|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
A single glance alone is enough to make you fall in love with the Rio, but try giving it a good wash and you’ll just lust over it even more. Down to the smallest of details, it feels like a million bucks. The subtle curves, the athletic character lines, even the five-spoke high luster silver/black alloy wheels all blend together to create a sensual experience. Moving over to the lamps, both the front and rear combination lamps are filled with interesting design details from the white “brow” and LED position lights in the headlights to the distinctive glow of LEDs in the brake lamps. Of course, since it’s a Kia, you can’t help but mention the Tiger Grille. The gapping grille is more cosmetic than functional with its relatively small air opening, but seen in conjunction with the large black lower facia and faux brake ducts, it leaves an impression of aggressiveness. Perhaps the only thing that’s missing is HID headlamps, which could have filled those projector-type headlamps quite nicely.
Inside, the Rio carries a very sporty and serious demeanor with its all-black interior. Given the color scheme, it’s easy to fall into the trap of ending up with a cold and detached interior, but this car manages to toe the line very well; credit perhaps to the use of aluminum trimmings on various areas of the car. Aside from the high-quality look, the interior detailing is first rate. The Tiger Grille design is clearly echoed in the vents, switches, audio buttons, and get this, even the CD slot opening. This entire experience gives the Rio a cohesive look inside and out. In addition, the build quality is first rate. And though most of the materials are of the hard variety (it’s a budget-conscious sub-compact after all), at least the buttons, controls, and stalks all offer crisp engagement.
With a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, it’s quick to the find the perfect driving position. Despite the small side mirrors and even the absence of a C-pillar window, overall visibility is quite good save perhaps through the rear glass, where the small hatch glass reduces the Rio’s parking prowess somewhat. Thankfully, rear parking sensors are standard equipment on the hatchback. Other standard equipment on the Rio hatchback includes automatic climate control, cruise control, a full-featured audio system with Apple iPod support, and even Bluetooth hands-free.
With a push-button engine start/stop, a thick three-spoke steering wheel, and an instrument panel that sweeps during ignition, the Rio is giving hints that it’s a sporty sub-compact. With a modest 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, things don’t seem promising on paper, but the 107 horsepower, 137 Nm of torque outputs at least puts this car squarely in the middle of its competition.
With a four-speed gearbox (with a manual override function), the Rio makes short work of spotlight duels. It’s light and spritely with good off-the-line power delivery all the way to around 60 km/h to 80 km/h. After that though, acceleration almost becomes nonexistent, but it can still reach speeds past 120 km/h given enough pavement. Because the Rio’s behavior is designed to combine both respectable speed and acceleration, overtaking can be quite challenging. However, given enough room, the Rio can zip past other traffic. Though the gearing compromises the Rio’s performance figures, it results in better than expected fuel economy figures: 12.98 km/L mixed driving (10.10 km/L city, 15.38 km/L highway).
Like the Rio’s powertrain, the chassis and suspension is clearly in the middle of the sport and comfort equation. The platform, using MacPherson Struts upfront and a Torsion Beam Axle at the back, is good with excellent NVH isolation. Together with a solid body, there’s no squeak or rattle inside and wind noise is kept at a minimum even at triple digit speeds. However, the combination of the low-profile 205/45R17 rubber and soft springs don’t make for a great pair as some road ruts would send shocks and shudders into the cabin. It also tends to unsettle the Rio, especially the rear suspension. The steering effort is very light and quick, but is surprisingly stable on the highway.
The word ‘Rio’ conjures images of the world-famous Brazilian Festival which is fun and jubilant. In that regard, Kia has nailed the design and engineering (for the most part) of its sub-compact, especially in its range-topping hatchback form. Under Peter Schreyer, Kia’s now a showcase of design innovation, quality, and technology. At 838,000, the Kia Rio is a clear statement embodying all those qualities wrapped around a surprisingly affordable package. What can you say? Peter Schreyer is a genius.