The super-mini does not sell as well in Europe as elsewhere, and that’s a shame, because its latest version is efficient and good-looking, says Declan Colley
The Kia Rio has always been a curiosity, even in the context of Kia’s own model line-up.
Competing in the super-mini segment, against behemoths such as the Fiesta and Polo — not to mention the Clio, Fabia, Ibiza, and Punto — is a big ask for any car and, based on sales performance, you’d have to conclude that the Rio has failed to provide an answer.
In 2016, Kia sold 6,710 units here in Ireland, 2,871 of which were claimed by the excellent Sportage SUV, while the family hatch- oriented Cee’d sold 1,086, and the big SUV, the Sorento, 672 units. Rio sold just 534.
To date, this year, Sportage has again been Kia’s big seller, in a total of 6,478 units sold to the end of July, claiming 2,884 registrations. Cee’d clocked up 829 units, Sorento 664. Rio — and, remember, there is a completely new model on offer this year — accounted for just 587 units.
Certainly, there has been a big market shift away from traditional family hatchbacks, with today’s buyer favouring the SUV, but you would have thought that, with its much-hawked seven-year warranty and a pretty honest pricing structure, the Rio — especially in its new guise — would have sold more.
Fiesta, for example, sold 2,983 units to the end of July this year and that was effectively a run-out period for the old car, with the new one just arriving on Irish shores. Polo, too, sold well and 1,824 of them were registered to the end of July.
So why has the Rio not caught the imagination of the buying public? I don’t know, is the honest answer.
Oddly, the Rio is actually a very big seller globally, it has just never taken off in this part of the world, for some reason. Kia sold some 450,000 units of the previous version of the car, globally, in its last full year of production, but European sales have been poor.
Thus, the latest one was designed by the Kia studio in Germany and aims to cut a sharper on-road presence than previously. Kia have also specified it to offer more bangs for your buck than many opponents.
The car — the new one, as against some of the older versions, which had dire styling and predictably meagre driving enjoyment — is a very decent looking thing, an honest broker to drive and use, and one which has a great new petrol engine and plenty of kit for the price.
The petrol engine is worth focussing on, because — as predicted in these columns so often — manufacturers are now concentrating on producing small-capacity petrol units, which offer decent pace, eye-catching economy, and lower emissions.
With some 84 bhp on tap, the engine isn’t a traffic-light dragster by any stretch, but this 1.25 litre is a hard working little thing and goes about its business in an unfussed and easy manner.
Peak power is produced at 6,000 rpm, top speed is 170 kph, the 0-100 kph dash is achieved in 12.9 seconds, and the economy is a claimed 4.8 l/100 km (58 mpg).
Ask the engine questions, though, and you may not like some of the answers. It is a fine drive around town, but gets exposed by open-road motoring, where its abilities fall away, rather.
If I were intent on buying a Rio and wanted a petrol engine, I’d wait until the excellent, one-litre turbo three-pot comes, along later this year. I suspect, however, that little of the engine detail will interest Rio buyers, who will look at the car more for its pretty shape and top-line spec, rather than performance parameters.
That spec includes stuff like cruise control, air conditioning, and lots more — things that, just a short time ago, were considered sheer luxury in this class.
On the road, the car is fine to drive and, with the basic suspension layout of MacPherson struts at the front and torsion-beam axle at the rear, you pretty much know what you’re getting. Nothing spectacular, but very capable on a variety of road surfaces.
A worthy machine, then, and one which is a clear improvement over the old one. But Kia needs to get that message out there, because the public does not appear to realise this might be a car that’s worth looking at.
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