Kia Rio 2012 Review

The new 2012 Kia Rio was launched to NZ’s motoring media at a special event in the South Island last week and Car and SUV was there to sample this latest compact hatch.

The 2012 Rio will go on sale in NZ from the end of October with pricing starting at $22,990 and comes with fresh-faced design and plenty of equipment for the money. The Rio will be released in NZ in a five-door body shape (as tested) with a four-door sedan and three-door sports hatch following next year.

In terms of styling the new Rio has received Kia’s bold corporate face with the ‘Tiger Nose’ grille, raked back headlights and a wide lower air dam.  At the rear, there’s a built in hatch spoiler and a sharp rear windscreen angle giving a dynamic Euro appearance. The Rio has a purposeful, forward-leaning stance and a coupe-inspired roofline that adds to the sporty aesthetic. There’s some eye-catching touches like the door-mounted side mirrors and our tested top spec EX model features 16-inch alloys, privacy glass and LED daytime running lamps. The Rio body shape has grown in size over its predecessor, increasing 20mm in length to 4045mm, in width by 25mm to 1720mm and is 70mm longer in the 2570mm wheelbase. However, it sits 15mm lower in overall height to further the sporty look.

The Rio cabin is nicely appointed with a quality black soft touch dashboard and tasteful cloth trim on the well bolstered seats. There are some harder plastic surfaces found in the door liner, but overall fit and finish is hard to fault and this continues to be a Kia strength. Instrumentation is presented in a bright three-dial arrangement and the switchgear is very easy to operate through a varied range of dials, buttons and even toggle switches. Entertainment info is shown on a stereo screen with vehicle and trip info viewed through a display located within the instrument binnacle.

The increase in wheelbase has translated to more interior room for passengers front and back. Headroom is very good even for taller occupants and while you’d struggle to fit the All Blacks front row in the back seat, it would stay comfortable for two adults even on longer journeys. The luggage area has a usable 288-litre capacity which easily handled small bags and could take a larger suitcase. If that’s not enough room the rear seats split 60:40 and fold forward.

In predictable Kia fashion, the equipment level on the new Rio is high, so high in fact that it will embarrass many competitors. All models receive daytime running lights, body-coloured door handles and side mirrors, height-adjustable driver’s seat, reach and rake steering wheel adjustment, Bluetooth and a stereo with USB and AUX inputs. The top-spec EX model that we tested adds, LED lighting, climate air-conditioning, auto demisting, rain sensing wipers, cruise control, steering wheel stereo controls and auto headlights. That’s a lot of kit for a B-segment vehicle and it means that very few concessions need to be made when driving a small hatch.

Under the stumpy bonnet the Rio comes packing a choice of two engines; a 1.4-litre petrol and a 1.4-litre diesel mill. The diesel will only be offered in base-model LX trim and uses common-rail tech to deliver 66kW of power and 220Nm of torque. It will chase down a very impressive 4.1L/100km fuel economy figure through technology like a stop/go system, low rolling resistance tyres and drag reducing bodywork. The diesel engine is exclusively mated to a 6-speed manual transmission.

The petrol 1,396cc engine is from Kia’s Gamma family of motors and is an all-aluminium, 16-valve unit. Power output is 80kW with 137Nm of torque. The petrol-powered Rio can be had in both EX and LX trim levels and with a 6-speed manual box or a 4-speed auto transmission. Fuel consumption is rated at 5.3L/100km for the stop/go fitted manual and 6.4L/100km for the auto transmission. Because the new Rio is lighter than the outgoing 1.6-litre model it has an identical power to weight ratio meaning new buyers don’t have to sacrifice any performance.

Car and SUV drove the petrol-powered Rio in EX trim with the automatic transmission and found it to be a very capable small car. It cruised comfortably between 100 and 110 km/h and could even perform open road overtaking with suitable forward planning. That said, it’s no fireball and the 0-100km/h sprint takes 12.9 seconds in auto form. The Rio also lost speed quite quickly when climbing steep hills but it moves off the line well and with light-steering and a tight turning circle is well engineered for around town duties. The four-speed auto box could be a touch raw at times, needing more ratios to find true smoothness. But Kia has hinted at a six-speed auto on the horizon, so it may be fitted to the Rio from late next year onwards.

Dynamically there is plenty to like about the new Rio, it sits flat through corners and can be pushed surprisingly hard for a car in this segment. The chassis and newly engineered suspension is well sorted and will provide an agile base for the more powerful 1.6-litre sports model expected mid 2012. The Rio also stops firmly, helped by disc brakes at all corners. There’s also an electronic stability control system, ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution and hill-start assist control. Six airbags are standing guard if it all goes wrong and the passenger seat airbag can be deactivated for child seats.

So what’s the bottom line on the new Rio? It’s a significant leap forward over it’s predecessor and has all the right virtues to be of serious interest to kiwi small hatch buyers. The fresh styling is eye-catching and the interior is well packaged with plenty of features. The powertrain won’t excite but it is certainly capable in a variety of missions and the Rio’s tenacious handling ability is a highlight. If you want more luggage space, wait for the Rio sedan and if you need more power you could wait for the Rio Sport. But for most, the new Kia Rio would provide comfortable, safe and stylish transport right now – so if you’re currently in the market take a closer look.

To find out more, click here to go to the Kia NZ website.

Kia Rio Pricing:

Petrol
LX 1.4 ISG Manual $22,990
LX 1.4 Auto $23,490
EX 1.4 Auto $25,790
Diesel
LX 1.4 ISG Manual $24,990
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