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Future models - Kia - Rio

First look: Kia goes sporty with all-new Rio

Gone to Rio: Kia is set to unveil its Rio light car at the Geneva show on March 1.

Rio takes next step in Kia’s style ‘revolution’ as Korean brand keeps models coming

Kia logo13 Jan 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

KIA Motors has started the countdown to launching its next-generation Rio light car at the Geneva motor show in March by releasing sketches of the five-door hatch – the first of three body configurations to be rolled out by the fast-growing South Korean company this year.

Showing a quantum leap in design over the current model that has done service in Ausrtralia since 2005, the sporty hatch is said to exhibit “the next big step in Kia’s design revolution” that has overhauled the brand's staid image.

The five-door model is expected to be followed in a couple of months – probably at the New York motor show in April – by the sedan version, and then later in the year – maybe at the Frankfurt motor show – by a three-door hatch.

All three configurations are expected to lob in Australian showrooms, starting with the top-selling five-door and possibly the sedan in a public debut at the Australian International Motor Show in July. Depending on stock arrival, sales will follow in either July or August.

Expect a choice of two engines from the Hyundai-Kia family, probably the latest 1.4 and 1.6-litre Gamma petrol engines delivering a respective 74kW/136Nm and 91kW/156Nm, as fitted to the Hyundai i30 and forthcoming Hyundai i25/Accent sedan.

The Rio range will share duties in the light-car segment with the new Kia Picanto, which will also share the limelight on the Kia stand at Geneva.

The smaller and cheaper Picanto is expected to be offered with a choice of 1.2 and 1.4-litre four-cylinder engines in Australia, although a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and 1.1-litre CRDi diesel engine also will be available from the factory.

17 center imageFrom top: Kia Rio interior sketch, current Kia Rio, 2011 Kia Picanto.

The new, third-generation Rio will help to make room for the Picanto in the range by growing slightly. The new UB models are said to be wider and longer than the existing cars, although lower in keeping with the new sporty styling.

The Rio and Picanto designs are both products of Kia’s German styling studio headed by former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, who describes the new Rio as sporty and elegant.

Kia says the new model is designed to inject emotional appeal into the B-segment (light car), targeting progressive, energetic consumers who want a stand-out design.

Kia’s overseas marketing director, Soon-Nam Lee, said the new Rio market the next big step in the company’s design revolution, helping to up the Rio’s popularity.

“Downsizing is becoming more and more of a trend these days, and a B-segment car as attractive as all-new Rio, with its driver-oriented cabin and interior trim options, will no doubt help consumers to be more comfortable making that switch,” he said.

Last year, the Rio was Kia’s third best-selling vehicle in overseas markets with sales of more than 205,000 units – 10 per cent of the company’s record 2,089,355 global sales, up a whopping 26.5 per cent on 2009.

In Australia, Kia sales climbed 22.9 per cent, to 23,848 – double the Australian new car market increase of 10.5 per cent.

In its last full year of sales in 2010, the current Rio managed 9052 units, up 6.5 per cent in a segment up 18.5 per cent – the biggest rise of any passenger car segment in this country.

Although Kia Motors Australia has yet to confirm that the Picanto will join the Rio in a twin-pronged assault on the light car segment here, it has made no bones that it is interested in the city car.

Don’t be surprised if the Picanto is unveiled alongside the Rio at the Australian International Motor Show in July, with a prospective launch date of second half 2011.

The Rio and Picanto will cap a big year for Kia in Australia, with the company set to launch its Camry fighter, the Optima, at the Kia-sponsored Australian Open this month.

While the Optima is set to become Kia’s local image leader, the Rio will be more important for sales volume growth, as its number-one seller, accounting for 39 per cent of Kia volume in 2010.

It next-best seller, the Carnival people-mover (3638 units in 2010), is also set for its own revolution next year, with the Californian-designed Kia KV7 concept van just unveiled at the Detroit motor show providing a hint of the potential funky new style for the eight-seat family bus that has led the segment for several years.

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