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There has been quite a product churn happening in the KIA stable of late. Not only did the new Cadenza bring in a change at the top of the segment, the smaller cars have seen an upgrade with the new Picanto and Rio coming out within months of each other.

The Rio is the sort of car that best defines the KIA proposition, as we know it. Targeted at a volume entry segment, the RIO has been building on an incremental approach, gradually getting bigger, cleaning up its ride and handling and now offering a very global set of features that allow it to appeal equally to markets in Europe, the United States and even in the Middle East.

Spencer Cho, Director of Overseas Product Marketing, Kia Motors Corporation, commented, “As one of our best-selling models worldwide, the Rio is an important car for Kia. The B-segment is a hotly-contested area of the new car market, and the third-generation Rio has introduced more people to the Kia brand than ever before.

“The Rio’s attractive design, low running costs and practical nature have made the car a ‘gateway’ to the brand, an entry point into Kia ownership for hundreds of thousands of buyers around the world. It’s for these reasons that the outgoing model has sold in record numbers. The all-new Rio builds on these strengths and has been designed and engineered to meet the needs and desires of a wider range of buyers – it is now even more desirable thanks to a more enjoyable drive, a striking new design and improved safety.”

The car is now in its fourth generation and has undergone a significant revamp. Some of the most significant changes include a greater shift towards use of ultra high strength steel panels and high strength panels. This works towards increasing the stiffness, while lowering the NVH levels of the car. External panels have also undergone a change, with the next generation of the brand’s tiger-nose grille becoming the focal point for a new headlight treatment (with brilliant LED signature), more pronounced lower fascia and then the move back into a slightly longer and better defined bonnet.

Perhaps slightly more significant is the shift to a better-defined profile for the five-door, taking it away ever so gradually from the sedan. The wheelbase grows by 10mm to 2,580mm, while the overall length rises by a little bit more to 4,065mm. In the bargain the ratios of the profile have been changed, with a less raked rear end and the wheels looking like they have been shifted rearwards. The front of the car benefits from the wraparound headlight treatment; while the rear evokes an ever so German hatchback feel.

That German hatchback is enhanced at the full-on rearview – with a new generation of LED lights and reformed tailgate adding visual drama as well as adding to the upmarket feel. That is further boosted by the availability of 17”-wheels as standard on the top grades (with two types of alloy wheels) although the base car would get the 14” wheels. The 17”-wheels fill up the bays and lead you to think that there could be GT versions offer (no, the turbocharged variant will not sell in the Middle East).

The test cars on offer at the media drive were all similarly kitted, although apparently some of them had the smaller 1.4-litre engine, while the rest had the 1.6-litre. The larger engine produces 23PS more than the base 100PS unit and also benefits from better torque with 151Nm available at a higher 4,850rpm against the base unit’s 133Nm that peaks at 4,000rpm. In either case the engines are offered with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, although we don’t really see the 1.6-litre getting the manual in the product mix in the region. The automatic gearbox still suffers from being taller geared that you would expect, but it is quieter than before.

The biggest draw of the updated Rio five-door is in the interiors. KIA’s new interior design theme using a tab-like display offered in various iterations, including some that are essentially colour LCD displays with hardkeys surrounding them as the centre point.  It’s called the floating human machine interface. Below that is the tiered approach to the air-conditioning and drive controls.  The dashboard gets the benefit of better colour co-ordination but in the bargain has also become slightly tackier with some parts feeling almost wafer thin.

The seats have undergone a degree of change, they feel quite well formed and we appreciated the bolstering on the long drive out to Abu Dhabi and back. But the biggest upgrade to the interior will be in terms of connectivity and mobile phone integration, as well as the package that offers the 5” touchscreen and rearview camera. You also get some unique interior trim options with a Red pack that adds sporty red on black surfaces as well as leather trimmed steering wheel and gearshift knob. On top of that the new generation gets keyless entry and button start, heated outside rearview mirrors and up to six airbags.

While we didn’t actually get a chance to test the car out properly, considering that the bulk of the drive was along the arterial Dubai to Abu Dhabi road, the main points that we were able to note was that the engine has become slightly more muted with better NVH, the gearbox shifts with less drama and the reworked suspension shows a slightly better response rate – the car seems better settled despite staying with a torsion beam setup at the rear.

In the new guise the Rio brings an upgraded package to the market. We understand that various country markets are different in the region, with the UAE dealer confident that better than 50% of the sales of the Rio will come from the five-door variant, with the higher spec levels actually being in greater demand. They are quite excited with the new interiors and trims available and it looks like they are better equipped to target the evolved hatchback market. The same may not be true of Oman, where the preference is towards the sedan version, which is expected to join the lineup later this year.

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