- Looks good
- Quiet and refined drive
- Zippy petrol engines
- Some cheap plastics inside
- Lacking in badge appeal
We headed into the countyside of Buckinghamshire as part of our 2017 Kia Rio review. Here's what we thought of the Ford Fiesta, Skoda Fabia and VW Polo rival, having driven the 1.4CRDi diesel, five-speed 1.0 T-GDi and six-speed 1.0 T-GDi petrol 'First Edition'.
The original Kia Rio landed on the scene back in 2000 and now we have the fourth-generation model on our hands, which promises to be safer, more practical and more technologically advanced. Gone is the option of a three-door, too, as it is five doors or nothing.
As Kia's biggest seller globally by a large margin and a competitor in the tough B-segment market, that makes it a big deal. We drove to rural Buckinghamshire to see just how big a deal.
2017 Kia Rio: What's new?
The new Kia Rio is the largest and cleverest it has ever been, thanks to bigger proportions, new connectivity options, new safety systems, a new 1.0-litre petrol engine, revised suspension setup and stiffer chassis.
It is based on the 2016 Hyundai i20, except here you get that meaty 'tiger-nose' front grille and U-shaped LED running lights. The front view certainly overshadows the back, which is somewhat plain compared with most of its rivals. Overall, we think it looks good though.
The same can be said for the interior, which can be had with a fancy bit of colour if you opt for the more expensive model, but even at its most basic it feels solid and dependable and – bar a couple of cheap plastics – looks about as good as the competition.
2017 Kia Rio: How well does it drive?
It is fair to describe the 2017 Kia Rio as mature, but not in the boring sense. It is actually a tad more exciting to drive than the 2017 Nissan Micra, but less sporty and agile than the current Ford Fiesta, thanks to a firmer chassis than its predecessor.
It is noticeably refined, too, to the point where the petrol engine noise is almost non-existent and the 76bhp or 89bhp 1.4-litre CRDi diesel is not as grumbly and rough as you might expect, while wind noise is kept at bay at 70mph. For a quiet drive, the Kia Rio is almost up there with the VW Polo.
The ride quality, meanwhile, feels more planted than before and is predominantly pleasant, but the same suspension setup with revised shock absorbers and springs can make a meal of the bigger bumps – particularly a low speeds. Hit a pothole mid-corner and the 2017 Kia Rio is easily knocked off its course.
We found the petrol engines to be peppy enough to make faster drives surprisingly rewarding, with the 99bhp five-speed 1.0 T-GDi a highlight. It has 170Nm of torque from 1,500rpm, which allows it to make progress without too much help from the turbo.
As for the 118bhp version you get with the range-topping First Edition model, we found it was difficult to notice the extra power and the sixth-gear is somewhat pointless unless you spend your life on motorways given that the five-speed is almost as quiet at higher speeds.
On the subject of gears, the manual has a long throw and a hint of mechanical heft to it so it manages to be somewhat rewarding. The poor fuel economy and highest CO2 emissions of the four-speed automatic ensure it is best avoided.
The steering borders on too light and there is little feeling, but it comes into its own as you pick up speed, especially as the understeer is easily managed, and it actually makes the car blisfully easy to drive around town. A sporty supermini, this isn't, but it can still offer a fun drive.
2017 Kia Rio: Just how practical are we talking?
The Skoda Fabia and Honda Jazz have a bigger boot, but the 325 litres you get in the 2017 Kia Rio (up 13 per cent on the outgoing car) and 60:40 split-folding ensure it can hold a triple-figure shop and items of longer lengths, although having the seats down presents a sizable lip as opposed to a flat surface.
Only those with giraffe-like proportions will complain about the leg or head room in the front, while the back is also spacious enough to the point that it can seat full-sized adults even with someone tall in the front.
It also comes with various storage spaces to store things and stuff and, in the case of Grade 2 cars and above, USB charging ports to keep your gadgets charged up.
2017 Kia Rio: What about safety?
Unlike the new Micra and forthcoming Fiesta, the 2017 Kia Rio lacks autonomous emergency braking as standard. You will need to go for the next model up to get it, but at least hill start assist is standard across the entire range so there is no danger of rolling back on a slope.
It is also worth noting the chassis is made from 51 per cent advanced high-strength steel compared with 33 per cent in the old car, which should also help in the event of a crash.
Lane departure warning is also standard on the grade 2 cars, unlike on the new Nissan Micra, and you get the usual array of airbags in addition to something called Straight Line Stability, which maintains even brake pressure to keep the car straight.
2017 Kia Rio: Is it economical?
Perhaps not as economical as its EcoBoost-toting Fiesta rival, but then the 1.4-litre diesel can manage a claimed 80.7mpg if you stick to the smaller output while putting 92g/km of CO2 in the atmosphere. The more powerful version comes in at 74.3mpg and 98g/km, respectively. The fuel economy display maxes out at 50mpg so it is hard to say just how close to the claimed figure we managed.
The 1.25-litre petrol is also pretty good at being cheap to run, thanks to fuel economy and CO2 of 58.8mpg and 109g/km, as is the 1.0 T-GDi, which returned 45mpg over our test drive without too much effort suggesting somewhere closer to its claimed 62.8mpg is possible.
As we said earlier, the four-speed automatic should be avoided as 46.3mpg and 140g/km are below what we would expect from a supermini and it will cost more to tax than the other engines, especially once the 2017 VED changes kick in.
2017 Kia Rio: What is the best version?
Considering the entry-level '1' trim level comes with air conditioning, front electric windows, electrically adjustable door mirrors, 3.8-inch infotainment display, LED daytime running lights, automatic headlights, Bluetooth connectivity and a four-speaker sound system, there is a case to be made for keeping it cheap.
But the added safety features of the '2' grade, starting from £13,745, and the option of the more powerful 1.4-litre petrol make it our pick of the bunch, especially if the car is for a particularly young or old driver (hello autonomous braking). It also comes with 15-inch alloys instead of steels, a bigger five-inch display, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, cruise control and USB charging ports.
Grade 3 starts from £16,295 and has the option of the rather great 1.0 T-GDi, as well as 16-inch alloys, automatic air conditioning, black faux leather, seven-inch infotainment system with navigation, heated front seats, rain-sensing front wipers and a heated steering wheel. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also standard at this price point.
The 2017 Kia Rio First Edition comes with 17-inch alloys that only slightly harshen the ride, start/stop button, stainless steel pedals, black and red faux leather upholstery and LED rear lights. Yours for £17,445, which is admittedly a lot for any supermini – not just a Kia.
2017 Kia Rio: Should I buy one, then?
The 2017 Kia Rio offers solid value for money if you stick to grade 1 and grade 2, especially as it is backed up by a class-leading seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty. It also looks good, can be economical and will even raise the odd smile if you find a quiet county lane.
But if you crave sheer driving pleasure from a small car, the Fiesta and Skoda Fabia will suit you better, while the Honda Jazz is more practical and the new Micra has a higher level of standard equipment albeit at the expense of a less spacious interior and smaller boot.
In summary, the new Rio never quite reaches class-leading status in any area of ability, but then being a jack of all trades and a master of none is a strength in itself and one that will see owners of the new model almost certainly happy with their purchase.
- 1.0 T-GDi Turbocharged Gasoline Direct-Injection petrol
- 99bhp at 4,500rpm
- 125lb/ft (170Nm) from 1,500rpm
- 0-60mph in 10.3 seconds (top speed 115mph)
- 102g/km of CO2
- 62.8mpg (combined)
- From £11,995