New mild-hybrid Rio proves that Kia remains on top regardless
Gone are the days when Iain Robertson would refer to Kia as a ‘coming car company’, so well-paced has been its developmental curve and so highly regarded has its extensive model range become, factors exemplified by the latest Rio.
Product launch plans for automotive companies are a scientific process that is unceasing in its consistent roll-out of new models but can be awfully expensive to delay. While South Korea became something of a shining beacon in political and health management terms during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, whether by historical relevance, or its friendlier western face, contrasted with the blind arrogance of its neighbouring Chinese State, its judicious return to work has meant that its commercial strains will be far easier to manage than those across European rivals.
Personally, I make no sham about my admiration for Kia Cars. Okay. The company has made some errors of judgement, notably in relation to its excellent Stinger model line and how it has been sold particularly in the UK market, but the products are above reproach. In fact, Kia has not produced a ‘duffer’ in decades and it has become the marketing model with which other brands are now contrasted, much to their chagrin.
It only seems like ‘yesterday’ that I last drove an all-new Kia Rio, yet the fourth-generation model was introduced in early-2017, which means that a mid-life refresher exercise is due, on the typical six-years’ replacement cycle. However, being Kia, refreshing is seldom a reason to celebrate and means that a round of serious revisions has taken place with the new model, set for UK introduction in the third quarter of this year, by which time, whether social distancing is demanded, or not, Kia showrooms will not only be appropriately stocked but price and final specifications will also be announced.
In technological terms, the revised Rio now offers a 48v mild-hybrid version of its excellent 1.0-litre petrol turbo-triple, which enables a torque boost, with regenerative braking responsible for topping-up the compact, lithium-ion battery pack. The hybrid element uses a belt-driven starter-generator for added efficiency. Now known as ‘SmartStream’, it applies to both 97 and 117bhp versions of the engine. The alternative engine is the tried and trusted 81bhp 1.2-litre four-cylinder.
Interestingly, the 97bhp version is now available with a choice of 6-speed manual (as opposed to the old 5-speed) gearbox, or 7-speed automated, twin-clutch alternative. However, a new transmission, iMT, also features on the Rio. A ‘clutch-by-wire’ system, it retains the driver connection but operates electronically and is able to switch off the engine and coast, when coming to a halt.
On the other hand, the Idle Stop & Go (ISG) system is now brake-linked, rather than just via clutch depression and switches off the engine, when both clutch and brake pedals are activated, when stopping. Annoyingly, the rear brake lights (including the high-level one) are illuminated at the same time, which can be irritating to following drivers in certain weather conditions. The enhanced system restarts the engine, as soon as both pedals are released, and contributes to Rio’s improved fuel economy and emissions figures, which will be announced nearer to launch time.
On the connectivity front, Kia has been refining and upgrading both sat-nav and overall telematics and the Rio is the first model to feature the significant enhancements. The larger 8.0-inch touchscreen display offers Display Audio, or Satellite Navigation, dependent on vehicle specification. A new system, it also features Bluetooth multi-connection, enabling users to connect up to two mobile devices at the same time, one for hands-free phone, with the other for multimedia use. A split-screen function allows users to control, or monitor, a number of different vehicle features at the same time, customising the screen with a series of different widgets.
The system offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on models equipped with the new 8.0-inch screen and owners no longer need to connect their smartphones using a cable. In addition to live traffic information, weather forecasts, points of interest (POIs), fuel prices and details of potential on- and off-street parking (including price, location and availability) are available. The system also features Online Voice Recognition, for voice commands, hands-free, to search for nearby POIs, addresses, weather updates, or just to send text messages. It will come as no surprise that the array of ADAS systems (lane-keeping, crash mitigation and so on) has grown to incorporate new programs that include a cyclist alert and distance cruise.
While the recent Rio features more upmarket cabin trim than the previous generations, the new version improves it again. Both blue and white additional trim detailing will be available, with GT-Line versions boasting a carbon-like dashboard trim, while both front seats now feature the full range of manual adjustments. Externally, a slightly different front grille treatment is a recognition point, while a lower, wider front bumper, with new mounting points for foglamps, the full-LED headlamp array and a slightly different daytime running-lamps signature help to differentiate the new versions of Rio from the earlier model.
Considering that Rio, as a Skoda Fabia rival, is essentially a ‘supermini’, a more mature approach to the model means that, until the next generation Ceed arrives, it is, in top trim, the best equipped of the range. I admit that I have something of a soft spot for Rio, because it is one of those unusual cars that is ‘right-sized’ from the outset. In its latest guise, I would not be surprised if it nicks business from the increasingly expensive Ceed. However, it is more than capable of developing an even stronger following from buyers new to the Kia brand, which is sure to help Kia to build volumes and support the company’s first-rate reputation for manufacturing customer satisfying models. Of course, all of them are covered by the firm’s seven years/100,000-miles warranty programme.
Conclusion: Another hard-to-dislike Kia will soon be available through its UK dealer network. Buyers seeking genuine value for money will gain access to a roomy, well-equipped and satisfyingly zesty new Rio that can also boast first-rate build quality and total reliability. It is not a bad proposition.