'It would be a good budget car,' says Ashvin Beezadhur

Kia's latest offering is perfect for music lovers who want to drive on a shoestring. It's cheap, solid - and has a spectacular stereo. Melanie Bien reports

Price: £7,995
Engine: 1.4-litre petrol
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 12.3 seconds, 44.8mpg
CO2: 150g/km
Worth considering: Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Getz

While Japanese cars have gained quite a reputation for reliability, the same cannot be said of their Korean neighbours. Consequently, when you come to replace your car, Honda and Toyota may spring to mind but Kia is far less likely to be on the list.

Is that fair? Kia has come a long way, and the new Rio is so unlike its predecessor that the company admits that the name is the only similarity. Kia says it is aiming for a younger audience who won't remember the old version and aspire to something fun, which "Rio" sounds like it might be.

The build quality of the new Rio is solid, with no rattles and squeaks. The door clunks satisfyingly when you close it and you feel safe and secure inside. Reliability should be less of a problem than in the past, and with its European styling it certainly looks the part.

The Rio is available in a choice of two engines: the 1.4-litre petrol, which our panel tested, and a 1.5-litre diesel (which costs the same - an unusual feature at this end of the market). Both are available with a five-speed gearbox, which was more than adequate: although the petrol engine was lively it wasn't enough to justify a sixth gear. This is no hot hatch, more a satisfying ride.

The steering is accurate although not as sharp as it could be. Visibility is good and the Rio is bigger than most superminis, giving you plenty of value for your money. The Rio is certainly a bargain and costs less than £8,000. The fact that Kia has bucked the trend and positioned both petrol and diesel models at the same price will appeal to motorists who want cheaper running costs but don't want to pay for the privilege.

Indeed, while Kia is aiming the Rio at a young crowd who are "passionate about styling", it is more likely to appeal to the more practically minded driver. The diesel does an impressive 60.1mpg, the petrol 44.8. Insurance is also low, and servicing should be cheap. You may worry about resale value, but you aren't paying very much in the first place.

Inside, the Rio's styling is basic. There is plenty of grey, hard plastic, which is usually the case with a budget car. The swanky and impressive JVC stereo with MP3 capability looks so out of place that you won't be able to keep your eyes off it; a potential problem if you are the driver.

There is the usual supermini lack of legroom in the rear for adults, but plenty of space for luggage. Outside there is nothing at all distinguishing about it.

One fears that the market Kia is aiming for won't be buying a Rio. However, there are likely to be plenty of people who want budget motoring and aren't bothered about what they drive. For them, the Rio is pretty near perfect.

Eddy Rulton, 49, human resources manager from Upminster, Essex

The engine was extremely quiet, which I liked, but once I got going it was quite lively. The main problem I had was that I couldn't get comfortable because I have a long body with short legs. It's a problem with lots of small cars: the seats didn't adjust so that they were low enough for me to sit comfortably. The other reason I wouldn't buy it is that it was a very anonymous-looking car. Can I remember having seen a Kia on the road? No, apart from that big box the Sedona, which is the only one that has registered. If I were to buy a new car, I wouldn't buy a Kia.

Muniya Barua, 31, press officer from Richmond, Surrey

The seating position felt too low compared to my Xsara, but the seat was easy to adjust. I didn't like the gearstick and the fact that you had to pull up the ring around it to get into reverse: this was cumbersome and awkward. The steering also felt a bit clunky. It wasn't power-assisted, was it? It was? Well, I would never have guessed because it felt much heavier than my Citroën's steering. It also felt rather sluggish when I put my foot down and on the basis of the test drive, I wouldn't buy it. It normally feels good driving a new car but didn't in this instance. It didn't look very sexy either - more like a student's first car than one you'd aspire to own, but it was a fun little runaround.

Ashvin Beezadhur, 28, cost controller from Morden, Surrey

The interior had a nice feel but there wasn't enough room for three people in the back. It was a bit plasticky and the gearstick wasn't easy to get to grips with. The exterior had nice lines though, and the boot was a good size for a car in this segment. The drive had a nice feel and wasn't too bumpy, and the brakes were sharp. The seats were comfortable and easy to adjust. I had very low expectations of the car given the price. It would be a good budget car but it isn't really my type of vehicle. My perception of the brand is that it hasn't got wide appeal. I would worry about the resale market if I were to buy a Kia, and would be more likely to go for a Honda Jazz or a Toyota Yaris.

THE VERDICT: If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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