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New York show: Rio rises up the ranks

Rio grand: Prices will rise when Kia's new light car is launched here in September.

Kia’s upcoming Euro-inspired hatch and sedan gain sophistication – but at a price

25 Apr 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in NEW YORK

KIA IS COUNTING on European design and technological sophistication to offset price hikes in the order of 20 per cent for its important upcoming UB Rio range.

The sleek new four-door sedan variant was unveiled at the New York International Auto Show last week as a different and more conservative car to the China-only K2 sedan Kia presented in Shanghai just two days earlier.

Kia Australia public relations manager Kevin Hepworth said the Korean company’s fifth-generation light car has sophistication and features to mix it with the best in its class, but will cost more.

“The new Rio is a much more advanced car – and its price will reflect that,” said Mr Hepworth. “This is a whole new ballgame for Kia.

“We have big hopes for the Rio in Australia and once people see for themselves how much Kia has changed they will accept the price rise.”

Kia will not reveal exact pricing for the five-door hatch that debuted at the Geneva motor show in March, but a $16,000 kick-off is a good bet for the base Rio S when it is launched in Australia in September, followed by $2000 increments for the Si and top-level SLi.

The new four-door sedan seen here is expected to cost the same as the hatch when it follows in the first quarter of 2012, coinciding with the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne that is sponsored by Kia and commences in late January.

Meanwhile, the as-yet unsighted three-door Rio range due in the first half of 2012 is expected to be the company’s price leader, opening from around $15,000.

17 center imageMr Hepworth said the staggered launch sequence for the newcomers is so that each variant “enjoys its own place in the sun”.

While the hatchback’s styling is the work of Massimo Fraschella – who is based at Kia’s California studio and was responsible also for the well-received Sportage – the UB sedan was based on the five-door and executed at the company’s headquarters in Seoul.

Connecting the Rio with the Sportage (as well as the latest Optima) are clean surfaces, wedgy lines, a racy profile and sculpted shoulder lines.

The Rio receives a slimmed-down version of the corporate ‘Tiger’ grille and a unique headlight look.

Among the advanced features are new GDI ‘gasoline’ direct injection four-cylinder petrol powerplants, six-speed transmissions across the range (a first for the sub-$20,000 light-car segment in Australia) and Kia’s ISG idle-stop technology – an emissions and fuel consumption-reducing device that automatically stops the engine when the vehicle is not in motion, then fires up again when the brake pedal is released.

Mr Hepworth said there was no reason why Australian-spec cars could not offer the idle-stop technology, but would not confirm final Rio specifications.

The most likely engine for Australia is the all-new 100kW 1.6-litre GDI unit that Kia said delivers consumption of between 5.8 and 7.8 litres per 100km.

Suspension is the usual light-car fare, meaning MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear axle, while the steering system is expected to be an electrically powered set-up for Australia.

Improved interior space and better quality materials are among Kia’s goals for the Rio, with a longer wheelbase than before (up to 2570mm) also benefitting cargo space. At 4366mm in length, the sedan is some 320mm longer than the hatch. Width and height measurements come in at 1720mm and 1455mm respectively.

Kia claims torsional stiffness has risen markedly in its latest generation baby, thanks partly to an increase in the use of high-tensile strength steel, with consequential improvements in terms of safety, refinement, handling, steering and ride quality.

On the safety front, the UB models will include six airbags, three-point seatbelts for all seating positions, electronic stability control, ABS brakes, traction control and even a hill-start assist system known as HAC.

While the US-spec vehicles on display at the New York show offered satellite navigation, Australian-bound Rios are likely to offer a different and locally developed GPS system if there is sufficient customer demand.

Kia personnel would not comment on the possibility of a hot hatch version of the new Rio, but one insider said the Fraschella design lends itself to a sportier version than the existing model.

Whether Australian consumers will see the expected turbo-diesel engine range destined for European customers also remains to be seen.

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