In-depth reviews

Kia Rio review - Engines, performance and drive

Turbo petrol engine is punchy and refined, but disappointing ride and refinement and average handling disappoint

The Kia Rio shares much with the Hyundai i20 under the skin, including the chassis and some of the powertrains. Kia claims its car has been tuned differently, however, with focus on improving both comfort and driveability. 

Unfortunately, the result is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Rio handles tidily enough, with good body control in the bends, accurate (but feel-free) steering and decent agility. It lacks the sense of involvement or fun found in the Ford Fiesta, yet it’s acceptable for the class.

The moderately engaging handling comes at the expense of ride comfort and refinement, though. It’s by no means uncomfortable, but the Rio feels quite firm over all but the smoothest surfaces and can get a bit crashy over big bumps. Refinement isn’t all that impressive either: wind noise is kept at bay, but road noise is noticeable on the UK’s poor surfaces. Both these issues only get worse with the larger wheels of top-spec cars. In this respect, it’s no better than the previous generation Kia Rio.

That’s a shame, because around town the Rio is likeable enough, thanks to good all-round visibility, a slick gearshift and light clutch, plus those smooth and nippy engines. 

Engines

Experience of the old Rio Mk3 means the four-cylinder naturally aspirated 1.25 and 1.4 litre petrol engines are likely to be refined but short on torque, needing revs to get the best out of them. Those looking at the 1.4 would likely be better served by the new 1.0-litre turbo – although the 1.4 is the only engine available with an automatic gearbox (a dated four-speed unit). 

The three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo unit produces just one more brake horsepower than the 1.4, but significantly more torque at 171Nm. It means it’s much more flexible at low revs, and more refined thanks to the reduced need to rev it out. It’s not the best three-cylinder turbo on the market by any stretch, but it injects some much needed urgency into the Rio’s driving experience. The unit is also available with 118bhp and useful extra top-end performance, but only on the pricey top-spec First Edition model. 

Diesel superminis aren’t hugely popular, but Kia continues to offer them anyway. The super frugal 1.1 litre diesel has been ditched, which is a pity, but the 1.4 CRDi is offered in two power outputs: 76bhp and 89bhp. We’ve yet to try the former, but the latter offers strong performance thanks to a healthy 250Nm of torque available from just 1,500rpm. It isn’t as willing to rev as the best small diesels, however, and the petrol options are still quieter and smoother

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