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Car reviews - Kia - Rio - SLi 5-dr hatch

The Car

6 Dec 2011

VYING for the title of 2011’s most improved car – instead of simply remaining one of the cheapest - Kia’s all-new Rio is now on sale in Australia, priced from $16,290 plus on-road costs.

While that buys the 1.4-litre five-door S hatchback, a sub-$15,000 three-door hatch opener should follow early next year, as well as a four-door sedan version of the new-generation UB-series, completing Kia’s light-car transformation from a $13,490 drive-away cheapie to a bona-fide Mazda2/Ford Fiesta alternative.

Styled in California under the watchful eye of ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer, the five-door hatch range will comprise three specification levels – S, Si and SLi.

All come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox and should also offer five-star ANCAP crash-test safety, thanks partly to six airbags and the Hyundai group’s Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system that integrates electronic stability control and anti-lock braking technologies with a torque-assisted steering system.

Motivating the S is a 1396cc DOHC 16-valve multi-point fuel-injected four-cylinder petrol engine with continuous variable valve timing (CVVT), producing 79kW of power at 6300rpm and 135Nm of torque at 4200rpm.

Although that is a respective 9kW and 10Nm increase over the previous JB Rio equivalent, this Euro 4 emissions-rated engine uses about 10 per cent less fuel at 5.7 litres per 100km combined, or 6.3L/100km for the four-speed automatic version. Carbon dioxide emissions are rated at 135 grams per kilometre (auto: 150g/km).

Incredibly, the more powerful 1.6-litre Si and SLi models return even lower fuel consumption (5.6L/100km, 6.1L/100km auto) and CO2 emissions (133g/km, 145g/km auto) despite their 195cc larger engine.

The all-new Gamma series 1591cc DOHC 16V GDI ‘Gasoline Direct Injection’ CVVT mill delivers a class-leading 103kW at 6300rpm and 167Nm at 4850rpm. Top speed is 180km/h while the 0-100km/h-sprint time takes 10.2 seconds (auto: 10.3).

Matching the Fiesta for forward ratios (if not the seven-speed DSG-equipped Volkswagen Polo), the 1.6 GDI also brings with it a six-speed automatic transmission option. As with the 1.4’s four-speed auto, Kia’s ‘Manumatic’ sequential shift pattern is included.

Also relatively rare for the class is four-wheel disc braking, with 256mm and 280mm rotors up front in the S and Si respectively, and 262mm discs at the rear for all models.

Along with the aforementioned VSM, ESC and ABS, there is also hill-start assist control (HAC), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist (EBA).

Based on the same global ‘B/C’-segment small car platform that also underpins Hyundai’s new RB Accent, the Rio conforms to light-car segment norms in brandishing MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension systems.

Compared to the outgoing Rio, the UB is longer by 20mm at 4045mm, wider by 25mm at 1720mm and lower by 15mm at 1455mm. In the interests of significantly greater cabin space – and to the unending benefit of styling, according to hatch designer Massimo Fraschella – the wheelbase is extended by 70mm to 2570mm.

Despite the lower roofline, the Rio’s aerodynamic drag co-efficient drops by just 0.01 to 0.32Cd, making it a little quieter cleaving through the wind.

On the subject of lowering noise (as well as vibration and harshness), the electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system (dubbed MDPS, for Motor Driven Powered Steering, in Hyundai/Kia-speak) has stiffer support brackets.

While more high-strength steel than before is employed throughout the vehicle, there is also a more rigid bodyshell with reinforced panels within the C-pillar, a stronger rear fascia and increased stiffness in the tailgate skins.

Also beefed up are the engine bay longitudinal side members, floor panel side members, floor-level cross-member between the B-pillars and the transverse dashboard bulkhead.

Larger hydraulic mountings for the drivetrain are also said to help quell vibration tendencies.

Kerb weight (with a 75kg driver on board) varies from 1143kg (1.4 manual) to 1215kg (1.6 auto), while braked towing capacity is 850kg (1.4 auto), 950kg (1.6 auto), 1050kg (1.4 manual) and 1150kg (1.6 manual).

The ‘Australianisation’ process commenced earlier this year, with the Fiesta and Polo benchmarked for their respective dynamic and refinement qualities. Also present were the Suzuki Swift and Hyundai i20.

As a result of almost six months testing over 5000km, the Rio boasts Oz-specific shock absorbers, tauter than European-tune suspension settings, unique MDPS calibrations, different springs, and 44 per cent larger stabiliser bars.

It was a five-stage process involving benchmark setting against rivals, prototype testing in Australia, then further proving ground evaluation in South Korea, followed by validation testing against the benchmarks with the new components back in Oz, before final sign-off.

One insider described the transformation from the Korean-market Rio as amazing, calling the domestic version ‘unsuitable’ by comparison.

Along with the active and passive safety items including dual front, front-side and curtain airbags, even the base Rio boasts a seatbelt reminder chime for all five seats, plus tilt/telescopic steering adjustment, remote Bluetooth telephony with audio streaming, radio/CD/MP3 capability, powered windows front and rear, a six-function trip computer, electric heated outside mirrors and 185/65 R15 tyres on steel rims.

The Si adds the 1.6 GDI engine, six-speed auto availability, cruise control, improved audio, electrically folding exterior mirrors, 195/55 R16 tyres on alloy wheels, improved cabin illumination, a gear up/down shift indicator on manual models and an ‘ECO’ economical driving reward light on the auto, centre console armrest and storage, improved trim, foglights and fancier instrumentation.

Spending just $1000 more on the SLi brings an upgrade from Kuhmo 16s to 205/45 R17 Continental tyres, plus LED daytime running lights, projector headlights, static cornering lamps, LED rear combination tail-lights, auto-on/off headlights and larger front disc brakes.

Some 85 per cent of the Rio is recyclable, says Kia, which expects the majority of sales over the life of the UB to go to the S, although earlier on – and with the aid of many fleet buyers needing standard cruise control – the Si might make up for half of all volume.

Obtaining around a 10 per cent share of the light-car segment – or approximately 1000 units per month – is the Rio’s goal. That would put it in the top six of the class amongst the just-discontinued Hyundai Getz, Mazda2, Toyota Yaris, Fiesta and Swift.

Kia believes that with the Getz gone and replaced by an all-new Accent and repositioned i20, and redesigned Yaris and Holden Barina models just around the corner, the light-car segment is in a state of flux and will undergo a significant change in pecking order.

It also says the price-driven sub-$14,000 category will continue to create a divide in the segment as the number of Chinese competitors and sub-B models like Kia’s own Picanto, due in 2013, increases.

“The Rio is now in a new league, playing in the big end of town,” says Kia Motors Australia chief operating officer Tony Barlow.

“The Rio is intrinsically different to its predecessor… and will change people’s perception of the Kia brand,” he added.

Did you know?

Rio designer Massimo Fraschella deliberately tried to add a more masculine look to the Rio by incorporating a faster windscreen, lower roof, shallower side glass area, and more muscular rear haunches.

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