2012 Kia Rio

From woeful to almost-wonderful
By Imthishan Giado

 

There’s a lot of bad blood between me and the Kia Rio. I was unlucky enough to drive a hatchback version almost exactly a decade ago on one of Australia’s winding, stunning Great Ocean Road – and it is singularly, categorically one of the worst drives I have ever done, on one of the very best pieces of tarmac to be found anywhere.

2012 Kia Rio

The 1.6-litre engine wheezed its way up the many hills, each one an impassible Everest as far as the Rio was concerned. It couldn’t count on any help from the endlessly indecisive automatic either; even with only four speeds, the Rio picked gears as readily and swiftly as women decide on evening wear. And as for steering and handling – well imagine trying to ride a bicycle when all the bolts are about 60%  looser than average…

So no, I wasn’t looking forward to this Rio. Turns out I was dead wrong though – this is a cracking good small car.

2012 Kia Rio

First off – styling. The old Rios looked like the designers had started with an ice cream sandwich and gently caressed away any hint of anything interesting until all they were left with was safe, controversy-free vanilla. Not so the new car; you can’t call the Rio exactly aggressive but it is an interesting confident design, Germanic (surprise, surprise) in its use of block-like shapes and refreshingly free of the sort of fussy detailing we see in small cars these days. It may not quicken the pulse the way the Optima does, but it’s not embarrassing to be seen in either, something you cannot say about the (actually quite good) Yaris or the Tiida this car competes with.

2012 Kia Rio

Inside – well, the Rio is a shrunken Audi with the same red-on-black gauges and square-jawed dashboard that has served Ingolstadt so well. No, the switches do not move with the same oily-damped precision but they do feel quite sturdy and able to take years of abuse. Visibility is generally good although the steeply raked A-pillar can make peering around corners difficult sometimes (although nowhere near as badly as say a Camaro) and all the main controls fall easily to hand.

2012 Kia Rio

Speaking of controls, this car has all the equipment you might reasonably need in a small car. A decent stereo with Bluetooth audio, telephony and a USB port (with steering wheel controls), a very strong A/C, automatic headlamps, comprehensive trip info, reversing sensors, even automatic headlights! Sadly there’s no cruise control available. This is not an unsusual omission but given that these little cars spent most of their lives doing the run up to Abu Dhabi and back, some concessions to comfort would have been nice.

2012 Kia Rio

What’s the Rio like to drive? Well it won’t get your pulse racing but neither is it dull and lifeless like a modern Audi either. Most of the time, this little car does a great impression of being something much bigger – there’s a grown up feel to the way the Rio drives. The hydraulic steering is well weighted and direct but definitely not darty; it turns in well but ask more and understeer is all you’ll be handed. Better news from the suspension which rides very well over bumps and undulations without feeling floaty; body roll through corners is largely contained and indeed, the cheap Kumho tyres are more likely to give up before the suspension will. Again, while no Renaultsport Clio, it’s light years ahead of the old Rio.

2012 Kia Rio

Power? The 1.4-litre engine may been even smaller than the woeful 1.6 I drove all those years, but its hundred horses feel much stronger and certainly  enough to punt the lightweight 1234kg Rio around town, the four speed auto shifting gears unobtrusively. The engine’s clearly been tuned for torque with the peak coming at just 4200rpm – get it out on the highway and like the Yaris, the Rio feels somewhat breathless. The auto’s lack of gears also then becomes an issue, the four-cylinder spinning at a fairly hectic 3400rpm at speeds of 120kph. Other markets get an optional six-speed automatic but we don’t and in this case, they would really help, not to mention, a little more sound insulation, wind noise insidiously creeping in as speeds crawl over 100kph. Nevertheless the Rio is a perfectly acceptable highway cruiser, holding the road well and defiantly resistant to cross winds.

2012 Kia Rio

Verdict

There’s two verdicts at play here. First, is the Rio better than the old car? Yes, monumentally so. Old Rio was a reprehensible piece of white goods assembled by people who simply didn’t know how to do better at the time. But now, the Rio feels like a class act, more than just class competitive . In terms of equipment alone, its generous spread definitely takes to the fight to its stingy-yen challenged rivals, and in terms of driving experience, it feels neither cheap or unsorted.

But we can’t crown the Rio king just yet. That’s the other verdict really; the Rio is great value at AED56,900 but the Yaris is stupendous value at AED51,000. It doesn’t feel as weighty or as planted as the Rio but the tradeoff is that the Japanese car is genuinely playful at the limit, a pint sized hot hatch that’s great fun to drive around the town and frugal at the pump. The Japanese supermini still gets my pick for the driver’s car, and if you want even more equipment and the best design in the business, go straight to your nearest Chevrolet dealer to buy a Sonic.

But if you opted for the well sorted Korean instead – I’d understand.

 

Specs


2012 Kia Rio
How much? AED56,900 ($15,490)
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, 107bhp @ 6300rpm, 101lb ft @ 4200rpm
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 4.5L/100km
Performance: 0-100kph 11.1 seconds, Top speed 183kph
Weight: 1234kg

One response to “2012 Kia Rio”

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