pros Cons
  • Quiet
  • Comfortable
  • Good equipment and safety
  • Looks good
  • Handles and rides well
  • Stereo doesn’t switch back to Bluetooth automatically
  • Some plastics a little flimsy

What we think

The Rio is a great little all-rounder. It’s comfortable, quiet, easy to drive, competent on the motorway. Everything just works and there’s really nothing bad about it, except that little annoyance of the stereo not switching back to Bluetooth! I wish Kia would sort it out.

With the current discounts of over $3k on list price making this a sub $20k car on the road, and with a 5 year warranty included, you’d be daft not to consider this car.

Rating – Chevron rating 4 out of 5

Vehicle Type Small 5 door hatchback
Starting Price $22,490 + on-road costs
Tested Price $22,490 + on-road costs

Currently on offer for $18,990 + on-road costs

Engine 1.4l DOHC CVVT Petrol engine
Transmission 6 speed manual
0 – 100 kph N/A seconds
Kerb Weight 1163 kg
Length x Width x Height 4065 x 1725 x 1450mm
Cargo Capacity 325 Litres seats up

980 Litres seats

Fuel Tank 45 litres
Fuel Efficiency Advertised Spec – Combined – 5.6 L / 100km

Real World Test – Combined –  7.1 L / 100km

ANCAP Safety Ratings Not yet rated
Warranty 5 years warranty

5 years roadside assist

Kia Incident care included

Previous articleProject FZ12 : Fraser & Zac’s Hand Built Supercar – Part 11: Clutch
Next article2017 Alpina B4 Biturbo Coupe – Car Review – The Best Performance All-Rounder?
Rob Clubley
I love everything about cars! Driving, looking at them, modifying. It's great to see what people do with cars, the different car cultures. If I was rich, my garage would be bigger than my house!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.