Kia Rio: It’s all about star qualities

Kia reckons its Rio has more appeal than other light car segment rivals, not least a certain other from the wider family.


THOUGH it also lands lacking the active safety aides whose absence in a sister ship has been criticised, Kia here holds hope its Rio small car might hang onto the exemplary crash test score given its predecessor.

This thought is expressed by Kia New Zealand boss Todd McDonald, who says he will be disappointed if the new model - launched as a 1.4-litre petrol in entry LX at $22,490 manual and $23,490 with an automatic standard to the $25,490 EX and flagship $26,990 Limited – drops to four stars, the score the Hyundai i20 received yesterday.

The Rio has yet to be crash tested by the European and Australasian New Car Assessment Programme whose findings are upheld by the NZ Government and national safety agencies.

McDonald doesn’t know when the tests will occur and admits if the new car lost the highest status five star standing held by its predecessor, Kia NZ would simply have to wear it.

“But we would be disappointed. We anticipate five star in this (new) vehicle,” he said, one reason being that Rio’s bodyshell implemented a higher percentage of high tensile steel than the i20.

“From the indications we have had, at this stage we are anticipating a five star.”

Will a four star result cost sales? “In fleet sales, yes five stars is important, but in this segment the focus is strongly on value as well.”

At the same token, and despite claims during the model’s media preview today that Kia had paid highest consideration to safety with the NZ-market specification, the car arrives also lacking the assists whose absence from the i20 was slammed by ANCAP.

The Melbourne-based crash test operation, which is funded by NZ agencies, has suggested the Hyundai should have the crash prevention technology of autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and emergency brake assist.

The 1.4 Rio does not have them either and McDonald said he cannot say if, or when, that might change.

Safety agencies have determined AEB, being a proven life-saving technology, to be the next must-have. The European NCAP recently state it will only consider awarding five star status to those cars with it. Australasian NCAP has said it is considering following suit.

The latest Rio here is identical to that sold in Australia. The distributor there is hoping to add a GT version that, in addition to adding more pep, also comes with AEB.

McDonald, though not discounting the potential for more versions in the future, claimed ignorance of the GT. “I’m unaware of it. I’m unaware of any GT performance line.”

Like the i20, the Rio has six airbags, stability, traction and hill start controls, plus a lane departure assist and rear view camera, though no blind spot monitoring.

It also touts cornering brake control, which maintains directional stability but automatically applies the brakes to individual wheels, and hill-start assist as standard. ABS brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist with electronic stability and traction control are also on board.

Even though the Hyundai and Kia product share a common platform, are basically dimensional twins and run an identical powertrain, they are different. There are no common exterior stylings and within the cabin Kia has its own instruments, including a seven inch touch capacitive infotainment screen. Plus, of course, whereas the Hyundai is out of Turkey, the Kia comes from South Korea.

Also, Rio only offers in standard hatchback form, while i20 has that format plus a higher-standing crossover presentation. The $27,990 i20 Cross carries a $3000 premium over the standard i20.

Kia claims an identical 73kW from the 1.4-litre petrol engine but cites it as presenting maximum torque of 133Nm, which is 1Nm less than Hyundai reckons.

Although the four-speed automatic is identical in both models, the Rio is said to be thriftier with that transmission, with 6.2 litres per 100km claimed against 6.7L/100km out of the Hyundai. The difference might be simply down to rim and tyre size. The i20 Cross has 17-inch footwear whereas the Rio starts with 15-inchers in LX form and moves to 16s in the dearer variants.

Kia also offers a six-speed manual that is more frugal, with 5.6L/100km claimed, but only in the base car.

Competition in the compact car market is fierce enough to make it unlikely that any consumer comparison exercise is unlikely to be restricted to these cars alone. But if that were to happen, then the Rio would stand an excellent chance of winning. It is a more modern-looking car; the exterior design is tidier and more avant garde. Where it really gets ahead is within the cabin.

On testing the i20, we noted how disappointingly conservative the cabin seemed. By comparison the Kia’s, while perhaps not outright chic nor altogether comfortable (flat front seats), nonetheless presents a far more compellingly interesting environment. It’s more colourful, way more modern.

Also – and this, to me would surely be a clincher for the budget-conscious buyers Kia reckons it will attract in hordes – is that they’ve not only provisioned, as standard, the sweet Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces that Hyundai swore it could not get, plus all but the base car comes with sat nav (again, off the i20 menu). Obviously, Kia has friends in the right places.

The LX and EX have cloth seats, the Limited (a new trim for this model) goes to leather. All three cars come with power windows and mirrors and air conditioning, climate controlled in the mid and high specs. To me, that just makes it a high value proposition, particularly since the EX is now $300 cheaper than its immediate predecessor.

So there’s that … and then, a pity to say, there’s still that 1.4 automatic, about which there’s nothing more positive to say than was expressed in our i20 test. But, in case that wasn’t read, it goes like this: The engine is dated and a four-speed transmission is out of step with today’s expectation.

Though the mill does express more confidently in manual format than with the auto, it is no fireball and has little aural character. Also, that manual is set to be a niche car. Kia reckons just 8.9 percent of small car buyers still want three-pedal formats. They’re either (according to research) women under 30 or plus-55 buyers, of both sexes, who grew up with manuals.

So, again, such a pity that there’s no thought about that GT, which has a turbocharged three-cylinder 1.0-litre making 88kW/133Nm. And it comes with a six-speed automatic.

As for the dynamic side? The drive route and requirement for convoy running was hardly a test of this aspect, but from what we could tell, it hasn’t any obvious failings. We hope to discover more on independent test. The biggest bugbear is the high level of tyre-induced road roar on coarse chip.

Sales potential? In 2016 Kia enjoyed 5287 sales against 3280 the year prior – that’s a 60.7 percent year-on-year growth, the industry’s second highest percentage gain (after LDV, which registered a 117 percent hike, albeit from a lower base). And good fortune compared with parent Hyundai, which basically stagnated (albeit with 8376 sales).

So Kia’s on a roll? Well, McDonald doesn’t think last year’s good fortune will repeat in 2017: His target in 5400 registrations. The additional volume might well come from Rio; the light car sector is going well and he can also see extra opportunity. So, 700 sales is the deal, up from 550 last year, with LX being subject to a special incentive programme to get the ball rolling.