2020 Kia Rio
Fizzy fun with a great driving position.
Kia must have rocket propellers behind their R&D department. An offer to drive one of Korea’s small cars fifteen years ago could have been misconstrued as a punishment. Today, they are in a completely different league. The build quality and engineering have leapt forward and yet they have continued to offer a strong value component to their strategy. They are now perched as a serious contender for any hatchback segment they enter. Long warranties helped initially, but now buyers don’t hesitate to spend the same money as a Ford or Honda at the Kia dealership. There is still a little more ground to cover. The distinct feel of a car that hasn’t quite decided if it should offer a European or Japanese esqué feel. The materials used inside compete well in the market segment and the exterior runs a fine line between sensible and sensual. One of the best aspects of the Rio was the seating position. KIA seems to have gone to the effort of making sure there are enough adjustments so that after several hours on the road I was able to get out without any aches. This is something that even well-established European marks get wrong from time to time so hats off to KIA here. If you need a small car but struggle getting comfortable try it out. The engine was a little slower than I would have liked but in line with expectation, above city speeds it starts to show its hand and although it isn’t completely bluffing, the initial kick-off the line doesn’t hold on throughout the revs. This won’t bother most buyers and there is plenty of get-up and go on roundabouts and stop start traffic.
this is a crowded sector and standing out takes more than delivering on all the high notes
Getting out at the motorway services provided an opportunity to open and close everything, and whilst eating a sausage roll, have a quick inspection of shut lines. The whole package appears to have been put together very well. Steering is a little lighter than anyone who enjoys the feel of a car beneath them would tolerate and swinging into a parking space needed a second correction of the wheel. There isn’t a smooth turn in feel that slowly loads up the more angle applied, instead it’s like an old PlayStation control wheel. Too synthetic, this is the only downside from the suspension and handling as the ride is forgiving enough to not throw any unwanted jolts into the cabin. Whilst being firm enough to not lean like an aircraft carrier going around a ninety-degree bend. Another hour into the drive and with my destination in sight, the warming sunshine of a sandy beach awaiting, I wondered if the trip could have been done with more than two occupants. This size will always be a compromising factor when it comes to carrying anything, certainly, two adults would have been uncomfortable in the back on such a long drive. The motor would have likely laboured a little too much as well. A single large bag fitted into the boot with ease, a suitcase would squeeze in but more than a single item would have needed the parcel shelf stored on the back seat. Visibility isn't a concern forward facing but the rear is just OK and maybe a challenge for some when reversing or shoulder checking the lane behind before making an overtake.
All in all the little Kia was brilliant, it makes a very strong argument for itself, its main problem is that this is a crowded sector and standing out takes more than delivering on all the high notes. The new Ford Fiesta is also brilliant, and the Mazda 2 has spent over a decade picking up buyers that want to be away from the mainstream. Competing against the punchy Skyactive engines in the Mazda or an EcoBoost in the fiesta will be the greater challenge for KIA salesman. Although this is likely to be a car used for short town/city journeys where power is of less importance, and it would be unfair to say the KIA's motor is lacking, just not quite as sharp as others. A final thought, the proportions of the Kia aren’t as pleasing to the eye as the established group it contends with, its looks a little stretched. If you have an eye for exterior styling this might be a dealbreaker, but consider having a sit in one first.