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Ford Fiesta vs Kia Rio: Which is the better supermini?

Our drive of the new Ford Fiesta has been and gone so we thought it was time to compare it with yet another rival. This time, it is the turn of the new Kia Rio.

The supermini is a popular choice for frugal motorists who want a car that is easy to drive, reasonably practical and involving. The Ford Fiesta has been number one in this area for quite some time, but the competition has got a lot better.

The new Nissan Micra, for instance, is a pleasingly capable car, but sadly it just lost out to the new Fiesta in our comparison. Now it is the turn of the 2017 Kia Rio, the fourth-generation model of a car introduced back in 2000.

We have driven both cars and poured over the specs to make this fight as fair as possible. Regardless of the outcome though, you should know both competitors are solid ─ but what are the key differences and is there a clear winner? Read on.

See also: 2017 Ford Fiesta review | 2017 Kia Rio review

Ford Fiesta configurator

Kia Rio configurator

Ford Fiesta vs Kia Rio: Design

The new Ford Fiesta has been given a facelift, which is why it sits on the same platform as its predecessor but has grown 71mm in length, 13mm in width and is 15 per cent torsionally stiffer. It also has a 30mm wider front track, 10mm wider rear track and 4mm longer wheelbase.

From almost all angles, we find the new Fiesta is prettier but the rear-end borrowed from the C-Max has upset some purists. Wherever you sit on the styling appreciation scale, we like the fact it has a fresh face.

We also appreciate the updated interior, too. The floating touchscreen and reduction in buttons makes it less cluttered, while improvements to the design and quality make it feel more inviting ─ especially if you opt for the posher Fiesta Vignale and ST-Line models.

The new Kia Rio is based on the Hyundai i20 but features Kia’s tiger nose grille and LED running lights. Compared to its predecessor, it is a meaner, boxier affair that is also more practical. As space goes, it has plenty of it for a supermini.

The third-generation Rio was actually quite pretty, but neither version can really be called expressive. The interior is solid though, especially if you opt for the coloured trim and seven-inch infotainment system (instead of the standard 3.8-incher).

Of the two, we would say the new Fiesta has the better and more memorable design ─ inside and out ─ but that comes at the expense of interior space. Based on the fact superminis are typically preferred trendy, we would go with the Fiesta.

Winner: 2017 Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta vs Kia Rio: Practicality

The new Ford Fiesta can be had as either a three- or five-door, which is a good start. The longer wheelbase and modest increase in size also play a role in making it more comfortable for passengers, including the addition of 16mm of extra leg room.

Boot space is 292 litres and the loading area is a tad wider, which will help with the trickier items you need to take home. From Ikea, most likely.

The biggest downside is that even with the extra space the leg room is going to be limited for leggy passengers and the head room is really compromised if you have the panoramic roof. Those at six-foot and above will be able to rest their head on the ceiling and not in a good way.

There is no three-door option for the new Rio because Kia deemed it pointless, which means maximum practicality in all cars but those who like the cleaner design (young folk, mainly) will be disappointed.

By being one of the largest B-segment cars, the new Rio is really good for space. Head room is excellent, as you would expect from its boxy proportions, and leg room is generous, too.

In terms of boot space, the Rio falls behind the Skoda Fabia and Honda Jazz, but the 325-litre offering is 13 per cent better than its predecessor and 33 litres bigger than the new Fiesta.

Both cars offer 60:40 split-folding seats, USB charging and numerous cubby holes to keep your bits and bobs from ending up under the seats. Ultimately, the Fiesta is passable in the practicality stakes but the Rio’s more generous proportions prevail.

Winner: 2017 Kia Rio

Ford Fiesta vs Kia Rio: Handling & performance

Superminis can and should be fun to drive and here the new Fiesta really shines. The refinement and comfort has been increased, in part thanks to revisions to the suspension and damping, but it is still the sporty little number it was before.

In fact, the 140PS ST-Line, which sits 10mm lower and is purposefully firmer, offers a compelling drive. The addition of torque vectoring helps it turn in even harder and has helped improve cornering grip without interfering with its other likable qualities.

Go for anything else and the ride is more forgiving but even on 17-inch alloys the Fiesta is a nice drive ─ certainly compared with its predecessor, which could be a little too harsh at times.

Then there is the new, smoother six-speed manual, which is functional and largely rewarding to use. As for the steering, nothing has changed so you can expect the same odd but intuitive weighting that lets you chuck it around confidently.

We also found the new 1.5-litre TDCi diesel to be excellent. Bags of torque, relatively quiet and no vibration, it really is excellent if you are keen on better fuel economy.

As for the Rio, a lot of publications have written it off as boring for some reason but that is not the case. It certainly has more pep than the new Nissan Micra and it encourages you to drive quickly, with surprising levels of grip and body composure able to keep you on course.

The 1.4CRDi diesel is a bit rough in places, be that with 76bhp or 89bhp, and the six-speed manual is less impressive than Ford’s offering (as is the four-speed automatic, which is worth avoiding). But it does ensure decent progress.

We vastly preferred the 1.0-litre T-GDi petrol with 170Nm of torque and 99bhp because it makes a good noise and decent punch given the displacement. It feels only slightly slower than the 118bhp version you get on the First Edition model.

Where the Rio falls down most is the steering, which is really unable to communicate any feeling but the lack of weight does make inner-city manoeuvres easy. It is also easily knocked off course by bumps in the road, which can be off-putting.

To write the new Rio off would be unfair because it is actually one of the more involving superminis we have driven, but up against the mighty Fiesta it loses by some margin.

Winner: Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta vs Kia Rio: Cost, specs & value

Kia’s strong suit was that you get a lot of car for not a lot of money, although the gap is smaller these days. Mind you, the seven-year warranty comprised three years of unlimited mileage and the remaining 37 to 84 months for up 100,000 miles is generous.

Ford offers a three-year or 60,000 mile warranty (whichever comes first) that provides substantially less peace of mind. But you should be able to extend it for a few extra quid if you are concerned.

The absolute cheapest Kia Rio is the ‘1’ and a 1.25-litre manual ISG. For £11,995, you get air conditioning, 3.8-inch display, front electric windows, Bluetooth connectivity with music streaming, steering wheel controls and remote central locking to name the main highlights.

For the best fuel economy, the lesser powerful 1.4CRDi offers a claimed 80.7mpg and 92g/km of CO2 so it is cheap to run. We saw at least 50mpg during testing. Yours from £13,615, it is a tempting proposition if you care most about frugality.

To get our favourite engine of the range, you need to spend a minimum of £15,035. At this price, you get the ‘2’ trim grade, which adds a six-speaker audio system, electric door mirrors that are also heated, 15-inch alloys, five-inch colour display with DAB, cruise control and a reversing camera.

You will need to spend from £16,785 for the Rio ‘3’, which adds the useful seven-inch infotainment display, automatic air-conditioning, 16-inchers, black faux leather, heated front seats and steering wheel, autonomous emergency braking, voice recognition and rain-sensing front wipers.

Just speccing an equivalent five-door Fiesta already puts it up to £13,365 for an entry-level Style with the 1.1-litre Ti-VCT 70PS with Start/Stop. Unfortunately it comes with a five-speed manual that is inferior to the six-speed.

For the cheapest way to a Fiesta diesel, you will be paying £15,445 for the 1.5  TDCi diesel with 85PS, which is a noticeable premium on the Rio but that does include a six-speed manual. It is also cheaper on paper, thanks to a claimed 88mpg and CO2 of 82g/km.

All Style cars have air-conditioning, electric front windows, driver’s seat with four-way manual adjustment, MyKey, 4.2-inch display with Bluetooth and USB connectivity and a six-speaker audio system. About as generous as the cheapest Rio.

The 1.0T EcoBoost with the 100PS EcoBoost petrol and a six-speed manual can be had at Zetec level, which starts from £15,445. At this price you swap 15-inch steels for 15-inch alloys and gain LED daytime running lights, 6.5-inch touchscreen with Sync 3, Thatcham alarm and some leather.

For the closest engine to the forthcoming ST200 Fiesta, ST-Line is what you need. 17-inch alloys, ST-Line external revisions, stainless sports pedals, sporty front seats and sports tuned suspension are among the livelier additions to match the 1.0T EcoBoost 140PS ─ yours from £17,595.

You will at least £19,345 on a top-spec Vignale if you crave the unique grille and other luxury additions such as the panoramic roof, leather seats and rear-view camera with distance sensors. But at this point, as nice as it is, you are spending a lot of cash on a supermini.

We think the higher price of the Fiesta is justified, but only to a certain point where it may be worth considering a bigger car for similar money. Both superminis are good value if you stick to lower trim levels and are brave enough for the diesel.

The warranty and lower price of the Rio put it in good stead, but it has less brand appeal and may struggle more with depreciation. We will call this round a draw.

2017 Kia Rio from £11,995

2017 Ford Fiesta from £12,715

Winner: Draw

Ford Fiesta vs Kia Rio: Safety

A lack of autonomous emergency braking as standard is where the Kia Rio falls down, but you do get twin front, side and curtain airbags that will try to minimise harm to passengers and you only need to spec up to grade ‘2’ for its addition.

At lower levels, the Fiesta can be had with a Driver Assistance Pack if you crave pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, distance alert and adaptive cruise control. Yours for an extra £500. So no standard autonomous emergency braking here either.

There has not been a Euro NCAP test for the new Fiesta or the new Rio so it is unclear just how safe either car is, but we doubt either will fare badly. Plus neither are dangerously fast, but then the Fiesta does have MyKey, which can let the owner set certain restrictions for other users.

Winner: Draw

Ford Fiesta vs Kia Rio: The verdict

Really, it must be said that every supermini we have tested recently has noticeably improved and so the gap between them all is smaller. You get more tech, greater luxury, improved safety and a better drive that will usually cost you less on fuel.

But in the case of the Rio, though it is a better car than its predecessor, the Fiesta is still ahead of it in terms of desirability, handling and refinement. The plucky Ford really is an excellent supermini that is worth a few quid more if you can stretch to it

Overall winner: Ford Fiesta


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