KIA Rio: latest effort not so grand

KIA Rio: latest effort not so grand

YOU score a date with your Miss World, take her to a restaurant of note and everything is just dandy until the surprise dessert arrives; and it turns out to be a small tub of yoghurt.

That sort of scenario came to mind when we drove the latest Kia Rio, a beautifully built and styled hatch, all new from front to back, but with a disappointing engine under its shapely, so-called Tiger snoot.

The Rios – there are three of them – are slightly bigger, better equipped and prettier than last year’s models, and the good news is prices have not risen.

The S, the sole one with manual transmission, is still $16,990 and there’s a $2100 option of a four-speed auto, while the Si, at $21,490, and the $22,990 SLi have the automatic transmission as standard.

All have a colour 7-inch tablet-style touchscreen with a reverse camera, digital radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Our SLI also sported leather trim, climate control, a sunroof, LEDs, smart-looking 16-inch alloys, cruise control, auto-on lights and wipers, and satellite navigation.

Other handy items include a USB port and 12V socket in the front and another USB for rear seat passengers.

The thick-rimmed steering wheel is tilt and reach-adjustable and the driver gets well looked after with clear instrumentation, including a very welcome digital speedo.

Safety-wise, it has six airbags, the usual suite of electronic driver aids and the reverse camera is backed up by rear park sensors. It also has a stronger floorpan.

It’s certainly a good-looking car, with a wider, sturdier stance and an attractive grille, and the interior quality has been stepped up.

There’s good seating front and rear, with lots of headroom, though rear legroom is a bit tight and the cargo area’s a tad bigger.

More storage is available on an under-dash shelf, a console bin and in the glovebox, and the door linings are shaped to accept bottles.

Kia has long made a point of tuning the suspension of its products to Australian roads and the latest Rio is another example of that good work.

It gives a firmish, comfortable ride and has an excellent steering.

It would be a joyous thing to drive but for its outdated engine and transmission.

Last year, the Rios could be had with a 1.6litre motor and six-speed auto, but the brand has inexplicably opted for the 1.4litre motor and four-speed auto, and the 1.4 from last year’s base model has been detuned to 74kW in a bid for better fuel economy and fewer emissions.

The car runs quite well around town, but power drops off as soon as it sees a hill.

Fuel economy is rated at 6.2litres/100km, but we couldn’t come within cooee of that, no matter how much we pussyfooted the accelerator.

Our average was 7.4.

The Rio does, however, come with the industry’s longest warranty: seven years.

Verdict: A stylish, well-equipped city car, if you live in or close to the city.