Kia’s rollout of updated and revamped cars continues, with the Rio the latest of the family to receive a makeover. A Wheel Thing goes one on one with the $22000 (includes metallic paint)2017 Kia Rio Si.Straight up, gone are the goldfish goggle eyed headlights, trimmed down to slim line units from front on and sweeping back into the fenders. The grille is reduced to a mail slot and sits above a larger and restyled air intake bisecting two smaller slots fitted with driving lights that come on when cornering. In profile the window line echoes that of the Sorento as do the tail lights and overall the Rio seems to have a more upright stance than the outgoing model.That sleek new body hides a mix of modern and dinosaur style technology. There’s a peppy and zippy 1.4L multipoint fuel injected four, good for a maximum power output of 74 kilowatts and torque of 133 Nm. That figure is reached at 4000 rpm and it’s noticeable that pull from this engine, by the seat of the paints, comes in from around 2500. The dinosaur in the room is the archaic four speed automatic transmission. This, wholly and solely, holds back any decent driveability. Under light acceleration the shift from first to second feels as if the car has hit a puddle of molasses. When pushed the drop becomes even more visible, going from 5000 rpm down to just over 2000.
Although it shifts smoothly and slickly enough, the Rio would be better equipped with a CVT. Using the manual shift option barely improves the experience. It also affects fuel economy adversely, with the official figures being quoted as 6.2L/100 km from the 45 litre tank for the combined cycle. A Wheel Thing saw a best of 7.2L/100 and that was on a freeway at constant speed after a week of urban driving.Inside it’s a complete freshen up. A real boon for people that like variety is the addition of Digital Audio Broadcast or DAB radio. Yes, digital radio in a $22K car, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s a simple and clean look to the seven inch screen, which also offers in the Si and SLi satellite navigation with traffic information, with the typically ergonomic and easy to read look that typifies Kia. The leather bound steering wheel on the tilt and reach column is home to cruise control, audio, and Bluetooth buttons, with the formerly slightly sharp edges in previous versions now of a softer and rounder design.Air-conditioning is effective and the dials are old school by the fact they’re…dials. In the console below is the USB, 12V, and auxiliary ports for external music supply as the Rio no longer carries a CD slot. Vale the silver disc. The dash and console itself, of a semi gloss black plastic (which reflects badly in the dash, a safety distraction) on the upper section and a gunmetal look across the horizontal, flows and blends smoothly into the door trim. Oh, it’s a key start, not push button, for the driver and their passenger as they sit in cloth and leather trimmed seats.The 4065 mm long five door sits on a handy 2580 mm wheelbase, allowing cargo space of 325 litres with the rear seats up, increasing to 980 litres folded. With an overall width of 1725 mm and height of 1450 mm there’s plenty of leg, shoulder, and head room for four adults. There’s also a USB port for the rear seat passengers, plus ISOFIX mounts, a feature virtually standard in Australian specification cars nowadays as are the six airbags, driver safety programs (bar Autonomous Emergency Braking and Blind Spot Alert).Apart from the four speed auto, it’s a delight to drive on the road. Although the alloys are just 15 inch in diameter, with 185/65 tyres the Rio rides and handles well enough for most road conditions. It’s crisp enough in turn-in with a surprising lack of understeer. It’ll lane change quick enough, given its 1162 kg plus passenger weight and will do so with minimal body roll. The torsion beam axle stabilises the rear but the rear suspension attached is a little too soft with that rear end feeling as if it would bottom out easier. The brakes also need a tightening up, with again a little too much travel before a satisfactory amount of bite happens. The usual bumps, lumps, and undulations do affect the little car but it remains mostly well tied down and does allow for a comfortable enough ride in the urban environment.At The End Of The Drive.
Bluntly, it’s a crying shame the Rio has been hamstrung with that four speed auto. The engine feels as if it wants to deliver more, the chassis is competent enough, the new look is sweet, and the trim levels across the three models provides a well appointed choice for buyers. As more and more makers with small cars with small engines move to CVTs, for all of their foibles, it’s a better option for the Rio than the current one.
For information, details on Kia’s seven year warranty and associated service plan, and to book a test drive, head over to Kia Australia here: 2017 Kia Rio range.