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Car reviews - Kia - Rio - 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Lively performance, good boot and cabin space
Room for improvement
Cabin smell, vague steering, noisy when pushed

19 Apr 2001

KIA's Rio, in manual five-door hatch form, offers good value for the money - and is a cut above its four-door hatch sibling.

Tens of thousands of small Kias have been sold in Australia over the past few years, badged as Ford Festivas - but the South Korean factory will keep the Rio under its own banner and force the Blue Oval to find another source of entry level cars.

As on most cars, opening the door of the Rio after a few hours of standing locked-up released a smell from the cabin's fabrics, plastics and adhesives.

However, the Rio's was unusual and the best way to describe it would be "morning after a bush-fire". It goes away within minutes and is not particularly objectionable, just unusual.

Most of the rest of the car is satisfactory with peppy performance, a high specification level, good cabin space and adequate handling and brakes complementing neat styling and a surprisingly high build quality.

Body styling cues are more modern than the sedan, with a tidy front end with its under-bumper air-dam, more accentuated rising waistline and stylishly rounded rump. There is an extra window behind the rear door and C-pillar on the hatch.

Both ends of the hatchback are dominated by large, bright lamp-clusters but there is almost no brightwork - apart from a thin chromed strip around the grille - and all parts, including rubbing strip, bumper bars, mirrors and door handles, are body-coloured. Metallic paint is a $150 option.

Unlike the sedan, where the rear doors arc down towards the back and can make bumped heads a common occurrence, the hatch offers more generous access and once seated, occupants' headroom is generous.

In addition, the hatch's access is as wide as the sedan's boot aperture is small, making loading up as easy as lifting up as high as the rear bumper bar.

Interior space is good in the front, fair in the back, as long as the front row passengers do not have long legs the middle passenger in the back seat gets only a lap belt.

Inside, the fit, finish and trim are up to the standards of more expensive Japanese cars, with controls well placed the steering column does not adjust but standard equipment includes a driver's airbag, power steering, air-conditioning and an in-dash radio/CD player. Mirrors and windows are manually adjusted.

The standard radio unit is awful, with tiny, fiddly little buttons that are hard to find when parked, let alone while on the move. AM station reception is less than ordinary and this unit lets down what is otherwise a competent dash layout.

The clutch and gearshift actions are light and positive, although the gear lever vibrates, making sure you do not rest your hand on it for longer than you need to.

There is good space in the footwell and the car was easy to drive, although enthusiastic drivers will find the ride mushy and the handling uninspiring. In suburban driving, which is where most Rios will see most action, the car goes where it is pointed with minimal aggravation.

At much over 100km/h the engine noise and vibration begin to get intrusive.

Driven with gusto, the steering becomes vague and detached, offering little feedback to the driver.

The ride is unrefined in that coarse road surfaces make themselves heard and damping over bumps is unremarkable.

However, the hatch's cabin was generally a quieter place than the sedan's, much as you might expect the hatch to be a bit of a drum.

Under the bonnet, power comes from a four-cylinder, 1500cc engine driving the front wheels through a five-speed gearbox.

Power is claimed to be a respectable 73.5kW at 5800rpm but the engine is coarse, noisy and breathless much beyond the mid-range. Maximum torque of 135Nm is claimed at 4500rpm, which is about as high as you would want to rev it anyway.

Kia has fitted the Rio with novel air-filled crash bladders in the crumple zones which absorb impact in the event of a bingle, or progressively burst in something more serious.

Ford wanted the Rio to be the car to replace the Festiva - Ford failed to get it and only Kia will sell the Rio. For first-time new-car buyers or people who want some features but to whom the driving experience is not especially important, the South Korean offering represents a serious alternative to much more basic Japanese cars.

- Automotive NetWorks 25/10/2000

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