TESTED: Kia Rio 1.4 LS is a comforting package that ticks most boxes
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JOHANNESBURG - The Kia Rio has come a long way from its humble origins around two decades ago and in its last two generations it’s actually become a very compelling alternative to the usual compact hatch suspects.
What we have here is the recently facelifted version of the fourth-generation Kia Rio, which was treated to a few cosmetic and specification enhancements late last year. Kia speaks of a narrower grille and wider front bumper with sharper edges, but in general the alterations are subtle, much like the design itself. There aren’t many cars that manage to strike a balance between looking conservative and attractive, but in my humble opinion the Kia Rio is one of them, as is the VW Golf 7.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for something with a bit more visual flavour and stand-out appeal, you might want to consider rivals like the Nissan Micra and Citroen C3.
No more rental vibes
What I appreciate most about this recent Rio upgrade is that the base LS model no longer looks and feels like a rental car, thanks to various spec upgrades. For starters, the previous version’s steel wheels with plastic wheel covers have been replaced by a set of 15-inch alloy wheels and the model also gains a touchscreen infotainment system as standard.
Whereas the LS was previously only offered with Kia’s normally aspirated 1.2-litre petrol engine, which produces 61kW and 120Nm, the base trim is now also available with the 1.4-litre normally aspirated unit, which is good for 73kW and 135Nm.
Best of all, the 1.4 LS - which is priced at R291 995 - only commands an R11 000 premium over the smaller-engined equivalent and it’s certainly worth every penny. Unless you run a rental fleet, in which case the 1.2 was created just for you and your unhurried customers..
A comforting drive
Journalists don’t normally get to test base level cars, which was why I was seriously impressed when Kia sent me a 1.4 LS model to try out for a week. I also got to stretch its legs a bit as the review period coincided with a quick weekend trip to the Hartbeespoort Dam area in Gauteng.
While a turbocharged engine is always first prize at altitude, I was very satisfied with what the 1.4 Rio offered, even on the open road. It feels like a very well balanced package that has just enough power for long distance driving. If it had any less it would feel underpowered, and yet I rarely wished for more oomph from this car. With the manual gearbox shifted into sixth gear, it cruises quietly too, while consumption on my trip amounted to just under six litres per 100km.
In a nutshell, this Kia Rio really feels like a comfortable pair of slippers. It’s not flashy, but it’s really easy to drive, and the ride quality is as cushy as you’d expect at this end of the market.
What’s more, all 1.4-litre models are offered with a choice between six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, with the auto variants commanding a very reasonable R17 000 premium.
Is it practical?
Measuring 4065mm in length, the Rio is actually one of the largest hatchbacks in its class but rear legroom is more adequate than exceptional, although the 325 litre boot is as spacious as you’d expect in this class.
The cabin design is neat and somewhat conservative, but there’s no faulting the ergonomics, with everything being within easy reach and all the driving controls operating with smoothness and precision. Like I said, a comfy pair of slippers.
The centrepiece is a 20.3cm touchscreen infotainment system with six speakers, which is now standard across the range. It’s easy enough to use and comes with all the connectivity you’d expect, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
What features do you get?
Standard items on the LS models, apart from the aforementioned infotainment system, include manual air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, steering-mounted audio controls and rake and reach adjustable steering. On the safety front, it has ABS brakes, stability control and dual front airbags, but no side or curtain bags are included here, unfortunately.
For those shopping with a rational mind, the Kia Rio really ticks all the boxes. It’s a relatively generously equipped package (for a base model, at least) that has just enough power, and the vehicle is easy and comfortable to drive.
However, there isn’t really a price advantage over its B-segment hatch rivals, and this is a very competitive space with no shortage of charismatic offerings for those that want something a little different. It’s here that the Rio might struggle to make a case for itself among some potential buyers.