Kia Rio 1.4 2

This Rio needs a touch more carnival spirit

I wrote recently about the "size creep" in small cars, to the extent that what the motor industry refers to as "superminis" are really no longer mini at all.

Cars of the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo class, including the new Toyota Yaris tested last week, have become big enough to function as viable, all-purpose family cars.

Kia's new Picanto is one of the best examples of today's "real" superminis. So where does that leave the same company's just-launched Rio? Stealing sales from the Ford Focus-sized Kia C'eed that sits on the next rung of the Kia ladder? Very possibly; but that car, too, is about to be replaced and it will, of course, be a bit bigger again.

So here is the new Rio, just over four metres long (13ft 3in in old money) and every inch the complete family car. This is a stockily handsome machine, with the high, rising waistline and centrally-pinched front upper grille of all new Kia designs.

Under the high, bulbous nose hides one of four possible engines. The smallest is a 1.1-litre, three-cylinder turbodiesel with 74bhp and, at 85g/km, the lowest official CO2 emissions of any conventionally-engined, four/five-seater car made anywhere in the world. There are also a 1.4-litre diesel (89bhp), a 1.25-litre petrol engine (83bhp) and the subject of this test, a 1.4-litre petrol unit with a healthy 107bhp. All except the 1.25 have a six-speed gearbox, with an automatic – containing just four forward gears – optional for the petrol 1.4.

After the neat boldness of the exterior, the interior is a disappointment. A high, deep dashboard looms ahead in an expanse of dark grey, but at least the main frontage of it is padded and the piano-key switches for the air conditioning are unusual. The three main dials include an enormous fuel gauge, while the small, central information display is hard to read in its orangey-red lettering. Hard, coarse-grained plastic covers most of the lower door area, but the detail finish and air of subjective quality does better those of last week's Yaris.

There's plenty of space, but the boot has a high sill and the small, high rear window, bounded by thick pillars, makes reverse-parking an act of some faith. Our test car is in trim level "2" out of three, but even the "1" is very well equipped. The top version has LED bulbs for the daytime running lights, more loudspeakers, a cruise control, heated seats, darkened "privacy" rear glass, automatic air-con and hefty 17in wheels.

This wheel size also appears, as an option, on the test car, which explains why it can fidget at low speeds on bumpy roads. As the pace rises, the Rio smooths out well. It feels taut and composed on a twisty road, with electric power steering free of the rubbery, glutinous feeling that plagues some such systems even if the weighting, though well judged, is entirely artificial and never changes regardless of the forces acting on the front wheels. Most drivers will no doubt think it fine until they come to drive the Rio on snow and ice.

Anaesthesia creeps into the clutch's lightweight action, too, making it hard to feel exactly where the biting point is. Against that, the brakes are firm and progressive and the gearchange is precise. The 1.4-litre petrol engine is almost inaudible at idle and quiet at other times, but despite its claimed 107bhp it feels feeble at low engine speeds and is easily defeated by hills.

This Rio is almost an excellent car. It needs the reversing camera offered in some rivals, and it needs more enthusiasm from its engine. A brighter interior design would help, too, especially in a car named after one of the world's more vibrant cities.

Otherwise the Rio is impressive for its quality, its solidity, its refinement, and for the way it looks. It is also excellent value – the range costs from £10,595 to £14,895 – and comes with a longer warranty than any rival at seven years or 100,000 miles. For many buyers that will be enough. The fact that the Rio is properly competitive with the best that Europe and Japan have to offer is a welcome bonus.

The Rivals

Ford Fiesta 1.4 Zetec: £13,395, 96bhp, 133g/km

Highly stylish, comfortable, the most fun to drive in its class, quality interior, deservedly popular. Less power than Rio but feels more.

Toyota Yaris 1.33 TR: £13,260, 98bhp, 123g/km

Third-generation Yaris loses charm and innovative instruments, gains wedgy look and impressive multimedia. Cheap cabin, unexciting.

Volkswagen Polo 1.4 Match: £13,225, 85bhp, 139g/km

Good value and the most natural-feeling steering in this class because the assistance isn't electric. Dour cabin, though.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

    £64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

    Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam