Kia has been busy transforming itself over the last few years, almost completely replacing their range in the last few years. Most in need of a refresh was the unloved Rio, a bland and anonymous car that redefined the word generic, and that is what I have here. And what a refresh it is.
The Rio has been transformed in to a car that now attracts attention, shouts about itself, and makes itself noticeable. The bold Kia ‘tiger’ grille is accompanied by swept back headlights, while sharp creases down the sides echo the lines from the front. There is a definite angled aggression to its stance now, producing a look that works well.
Behind that bodywork lays the reason I have got the Kia in the first place – there is a 1.1 litre diesel engine under that bonnet that has an official economy figure of some 88 mpg. However, that is only on the base ‘1’ spec model and, despite being born in the north, I have spent so long in the south that I now require some creature comforts. Adding air-conditioning to the mix means you need a ‘2’ spec car, and that manages just 74 mpg thanks to more weight and bigger wheels.
Still, 74 mpg is staggering, especially as it also puts out just 99 g/km of CO2, keeping it in road tax band A, or free if you prefer. If the Rio can get close to that 74 mpg during my time with the car, then I won’t doubt the 88 mpg figure.
As soon as you step inside, it is immediately apparent that the dramatic exterior is all for show and that enthusiastic driving won’t be encouraged. Flat seats with little lateral support and a very upright position remind you this is a sensible family hatchback, so I put the testosterone away and prepare to drive straight to Waitrose.
Ahead of you sits a triple dial instrument binnacle with a clear and obvious speedometer. A small digital panel sits below that shares small bits of information like your current economy, miles to empty, and so on. Head up one more specification level to ‘3’ and that panel grows significantly, overpowering the rest of the trio at night.
There are simple, almost child friendly, controls for the air conditioning, with three rotary knobs and a handful of chunky switches making life easy. The heating works exceptionally well too.
A good sound system finishes off the dashboard, with an auxiliary input and a USB socket hiding away just above a convenient Smartphone sized pocket. None of it is very exciting or dynamic though, just remaining inoffensively ordinary. At least it all falls to hand nicely and is easy to use. Apart from the Bluetooth handsfree system, that is.
Now I know health and safety interferes in many areas of life, but I do believe the mobile band while driving is a good thing. It is therefore also a good thing that you can make and receive calls through the Rio’s stereo by pairing your phone to the car via Bluetooth. It is very definitely not a good idea that this can’t be performed whilst moving.
Not that I would try as it is too complex a task to manage anyway. However, my handy passenger failed to pair my phone thanks to the cars insistence on bowing to the demands of H&S. Even in queuing traffic we failed, each time I edged forward being immediately followed by swearing from the seat next to me. The end result was the ridiculous sight of me driving a car while a passenger held a phone to my ear. Still, it was hands free, or at least my hands were free.
Once out of the queuing traffic, the Rio makes a good fist of things. The tiny diesel engine lacks the outright power to ruffle your hair too much, but once it gets up to speed it is surprisingly quiet and refined. Ride quality is also very good, helped no doubt by some high profile tyres.
Despite that, it still manages to handle the twistier bits with ease. Body control is good, with the car staying reasonably level and true. At no point does the chassis try to remind you that it is the eco model you are driving, allowing you to even enjoy yourself if you can get the engine wound up.
The children in the back will enjoy that, and there is plenty of space for them to do so. Adults might complain, but only after a long distance. The boot is also big enough to cope with most weekly shopping demands.
After a week living with the car, there was much to like and little to dislike, but what about those astonishing economy claims? We all know you shouldn’t put too much stock in the headline mpg figures, but over the Front Seat Driver test route I achieved just 48.7 mpg. That has only been beaten by a hybrid and a tiny city car, but is still around 35% off the official figures. During my time with the car, that figure did improve slightly, but it never troubled the lofty figures printed in the Kia brochures.
However, it is still an economical car. An average of over 50 mpg is not something to be disappointed with, and with a starting price of less than £10,000 the Rio has a lot going for it. It really is an attractive car and there is no doubt that the level of equipment fitted is generous. Fit and finish is up with the best, even if there is a little too much shiny plastic, while it drives and handles better than you would expect.
It is as far removed from the old Rio as you can get. That, like this car, is a very good thing.