Gareth Butterfield finds out why the Kia Rio is the brand’s best seller
IF someone asked you to name a Kia, you might come out with “Sportage”, picturing its memorable and hugely successful small SUV. You might even think back to the Top Gear episodes when celebrities thrashed a Cee-apostrophe-d around the track.
You might not, however, think to name-drop its global best-seller, the Rio. And that’s because it’s failed to win our hearts in same way as some of its UK success stories.
To be fair, the Rio is a good car. There’s little to dislike about it, but years of dull styling and dull interiors have taken its toll in a world populated by Supermini royalty such as the Vauxhall Corsa and the Peugeot 2008.
We’re a fickle bunch, us UK buyers, and if a car doesn’t look “cute” enough or come in a million different shades of orange, we tend to walk on by.
But are we dismissing it carelessly? Is there more to the Rio than meets the eye? Or is it just a car we should leave for those who really don’t find cars interesting.
As I said, there’s little to dislike about the Rio. Sure, it may look dull, but the angles are all agreeable enough. It’s not trying to be wacky like a Toyota Prius, it’s simply an honest styling excercise without the frills. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.
Inside, it’s all simple and functional, rather than inspiring. But, again, I like that. I like the comfortable driving position, and the simplicity of the buttons. There’s almost a sporty feel to the Rio, you feel as though you’re sitting quite low and the gearstick is close to you. It’s certainly better thought out than the rather ungainly Corsa.
The dash-mounted screen controls all manner of functions and comes in differing sizes, depending on the model you choose. Clustered around these are nicely-weighted nobs and buttons which all fall easily to hand. There’s good space in the rear seats, a fairly good boot and visibility is fine.
The Rio is available in three trim levels, called 1, 2, and 3, and then there’s the toy-laden First Edition model. Even the entry-level 1 trim includes air-conditioning, a Bluetooth stereo and projection headlights. And this version can be had for a wallet-friendly ££11,995.
The highlight of the moderately extensive engine range is a one-litre three-cylinder petrol lump which can be found in other Kias and which comes in two strengths – 99bhp and 118bhp.
There’s a more straight-forward 83bhp 1.25-litre engine and a 1.4-litre petrol offering 99bhp. The latter is available with a power-sapping four-speed automatic gearbox and there are two diesels, a 1.4, with 76 or 89bhp. But the pick of the bunch is still the three-pot petrol.
It’s only available as a five-door, but barely anyone buys a three-door supermini these days so that’s just fine. Fuel economy is good, handling is fine if not altogether exciting and the ride is comfortable but with perhaps a tad too much road noise.
Because it’s seen as the poorer relation by the UK buying public, residuals might prove an issue, but don’t forget Kia’s strong reputation for reliability, backed up by that legendary seven-year warranty.
Personally, I’d choose it over the Corsa. But there are other rivals to consider. The new Nissan Micra, for example, is excellent and the top editions of the Rio wander worryingly close into the path of the all-conquering Ford Fiesta.
But here’s a car for people that like to be different. It might not stand out, but it doesn’t follow the crowd either.
It’s a simple, straight-forward car that does exactly what it says on the tin and it’s difficult not to like it for that.