Kia Rio review

Our Rating: 
4
4.0/5.0
2011 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Rio offers space, value, quality and Kia's trademark seven year warranty, but isn't quite the class leader

For: 
Top value, spacious and solid interior, seven-year warranty
Against: 
Vague steering, rivals handle better, no turbo petrols yet

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The latest-generation Rio, launched in 2011 and facelifted for 2015, marked the point Kia began their push away from bargain-basement value small cars, to challenge the class lead. Since then the supermini class has got even tougher, but the Rio can still hold its head high amongst cars such as the Hyundai i20 and new Vauxhall Corsa.

Thanks to its smart looks, spacious and high-quality cabin and prices that start from £10,145, the Rio is a practical and affordable compact hatchback – if you’re after driving thrills at this level, then the Fiesta and Mazda 2 are better bet, but if usability and fuel economy are top of your list then the Rio fits the bill.

Kia’s stop-start equipped 1.1-litre turbodiesel emits just 86g/km CO2, making it one of Britain’s most efficient cars. Road tax is free, and this version of the Rio will return up to 85.6mpg according to Kia.

Best superminis on the market

Alongside this there’s another 1.1 diesel, as well as a 1.4-litre unit with both receiving stop-start. If you’re preference is for a petrol engine Kia offers a 1.25- and a 1.4-litre unit. As of 2015 the 1.4 can be hards with stop/start, but there are no smaller capacity turbocharged petrols, similar to those offered on the Rio’s competitors, until the end of 2015.

There are six different trim levels to choose from, starting with the entry-level Rio 1. There are a few stand-out versions in the range, including the SR7, 1 Air and high-spec 4 models, while all engines are available in three- and five-door guise – although the latter brings with it more practicality thanks to the rear doors, it also adds an extra £600 to the price. However, given the rear doors make the most of the Kia’s roomy interior, we’d recommend spending the extra.

Basic versions don’t get much equipment as standard, but all Rios do come with Kia’s impressive seven-year warranty.

Our choice: Rio 1.1 CRDi SR7

Styling

4

The Kia Rio is characterised by a high-quality interior, with an easy-to-fathom layout, solid plastics all-round and, on the 2015 facelift, some more upmarket touches such as gloss black trim and a new touchscreen infotainment system.

The Rio gets a three-dial instrument cluster, and toggle switches on the centre console, which are neat touches. The three-door Kia Rio is sportier than the five-door, but both versions get sculpted flanks, a swooping roofline and are designed with the European market in mind. The facelift is very modest, but the Rio is still an attractive car that didn't require an overhaul.

Both the three-door and five-door models are available in a wide variety of paint finishes, including Blaze Red, Bright Silver, Electric Blue, Midnight Black, Graphite, and Clear White. 

Kia Rio 2015 light

Entry-level cars have to do without alloy wheels, so if you want the extra style these rims bring you’ll have to upgrade to the sportier Rio SR7. However, all models still get electric front windows, a trip computer, steering wheel-mounted controls and Bluetooth connectivity. 1 Air, as the name suggests, introduces air-conditioning and is only available as a five-door, costing £11,345.

Next up is 2 specification, which gets 16-inch alloys, front fog lights, a DAB radio (as of 2015), heated door mirrors and electric windows all-round, with prices starting from £11,245 for the three-door model. Meanwhile, the high-spec £13,445 Kia Rio 3 boasts LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights with cornering function, parking sensors, a seven-inch touschreen inoftainment and nav system, climate control, cruise control and 17-inch alloy wheels. The top of the range Rio 4 adds an electric sunroof, leather trim, a heated steering wheel as well as keyless go and costs £14,545.

Driving

3.5

On the road, the Kia Rio is a worthy alternative to many superminis, but it still can't match the Ford Fiesta for driving fun. With a new crop of rivals now hitting the market – including the Vauxhall Corsa and Mazda 2 – it struggles to tick many boxes for the enthusiastic driver. One of the Kia’s major problems is its steering – it can be a bit vague at times and doesn't fill you with the same confidence that the class best do.

Kia Rio 2015 rear

The pay-off for a lack of fun is decent ride quality. Larger wheels on the pre-facelift car can make it a bit stiff and thumpy, but smaller wheels are fine and the 2015 updates made it a reasonably comfortable long-distance cruiser.

 The entry-level 1.25-litre petrol delivers 83bhp and 122Nm of torque, as well as this, it's hooked up to a five-speed manual gearbox, helping it reach 0-60mph in 12.9 seconds. The 107bhp 1.4-litre petrol, meanwhile, is the only Kia Rio to get an automatic gearbox – it’s a four-speed transmission and we’d recommend sticking with the six-speed manual alternative.

The 1.4-litre is the current pick of the petrols, with strong performance once you rev it out. But it still doesn't feel as muscular as the torquey turbocharged petrols in the Corsa, Polo and Fiesta, for example, while fuel economy is only average.

Diesel options include a 74bhp 1.1-litre three-cylinder and an 89bhp 1.4-litre, four-cylinder CRDi. Both offer great efficiency but neither is especially punchy. The Kia Rio is really good on the motorway, though; road and wind noise are kept to a minimum. 

Reliability

4.1

The Kia Rio was awarded a full five-star rating in Euro NCAP’s crash tests, scoring an impressive 92 per cent for adult occupant protection and 86 per cent in the safety assist category. ESP is fitted as standard and there's an Emergency Stop Signalling system, too. All Kia Rios come with driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags. 

In the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, the Rio finished in a reasonable 39th place. But that's down from a superb 5th last year, mainly due to the lack of a touchscreen until this year and a slight drop in reliability, and it should bounce back in 2016.

The Kia Rio comes with the industry-leading seven-year warranty, too. The only negative thing we can say about the car in this department is that the door handles are a bit flimsy, but other than that, it's one of the best-built Kias yet. 

Practicality

4

Despite its compact dimensions, the Kia Rio is surprisingly roomy inside, and there's plenty of space for two adults in the rear. Kia claims the Rio offers best-in-class head and legroom for those upfront, while the steering wheel features two-way height adjustment on all but the entry-level diesel model.

Kia Rio 2015 interior

With 288 litres of luggage space the Rio’s boot is on par with rivals like the Ford Fiesta – however, newer rivals like the Renault Clio and Hyundai i20 offer more space.

All trim levels come with split folding rear seats that increases the boot space to 923 litres. At the front of the cabin, a useful storage area sits below the heating control panel, which is ideal for mobile phones, wallets and keys. The door bins are shallow but can easily hold a large water bottle. Parking the Kia Rio is easy thanks to its compact dimensions and tight turning circle.

Running Costs

4.2

As mentioned earlier, the engine range on offer has been tuned with running costs in mind. The 1.1-litre CRDi 1 model, which features EcoDynamics and stop-start, delivers a claimed fuel consumption figure of 85.6mpg and emits a cost-effective 86g/km of CO2.  It's probably the pick of the limited engine range because of this.

The 1.4 CRDi is amazingly cheap to run, too, offering 74.3mpg combined and emitting 98g/km of CO2, so it’s also road rax free. The 1.25- and 1.4-litre petrol models are competitive with other petrol-powered superminis, and the 1.25 still returns low emissions at 114g/km of CO2. Kia Rio insurance group ratings range from two to seven, and the fantastic seven-year/100,000-mile warranty should provide peace of mind.

With stop/start now available, the petrols now both offer claimed economy in the mid-fifties. But a turbocharged petrol, due towards the end of the year, should see this figure move towards the class leaders.

Disqus - noscript

The 1.1L diesel - innovative though it is - with a 15 second 0-62 sprint does not seem enough to enable a driver to enjoy this car. Is it not possible for the Kia engineers to fit a twin-turbo to improve acceleration?

The Rio bitchslapped every supermini in slalom and lane change tests everywhere.

The second-generation????

As a very happy Rio owner i agree mainly with the above comments but the door handles don't feel that flimsy to me and the steering impoves a lot when the tyres are bedded in even after a few thousand it improved.
Fit finish and build quality are very high as is comfort and it feels bigger than it is.

A trip computer, even on the base model? Be still, my beating heart!

I own a i20 which should have exactly the same setup as Rio. I switched to Conti PC5 185 R15 tyres when I bought it new straight away. Believe me it generates scary amount of g in corners and lane changes are very very confident despite some initial roll. Yes, it required some getting used to the steering and it feeled vogue at the beginning, but after some time it felt very natural. I have also driven a Fiesta on 175 R14 again on Conti but Eco tyres as a company car for some time. Feeling was OK but grip was relatively low, I would say 75%. I can't comment on a Fiesta on 195 R15 tyres though

I've done 36k miles on my Rio 1.1 in 18 months. Sits at 99.9mpg at 70 on motorway, needs a wee poke into 4th now and then if the hills get a little steeper but all in all a very civilised little safe feeling car.

Doesn't feel as slow as the paper stats suggest, but no, it isn't a fast car, did anybody really expect it to be? Does it's target market need it to be be?

Plenty of front and rear space, good spec even on my 1 air version. Stock tyres really rotten however, I replaced my fronts with goodyear eco tyres. Far less noise, car feels much better on windy roads (still not a sports car... not meant to be)

We looked at Polos, Ibizas, Fiestas and Corsas before getting the Rio, we could have spent £3k less on an ibiza and £2k on a polo or fiesta, so it wasn't a decision made on the cheap.

Last updated: 5 May, 2015