In-depth reviews

Kia Rio (2017-2023) review - Engines, performance and drive

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

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Engines, performance and drive Rating

3.3 out of 5

Find your Kia Rio
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
Or are you looking to sell your car?
9/10 sellers got the price they expected
Advertisement

The Kia Rio shares much with the Hyundai i20 under its skin, including major components such as the chassis and some 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, 0-60 acceleration and top speed

The naturally aspirated four-cylinder 1.2-litre engine is low on power and torque compared to the smaller capacity turbo units. In the real world, this will mean the engine (and five-speed manual gearbox) will have to be worked harder to get the best performance. Sprinting from 0 to 60mph takes quite a while (12.7 seconds to be exact) and top speed is 108mph. Despite the modest performance numbers, the engine is reasonably refined when kept at the slower speeds typical of urban streets. 

The mild-hybrid three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo unit produces just one more brake horsepower than the old (discontinued) 1.4, but significantly more torque at 200Nm. With the engine matched to Kia’s six-speed manual gearbox, such figures translate to a 0 to 60mph time of 9.8 seconds and a top speed of 118mph. Going for an automatic transmission adds 0.1 seconds onto the 0 to 60mph time but does nothing to the top speed. 

The non-hybrid 1.0-litre produces 172Nm of torque but only 99bhp. Again using Kia’s six-speed manual ‘box, 0 to 60mph is claimed to take 10.0 seconds and top speed is 115mph. Going for an automatic transmission adds a second onto the 0 to 60mph time and 2mph onto the top speed. The extra torque of the 1.0-litre engines means the Rio can be much more flexible at lower engine speeds, and more refined thanks to the reduced need to rev it out. They aren’t the best three-cylinder turbo engines on the market by any stretch, but it injects some much needed urgency into the Rio’s driving experience. 

The last diesel Rios to be offered by Kia came with a 1.4-litre CRDi engine. There were two power outputs to choose from; 76bhp or 89bhp. The latter offered the strongest performance thanks to 250Nm of torque available from just 1,500rpm. Regardless, shifting consumer demands called time on diesel-fuelled Rios in 2020.

Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    1.25 1 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £12,820

Most Economical

  • Name
    1.0 T GDi 48V 118 3 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £19,870

Fastest

  • Name
    1.0 T GDi 48V 118 3 5dr
  • Gearbox type
    Manual
  • Price
    £19,870
News reporter

As our news reporter, Ellis is responsible for covering everything new and exciting in the motoring world, from quirky quadricycles to luxury MPVs. He was previously the content editor for DrivingElectric and won the Newspress Automotive Journalist Rising Star award in 2022.

Most Popular

Government in major U-turn on pick-up truck tax changes
Ford Ranger - side
News

Government in major U-turn on pick-up truck tax changes

HMRC scraps its plan to axe the benefit-in-kind ‘loophole’ for pick-ups, a week after announcing it
19 Feb 2024
“Some manufacturers are losing their appetite for electric cars”
Opinion - Ford Explorer
Opinion

“Some manufacturers are losing their appetite for electric cars”

With EV market share shrinking, Mike Rutherford thinks there might be delays to the proposed 2035 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars
19 Feb 2024
Car Deal of the Day: Land Rover Defender looks the business at £324 per month
Defender Hard Top - downhill off road
News

Car Deal of the Day: Land Rover Defender looks the business at £324 per month

The current Defender is a fantastic SUV van for businesses and is our Car Deal of the Day for 20 February
20 Feb 2024