THESE days, no small car is just another small car. With B-segment cars like the Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta making up a quarter of all new car sales in the UK, if youre stepping into this particular fray theres a lot at stake.
Kia has released its new Rio to try and gain ground and sales against cars that have been bestsellers for generations. Fortunately, comparing it to the outgoing model is like comparing fancy new running shoes to tired old plimsolls. The new Rio is genuinely stylish. Kias family grille has been adapted, squeezing between devil horn headlights, and the rest of the car is just as provocative. A dull runabout for people wearing slippers, this isnt.
A poke around any model of new Rio will turn up a number of well thought-out storage spaces including a surprisingly deep glove box, and a good sized boot thats also very deep. Its deceptively spacious, and with a bit of stacking and shuffling you can squeeze a lot into it.
There are four engines and four trim levels to choose from. There are 1.25- and 1.4-litre petrol units, along with a super-economical 1.1 diesel and a less frugal but gutsier 1.4-litre diesel. The spec levels are called 1, 1 Air, 2 and 3. The 1 Air was a bit of an afterthought in the range, but it does give buyers the option of specifying air conditioning without having to fork out for full 2 spec.
The mid-range 2 is likely to be the best seller, and 75% of B-segment cars are sold with petrol engines, making this 1.4 petrol 2 test car a good yardstick. On the outside there are standard 16-inch alloy wheels that sit comfortably in the arches, helping the Rio to avoid looking particularly under-wheeled.
Inside, air conditioning joins a four-speaker stereo system, electric windows all round, electric folding door mirrors, two 12v power sockets, a USB input for MP3 players and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Its a nice place to be, and above all, its as stylish as the exterior, neither looking nor feeling budget.
The smooth 1.4-litre engine is quiet and relaxed in town, with enough zest on a light throttle to keep up with traffic. Unfortunately, this model doesnt get Kias EcoDynamics treatment, which includes Intelligent Stop & Go to cut the engine in traffic and save fuel, and low rolling resistance tyres. Most of the diesel versions do though, and the lightweight Rio 1 with EcoDynamics will return 88.3mpg on the combined cycle while emitting just 85g/km of CO2. That makes it the lowest-CO2 non-electric car engine in the world.
As the pace picks up the petrol engine starts to struggle a little, not having the outright power or torque to feel at ease above 40mph. Also more noticeable at high speeds is the suspension thump over larger manhole covers and potholes, which on disintegrating roads can get irritating. On typical surfaces, though, the ride is fine for the sector. The seats are on the firm side, but are comfortable with it.
The brakes are fantastic, having plenty of power without being too grabby. The electric power steering offers variable resistance, adding weight as speeds pick up, and taking it away for car park trundling. Slotting the Rio into a space is physically very easy, but visibility at the front and back is restricted by a high dashboard, a small rear windscreen and thick pillars all round. A three-door arrives next year, but that wont really help.
If youre a low-mileage driver one of the petrol versions makes the most sense, because even the huge fuel economy of the basic diesel engine cant overcome the difference in initial purchase price. If youd prefer to pay over the odds for a diesel, each will do at least 70mpg on the combined cycle to keep running costs low, and are tax-friendly, costing £20 or escaping excise charges altogether under the current rules.
Although the jump from the Rio 1 to the Rio 2 is £1,900, the increase from 2 to 3 is only £700-800, and for that you get heated front seats, climate control and genuinely beautiful 17-inch alloy wheels, with more besides. The range-topping 1.4 CRDi diesel Rio 3 is £14,895, which isnt cheap, but with Kias 7-year warranty behind it, its a car that you could buy and keep with peace of mind. Its a new kid on the block, but the new Rio has arrived in style.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Kia Rio 2 1.4 5dr, from £13,095 on the road. Rio range from £10,595 to £14,895.
Engine: 1.4-litre petrol unit developing 107bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 114mph, 0-60mph 11.1 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 128g/km.