Categories: Cars, Read|By |

I’ve been a big fan of the current-generation Kia Rio ever since Juliet and I attended the launch in Johannesburg in the middle of 2017. I like its conservatively classy design, well-built interior and generous specification, especially on the top-spec 1.4 TEC derivative. However, its engines – all naturally aspirated units – are sluggish at the Reef where turbocharged rivals feel much peppier.

Fast-forward three and a half years and not much has changed following the introduction of a facelifted Rio. That said, the specification has been enhanced even further and Kia South Africa has cleverly added a value-packed model to the range. At the launch in Cape Town, we drove the Rio 1.4 LS.

TELL ME ABOUT THAT NEW MODEL?

The entry-level option remains the 1.2 LS (Kia cleverly gave me a pre-facelift Rio with this engine to drive before the launch – I was impressed with its refinement and acceptably punchy performance in the oxygen-rich coastal air) but the local arm of the Korean company has added the familiar 1.4-litre engine in LS grade for just R11 000 more. Kia’s also taken the opportunity to enhance the standard-features tally; LS level now includes 15-inch alloy wheels in place of steel items clad in plastic covers, plus a new eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system that’s standard across the range, boasts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and is a cinch to use. It plays audio through six speakers instead of the previous four and has aux-in and USB sockets. Furthermore, auto windows and mirrors are included, and so is air-con, steering controls and rake and reach adjustment for the column. It’s as well equipped as your could reasonably expect.

AND THE REST OF THE RANGE?

Well, all new Rios boast a reprofiled front bumper with relocated foglamps on models so equipped (LX, EX and TEC), as well as a flatter ‘tiger nose’ grille. LX nets auto-folding mirrors, leather trim on the steering wheel and gear knob, plus an LCD 4,2-inch instrumentation screen. EX gains the same 17-inch alloys as the flagship model, plus PDC and a parking camera. TEC is as luxurious as you’d like and sets a standard for big-car features in the B-segment. Two new paint colours have been added, including Sporty Blue pictured here.

As I mentioned, elsewhere it’s business as usual. The 1.4-litre delivers 73 kW and 135 Nm of torque at 4 200 r/min, sent to the front wheels via either a six-speed manual gearbox (slick-shifting – Korean cars really get this aspect right) or a torque-converter automatic with half a dozen ratios. If you don’t require the convenience offered by the self-shifter, I’d recommend the manual. It’s also R17 000 cheaper. You’ll also avoid the automatic’s hunting between fifth and sixth gears at the national limit (although you can take control manually via the shifter) and be able to exploit the four-pot’s moderate performance.

Thanks to generous sidewalls wrapping the LS’ 15-inch wheels, the ride is controlled but cushioned. To drive, the Rio feels as mature as it looks and refinement is very good, even at a brisk cruise. I’d like a smidge more weight in the steering system, but its lightness is a fair compromise in town driving.

VERDICT

While it might seem there’s not much to report on the facelifted Rio, the big news is the new 1.4 LS. At R291 995 for the manual and R308 995 for the auto, it offers comparatively excellent value against its main VW Polo, Hyundai i20 and Ford Fiesta rivals, and is definitely the Rio to get. Add a solidly built cabin (a soft-touch surface here and there wouldn’t go amiss, though, especially on the doors), relative spaciousness and a great warranty, and you have one of the B-segment’s more accomplished options. Just don’t expect the same punchy performance as the Polo and Fiesta’s boosted 1.0-litre engines, especially if you live inland.

PRICING

All Kia Rio 1.4s come with a four-year/60 000 km service plan and five-year/unlimited km warranty. The 1.2 LS has a two-year/30 000 km service plan but boasts the same warranty.

Kia Rio 1.2 LS Manual: R280 995

Kia Rio 1.4 LS Manual: R291 995

Kia Rio 1.4 LS Auto: R308 995

Kia Rio 1.4 LX Manual: R306 995

Kia Rio 1.4 LX Auto: R323 995

Kia Rio 1.4 EX Manual: R319 995

Kia Rio 1.4 EX Auto: R336 995

Kia Rio 1.4 TEC Manual: R344 995

Kia Rio 1.4 TEC Auto: R361 995

For an alternative take on the Rio, don’t miss Juliet’s five quick thoughts:

About the Author: Terence Steenkamp
Editor. Car lover. Traveller. Doggy dad. Pinot noir drinker.