The new Kia Rio wades into battle with its new corporate, tiger design and flashy lapels, but Ray Leathern wonders if it’s going to need a little more substance to match institutions like the VW Polo and Ford Fiesta.
It wasn’t too long ago that pretty much all Kia’s looked like something out of ‘Saw II,’ and were just about as appealing a buying proposition. Thanks to their cheapness, total lack of technological and automotive nous, and interiors from the design house of ‘Ode-de-Grey and Sir Shine-a-lot,’ no one but those on the tightest of budgets really cared about a Kia Carnival, or a Carens, or a Sedona or how they differed from their Hyundai brethren.
Sure, some Kia’s offered a lot of space and practicality, like the 7-seater Sedona for instance, which my sister owned and which had all the appeal, on the inside, of the Colorado Spur’s under-six only, kiddies ball pit. Her three kids left half-empty juice boxes in there for months, turning apple juice into pungent cider, tennis biscuits got mashed into the carpets so thoroughly that after a while it just took on the look of fine volcanic ash. The car never got cleaned, and by the time they sold it, it had more dings and scrapes on it than Freddie Kruger.
The point I’m trying to make is that my sister isn’t a car person, she’s never been a car person, she never will be a car person, and that’s why she bought the Kia Sedona and treated it with such neglect. I felt for it, really I did. But Kia’s are not for car lovers, or enthusiasts, or people who even care in the slightest about how they drive or what they drive. They perform an automotive function for the owner, by being able to manoeuvre X-amount of passengers and any belongings they might have at any one time for an appropriate and reasonable outlay. Which is why, when I see a Kia coming the other way, I give it a wide birth, because I know the owner would much rather be doing a whole load of things other than driving, like being at home installing low flow showerheads to cut the water bill maybe, or finding which retailer will give him the best discount if he buys in bulk.
Plainly, Kia is aware of this image problem. Why else would they start changing their business model so much? And, sure enough, they have been working around the clock, to give their new cars a splash of stylistic fizz and crackle. Look at the new Picanto – brilliant. Last year’s Sportage – even better looking. The Cerato Koup – a real head turner. The upcoming Optima – stunning. The Soul and Cerato Hatch… ah well, you can’t win them all.
And now this Rio, probably the Kia model in most need of an extreme makeover and… boom – look at what a looker it’s now become. I especially like the tiger eye, tinted makeup around the headlights that bookend the sporty, honeycomb grille up front, and the clean, gumdrop booty around the rear end. Even the sprouting side mirrors have integrated indicator lights and they have a personable personality. It’s probably the best looking B-segment car you can buy, and its even better looking than I was expecting. If it was a girl in a bar, I’d give it a chance based purely on its looks and my own superficiality.
These styling turnarounds at Kia can be attributed to the company snagging its current design chief, Peter Schreyer, from the vice grip and former fames of Volkswagen / Audi. Having him do design work for Kia… that’s the equivalent of wandering into Makro and finding the new summer collection is a buy-five-get-the-sixth-one-free deal on Ben Sherman haute couture. Peter Schreyer is no doubt a great man…, a brilliant man even, who has done wonders with the brand, and Kia can’t seem to talk enough about him. In 2005 Kia sold 1-million cars worldwide, in 2011 it’s up to 2.5-million. The fruits of his labour are plain for all to see. But what about the new Rio as regards substance? Are the two happy bedfellows? Or is the Rio, under the flamboyant makeover, still just the same chunky, library monitor as she was back in high school, who couldn’t get an invite to the Matric dance for love or money (or other things)?
Under that tiger shaped bonnet and behind the mascaraed headlights there is a choice of 1.2-litre or 1.4-litre, four cylinder, naturally aspirated, engines, making 64 kW and 79 kW, and being driven through a five and six speed manual gearbox, respectively. We only got to sample the 1.4-litre on the launch drive, supposedly making 79 kW and 135 Nm, and it felt pretty asthmatic, if we’re honest, especially as we only got to drive it at altitude, but at least the Rio only has slightly over 1 100 kg to lug around along its travels.
But even factoring in the low weight, this most powerful of Kia Rio’s will still only get to 100 km/h in just under 12 seconds and the fuel consumption is only rated at 6.4 L/100km, with CO2 at 151 g/km. Those aren’t a totally convincing set of numbers if you want to be a contender in a B-segment brawl. The engine is just too under powered and six is too many gears. Get into sixth and the car starts going backwards it has such little grunt and any overtaking move needs to be executed in fourth or sometimes third, depending on how urgent you need it to be. The 1.2-litre, we can only imagine, must feel like its grown a pair of roots into the ground.
What I can report is that the typical, Kia, super-light power steering is not too over assisted in the Rio and, joy of joys, the steering column is height and reach adjustable. This means you actually have some steering feedback through the wheel when driving quickly and you can be in a comfortable position while you’re doing it. The ride quality is not too brilliant however. The NVH from the road and wind noise is noticeable, and the ride jars and judders pretty relentlessly.
The Rio does make a confident riposte however, when it comes to interior fit, finish and equipment levels. The interior feels like it comes from a vehicle that’s much more expensive than this Rio really is, never mind compared to the dark ages of Rio’s gone by. Bluetooth, iPod and MP3 player connectivity works well, while looking good with these really cool toggle switches on the centre fascia. The Rio’s luggage space is 288-litres with the rear seats up and a massive 923-litres with the rear seats folded all the way down, so the Kia is sticking to its guns when it comes to practicality.
Specification wise, you can have the 1.4-litre with or without the 17-inch alloy wheels for R3 000, that look like they’ve been lifted from where… Mr Schreyer? Yes, an Audi. But despite the cribbing they still make the Rio look great. Then you can get the 1.4-litre TEC for around R14 000 more that adds rear park sensors, rain sensing wipers, six airbags (over the standard two airbags) and leather trim interior. You can also have the 1.4-litre with a four speed automatic gearbox; we didn’t get to drive that either however.
To conclude then, has the Rio done it? Is it the desirable car that will tempt itself onto people’s wish lists because they want one and will revel in owning it? Or is it the same old Kia, like my sister’s, that will spend its life toiling away in neglect and ruin, owned by someone who couldn’t care less about cars? Well, aside from the asthmatic engine and a choppy ride, I’d have to say a corner has been turned. The Rio’s looks, features and good build quality win the day, and it’s still a Kia so the price is bang on too. Maybe this Rio will make car lovers out of the bargain hunting, Kia faithful yet…
|Pricing (incl. VAT and CO2 Tax)|
|Kia Rio 1.2 M/T||R136 995|
|Kia Rio 1.4 M/T||R154 996|
|Kia Rio 1.4 A/T||R164 995|
|Kia Rio 1.4 TEC||R169 995|
Prices include a 5-year/100 000 km warranty with roadside assistance and a 4-year/60 000 km service plan.