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First drive: Kia Rio’s triple treat

More bodystyles: Kia has released a three-door version of the Rio light car, alongside a new sedan and the existing five-door hatch.

New sedan and three-door hatch bring Rio range to three as Kia chases big sales gain


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9 Feb 2012

KIA Motors Australia (KMAu) is counting on new additions to its Rio light car line-up to help drive the double-digit sales growth it expects this year.

The ambitious South Korean importer has added a three-door Rio hatchback and four-door Rio sedan to its existing five-door hatchback range that entered the Australian market in September, when it lifted the Rio bar several notches from cheap runabout to stylish urban mover.

The company has a publicly stated ambition to be Australia’s fastest-growing major brand in 2012, coming off 2011 sales growth of 5.4 per cent – about double the growth rate of the market.

Last month, Kia sales leapt 24.4 per cent over January last year, and the company promises it wasn’t a fluke, with plans to repeat big monthly gains this year.

A great deal is hanging on the new UB-series Rio that is not only Kia’s biggest seller but the recipient of a well-publicised award that did no harm to January sales.

In the previous model’s run-out year in 2011, the Rio suffered a 31.7 per cent slide in sales, achieving a 12-month tally of 6187 units, but the latest fourth-generation five-door model rejuvenated the nameplate, along with showroom traffic.

This year, Kia hopes to shift up to 8000 units, and while that is still down on 2010 numbers of about 9000, it is heading in the right direction.

While the five-door Rio – in S, Si and SLi levels – is still expected to dominate Rio sales, Kia says the new three-door and sedan models will add “worthwhile incremental sales” to the brand’s Australian tally.

The Rio is one of the few light-cars to stride into battle with three body shapes (3D, 5D and 4D), with most others offering only the most popular design – the five-door layout that now swallows more than 80 per cent of the light car segment sales – with perhaps a sedan alternative.

Toyota also adds a three-door, as does Kia sister company Hyundai, but only in its smaller i20 city car, not the Accent Kia’s new-to-the-range Rio three-door variant has the same overall dimensions as the new five-door, sitting on an identical 2570mm wheelbase and stretching the same 4055mm in length.

The loss of two doors will save buyers of the base S three-door $1000 over the similarly equipped five-door, therefore becoming the new gateway to the Rio range, at $15,290.

This sits the model in the middle of the light-car pack, $500 cheaper than the cheapest Mazda2, the $15,790 five-door Neo, but $300 more expensive than the $14,990 three-door Toyota Yaris YR.

It is also more expensive than the previous Rio’s $14,990 entry five-door, the 1.4 LX.

Like the latest five-door Rio S, the three-door S is powered by an improved version of Kia’s 1.4-litre multi-point injected petrol four-cylinder engine that now churns out 79kW of power at 6300rpm and 135Nm of torque at 4200rpm, which is 9kW and 10Nm more than the previous unit in the Rio.

This engine is matched with a choice of six-speed manual gearbox or simple four-speed automatic.

All other levels in the Rio range – Si, SLi and SLS – get the direct-injected 1.6-litre Gamma engine that scored a spot on the prestigious Ward’s Ten Best Engines list last year.

This GDi (gasoline direct injection) engine boasts 103kW at 6300rmp and 167Nm at 4850rpm, which Kia says is a 13 per cent lift in power over a multi-point port injected version.

The zero-to-100km/h sprint is said to take 10.2 seconds with the six-speed manual transmission, and 10.3 seconds with the six-speed automatic that has been transplanted from Kia’s bigger vehicles, such as the Optima.

Despite the extra cubic capacity of the bigger of the two Rio engines, the 1.6 boasts slightly better fuel consumption, at 5.6 litres per 100km for the manual and 6.1L/100km for the auto on the official combined test cycle.

By contrast, the 1.4-litre unit scores 5.7L/100km with its five-speed manual shifter and 6.3L/100km with its automatic transmission, which has just four forward speeds.

All Rios ride on an identical locally tuned suspension set-up, with MacPherson struts on the front and torsion beam on the rear.

Steering is up-to-the-minute electric power assisted rack and pinion, again with local input to suit Aussie tastes and conditions.

The new three-door addition can be had in two specification levels – the aforementioned Rio S base model and the spicier SLS that weighs in at $19,990 for the manual and $21,990 for the auto.

The sedan comes in just one level (Si) that will target older buyers – particularly empty-nesters looking to downsize – and fleets.

The old lacklustre JB Rio was out of reach of those fleets with stringent safety and environmental requirements, but the new unit gets a sparking report card on all fronts, including a five-star ANCAP rating.

The cheap and cheerful Rio S – the most popular level in the five-door range – kicks off the range with 15-inch steel wheels (full-sized spare), six-airbags, tilt and telescope steering wheel, heated exterior mirrors, central locking, six-function trip computer, rear hatch window wiper, four-speaker audio, Bluetooth and hill-start control.

The Si moves up with the better engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, centre armrest, more comprehensive dash instrumentation, soft-touch trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and transmission shift knob, cruise control and metal-look finish on several surfaces.

The Si sedan also gets some minor styling differentiation around the nose, including the headlights, grille, fog lights and lower air opening in the fascia.

The SLi – available only in five-door only – gets the biggest alloy wheel and tyre combo (17-inch, 205/45), projection front headlights, LED daytime running lights, cornering lamps, auto headlamps and a bigger disc brake package.

The range-topping three-door – the SLS – is the same as the SLi equipment level, but adds climate control, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry and start, leather upholstery and dual chrome exhausts.

Despite the extra equipment, the SLS three-door is the same $19,990 in manual form and $21,990 in automatic as the five-door range-topper, the SLi.

KMAu president and CEO Charlie Kim says the three body shapes will help the Rio to appeal to a wider demographic than ever.

“Rio is a car that people will want to buy for its new looks, its new premium feeling, generous features and environmental credentials,” he said.

“The variation across the range, including each vehicle’s list of standard features, will appeal to all generations.” No diesel or turbo-charged engines are yet on the product planning horizon.

Kia Rio pricing (plus on-road costs):
3-dr hatch
S $15,290
S (a) $17,290
SLS $19,990
SLS (a) $21,990
5-dr hatch
S $16,290
S (a) $18,290
Si $18,990
Si (a) $20,990
SLi $19,990
SLi (a) $21,990
Si $19,690
Si (a) $21,690

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