A well-equipped small car that has an impressive ride.
While sales of “traditional” cars in general are struggling under the mighty weight that is the massive popularity of the SUV, small city cars still make up a relatively healthy chunk of new car sales in New Zealand.
Of course the Suzuki Swift utterly dominates the segment, but there is enough demand to make the segment one of interest to most mainstream manufacturers, and Kia is no different, having recently launched the latest incarnation of its challenger in the segment, the Rio.
The LTD we test here sits at the top often Rio range and comes standard with 17-inch machine-finish alloy wheels, projection headlights with cornering lights, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, exterior chrome trim, rain sensing wipers, privacy glass, artificial leather upholstery and dash trim, alloy pedals, keyless entry and push button start, climate control, satellite navigation, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, cruise control and hill-start assist.
The LTD is powered by a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 74kW of power and 133Nm of torque, which is on the modest end of the spectrum, but it is a willing and relatively flexible little unit.
The big problem comes from the transmission it is hooked up to.
For some inexplicable reason Kia has seen fit to saddle the Rio with a four-speed automatic transmission. While this nugget of information may prompt you to check the cover of this magazine to see if you have picked up an issue from 1999, you can relax – you haven’t, Kia really have gone old-school with the transmission in the Rio.
While the entry level Rio can be had with a modern six-speed manual, literally no-one buys those in New Zealand, so the four-speed auto is the only choice as you move up through the range.
While the transmission – for some reason – performs better in the Rio than it does in the mechanically identical Hyundai i20 (most likely due to the programming of the transmission, as it seems far more eager to kick down in the Rio), it is still a massive impediment out on the open road where the Rio struggles to be in the right gear at the right time, simply because there aren’t enough of them for the Rio to actually have the right gear for the right time.
Around town things get far more bearable, as the transmission’s lack of ratios is barely noticeable and it is a relatively swift shifter. Just stay around town and both you and the Rio will be happy. Head out of it, however…
Which is a massive shame, because the Rio’s chassis is pleasingly responsive and surprisingly agile for a car in this segment. It also boasts an impressive ride, feels nicely composed over seven rough surfaces and has some pleasantly weighted, decently communicative steering as well.
The Rio LTD costs $26,990, which is reasonable for such a well-equipped small car that has an impressive ride, fun handling and handsome looks, plus is well made and comfortable. But that four-speed auto really just doesn’t do the rest of the car justice at all.
Body type Hatch
Engine type Inline four-cylinder petrol
Engine capacity 1.4-litres
Max power 74kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque 133Nm @ 4000rpm
l/100km (Combined) 6.2
C02 emissions 145g/km
Boot capacity 325 litres
Spare tyre Space saver
ANCAP rating Not tested yet