Car group tests

Kia Rio vs Volkswagen Polo vs Suzuki Baleno

We see if the latest Kia Rio can shake up the supermini market as it meets VW Polo and Suzuki Baleno

The supermini class is more crowded than ever, with the past 12 months welcoming a host of all-new or facelifted models. So the latest Kia Rio is going to have to be at the top of its game if it’s to stand any chance of toppling the established pecking order.

Kia is certainly leaving no stone unturned with this clean-sheet design, which is bigger than before and features the latest tech. It’s also powered by the recently launched 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol engine that was first seen in the larger Cee’d hatchback. The brand is claiming the newcomer is more grown-up than before as well, with a greater emphasis on refinement and quality.

To test this, we’ve brought the Rio face-to-face with our current class favourite, the Volkswagen Polo. Smart, classy, good to drive and cost-effective to run, the VW sets the bar high for any pretender to the small car crown.

Best superminis on sale right now

Completing our welcoming committee is the Suzuki Baleno, which rivals the Kia for space and kit, and also comes with a value-for-money price tag. So which of our trio will take the honours in this closely fought encounter?

Kia Rio

Model:Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDi 3
Price: £16,295
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo, 99bhp 
0-60mph: 9.2 seconds 
Test economy: 35.2mpg/7.7mpl 
CO2: 102g/km 
Annual road tax: £20

The pace of development is clearly relentless at Kia, with the fourth-generation Rio making its debut just a decade and a half or so after the original debuted. There’s a new platform and engines under the skin, while the newcomer is only available in five-door form this time around and there are three trims to choose from. Here we test the top-spec 3, powered by the 99bhp 1.0-litre turbo petrol, which costs £16,295

The last Rio served up a sensible and solid driving experience, and the new car hasn’t strayed far from this template. But the three-cylinder petrol is an eager and relatively refined performer, and thanks to some well chosen gear ratios it was the quickest from 0-60mph, with a surprisingly fast time of 9.2 seconds. However, the tables were turned during our in-gear tests, where the Kia was fractionally slower than both rivals.

In the real world these differences are hard to detect, and the Rio’s thrummy engine pulls strongly from 1,500rpm – although in the higher gears there’s some hesitation from the unit when accelerating from low revs. Either way, the Kia has no trouble keeping pace with its rivals, and the five-speed box is slicker than the vague Baleno’s.

Turn into a corner and you’ll discover the light and direct steering delivers nothing in the way of feedback. This characteristic masks otherwise safe and predictable handling that’s backed by decent grip. It’s not as agile as the Suzuki or as composed as the VW, but the Kia is easy and undemanding to drive.

It’s also fairly refined, with engine and wind noise well suppressed at a cruise. The same can’t be said for tyre roar, which is intrusive on coarse surfaces. Worse still is the noisy and inconsistent ride, which copes well with smooth surfaces but transmits too many thumps and jolts into the cabin over poor tarmac.

Testers' notes: “While rivals have given their superminis twin-clutch or CVT autos, Kia has stuck with a four-speed torque convertor auto. It’s only available in 1.4 2 guise and emits 140g/km. ”

Volkswagen Polo

Model:Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI Match Edition
Price: £15,090
Engine: 1.2-litre 4cyl turbo, 89bhp 
0-60mph:9.9 seconds
Test economy: 43.6mpg/9.6mpl 
CO2: 109g/km 
Annual road tax: £20

The Volkswagen Polo has been busy recently. As our favourite supermini, the German model has faced a barrage of new arrivals looking to steal its small car crown. With a blend of refinement, quality, practicality and precision, it’s got all the bases covered, and here we sample it in £15,090 1.2 TSI Match Edition guise.

A facelift in 2015 helped keep the Polo competitive and added a new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine. However, it’s this tried-and-tested 1.2 TSI 90 model that still proves to be popular with buyers.

With just 89bhp and 160Nm of torque, the four-cylinder unit is down on power compared with the smaller units in the Rio and Baleno. At the track, though, the eager engine was only at a real disadvantage during the 0-60mph sprint, where the VW was slowest with a time of 9.9 seconds. Yet while it continued to trail the Suzuki during our in-gear tests, it had the upper hand over the heavier Kia, narrowly beating it during all the 30-50mph and 50-70mph increments.

Away from the track, the Polo feels every bit as nippy as its rivals, plus its engine is smoother and quieter. In combination with its more mechanically accurate gearbox, it makes it easier and more satisfying to access the Polo’s performance potential.

And it’s not just the powertrain that sets the VW apart. Even though the underpinnings aren’t cutting edge, they’ve been thoroughly developed so that the chassis delivers a quieter and more comfortable ride than both the Kia and the Suzuki.

Not only does the damping round off nasty bumps more effectively, there’s also greater control, so the faster you drive, the more impressive the Polo is. Body roll is well checked, with the suspension absorbing bumps effectively and helping to ensure passengers aren’t as upset by road imperfections. Confidence is further boosted by the progressive and naturally weighted steering that allows you to place the car accurately and make the most of the impressive grip. It’s not quite as much fun as a Ford Fiesta, but the VW’s depth of ability is impressive.

Testers' notes: “The Polo’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder is out of step with the triples in its rivals here. However, VW has an efficient 1.0 three-cylinder with 94bhp or 108bhp that’s set to replace the 1.2.”

Suzuki Baleno

Model:Suzuki Baleno 1.0 Boosterjet SZ5
Price: £14,499
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo, 109bhp 
0-60mph:9.5 seconds
Test economy: 42.4mpg/9.3mpl 
CO2: 105g/km 
Annual road tax: £20

Suzuki’s Baleno supermini is packed with showroom appeal, as it offers space and kit at a bargain price. Just two engines and a pair of trims are available, so we’ve chosen the decent-value and well equipped £14,499 Baleno SZ5 1.0 Boosterjet. Is its blend of value and versatility enough to win here?

With 109bhp and 170Nm of torque on offer and a low kerbweight, the Baleno put on a strong show at the track. This was particularly true during our in-gear tests, where the Suzuki sprinted from 50-70mph in fifth in 9.2 seconds, which was 2.7 seconds and 1.7 seconds faster than the Kia and VW respectively. The result was the same during the 30-50mph increments, where the Suzuki pulled out a healthy advantage.

The Baleno had to give best to the Kia in the dash from 0-60mph, but a time of 9.5 seconds is brisk for a supermini. Head out into the real world and the Suzuki has no problem keeping up with fast flowing traffic, while overtaking is easy enough. The only performance black mark is reserved for the five-speed gearbox, which has a rubbery and indistinct action. 

Elsewhere, the Suzuki benefits from a compliant ride thanks to standard 16-inch wheels and acceptable body control, meaning it feels taut and composed on the road. Like the Swift, the car handles nicely enough, once again helped by a low kerbweight that allows it to change direction quickly and accurately. And while the steering doesn’t self-centre around the straight ahead position, it’s accurate and direct.

Despite its lack of mass, the Suzuki rides well, filtering out bumps with a finesse that some cars costing twice as much can’t match. It’s also reasonably refined – although like the Rio it can’t match the quiet and composed Polo for long-distance comfort.

Testers' notes: “A tougher Euro NCAP test means that the Baleno has two ratings. SZ-T models achieved three stars, while the SZ5 with AEB and adaptive cruise control gets four stars.”


First place: Volkswagen Polo

It’s due for replacement later this year, but the Polo still sets the supermini standard. Refined, good to drive, cost-effective to run, well finished and practical enough, it covers all the bases. It can’t match its rivals here for standard equipment, but it gets all the essentials, plus its price advantage over the Kia means you can spend some of the savings on some well chosen options.

Second place: Suzuki Baleno

If you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, then the Baleno is hard to ignore. It’s not that stylish, while the interior design and materials leave a lot to be desired, but it’s very spacious and has a kit list that would make an executive saloon blush. It delivers the strongest performance and boasts agile handling. The fact it’s the cheapest car to buy is the cherry on the cake.

Third place: Kia Rio

In many respects the Rio is a step backward over its predecessor. To our eyes it doesn’t look as attractive, while the interior is built from materials that wouldn’t look out of place in a budget city car. It’s also expensive. On the plus side, it’s well equipped, spacious and undemanding to drive. But in a class as competitive as this, the new Kia doesn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd.

Other options in this category

Skoda Fabia 1.2 TSI SE L 110

Skoda Fabia - front

Price: £15,445Engine: 1.2-litre 4cyl, 108bhp

The spacious Skoda Fabia rivals the Rio for practicality, plus its VW-sourced four-cylinder engine is on par with the Baleno for power. And while quality isn’t quite up to Polo standards, it feels more upmarket than both the Kia and Suzuki.

Hyundai i20 1.0 T-GDi Premium Nav

Hyundai i20 - front

Price: £15,820Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl, 99bhp

Under the skin, the i20 features the same platform and engine as the Rio. There’s little to separate the two for driving dynamics and practicality, but the Hyundai has a classier cabin than its sister car and undercuts it on price.


 VW Polo 1.2 TSI Match EditionSuzuki Baleno 1.0 BoosterJet SZ5Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDI 3
On the road price/total as tested£15,090/£15,090£14,499/£14,984£16,295/£16,780
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£6,836/45.3%£5,756/39.7%£6,599/40.5%
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£541/£1,083£520/£1,040£552/£1,104
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,502/£2,503£1,545/£2,574£1,861/£3,101
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost15/£714/B/£2011/£463/B/£20TBC/£480/B/£20
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£288 (2yrs/20k)£129/£259/£129£299 (3yrs/30k)
Engine4cyl in-line/1,197cc3cyl in-line/998cc3cyl in-line/998cc
Peak power/revs 89/4,800 bhp/rpm109/5,500 bhp/rpm99/4,500 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 160/1,400 Nm/rpm170/2,000 Nm/rpm171/1,500 Nm/rpm
Transmission 5-spd man/fwd5-spd man/fwd5-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel45 litres/foam37 litres/foam45 litres/foam
Boot capacity (seats up/down)280/952 litres320/1,085 litres325/980 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,107/531/1,000kg950/480/1,000kg1,228/372/1,000kg
Turning circle10.6 metres9.8 metresTBC
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/1yr3yrs (60,000)/1yr7yrs (100,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable (1yr)/22312,500 (1yr)/14910,000 (1yr)/187
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos19th/28th24th/7th14th/9th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars90/86/41/71/5 (2009)85/73/65/43/4 (2016)N/A
0-60/30-70mph9.9/10.2 secs9.5/9.0 secs9.2/9.1 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th5.0/7.2 secs4.3/6.2 secs5.1/7.4 secs
50-70mph in 5th10.9 secs9.2 secs11.9 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 114mph/2,600rpm124mph/2,500rpm115mph/2,500rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 51.4/36.9/9.4m57.9/38.8/11.9m47.1/35.9/10.1m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph62/50/58/68dB66/51/66/74dB55/42/62/70dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range43.6/9.6/432 miles42.4/9.3/345 miles35.2/7.7/348 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 47.1/70.6/60.1mpg52.3/70.6/62.7mpg54.3/68.9/62.8mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 10.4/15.5/13.2mpl11.5/15.5/13.8mpl11.9/15.2/13.8mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket150/109g/km/18%154/105g/km/18%185/102g/km/17%
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraFour/yes/yes/£245Six/yes/no/yesSix/yes/yes/yes
Auto box/stability/cruise control/AEB£1,375/y/y/£400^£1,380/yes/yes/yesNo/yes/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seats£380/no/£360Yes/no/noYes/artificial/yes
Metallic paint/xenon lights/keyless go£555/£910*/no£485/yes/yes£485/no/no
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/Bluetooth£700/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes

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