The 2017 Kia Rio and 2017 Nissan Micra are both capable and affordable superminis, but which one is best and why? We put the Ford Fiesta’s latest competition in the ring to find out.
It was all predictable in supermini land. The Fiesta – the UK’s biggest-selling car – had been sitting on its throne for eight years and few challengers ever really gave it much to worry about. It was relatively plain sailing for Ford.
Now we have two new rivals that want to bring the fight, the 2017 Kia Rio and 2017 Nissan Micra. Both contenders are cheap and practical sets of wheels that no longer look bland, feature numerous technological goodies and, based on our initial test drive, are enjoyable to drive.
The problem is that the 2017 Ford Fiesta is a car we have seen, sat in and even touched the paintwork, but no one has actually driven it, which means there is something to be said for holding fire until a bit later in the year when it arrives. In case it continues to be a class-leader.
But let us assume that, for whatever reason, you want to take the plunge now. Which of the two superminis is best and how do they compare? What if boot space and passenger head room matters most to you? Which is safest? What will keep your motoring bills the lowest? It was time to find out.
Kia Rio vs Nissan Micra: Design & appeal
Kia is best known for value for money and it has began to improve its image, but to call it a cool brand would be misleading. With that said, the styling of the 2017 Rio contines continue the positive work of the Stinger with that funky tiger-nose front end.
Move to the side and the back and the funkiness drops off somewhat, but it is a car that no one would ever be offended by. The interior is nicely put together, easy to use and looks about as good as its rivals, with only some cheap textured plastic and low quality clicky window buttons letting it down.
As for the Micra, Nissan knew it had a car with all the aesthetic pleasure of a printer to the point that it considered changing the name entirely. The Indian-built Micra was that bad. Instead, it decided to over-compensate its OAP image with bright colours, jagged lines and funky design touches.
We have to admit, the end result looks great – there is a whiff of the anime-inspired Toyota Aygo about it, which is no bad thing – and the interior, if you opt for a bright secondary colour such as the orange, manages to disguise a few cheap plastics. The stealthy door handles at the back are a neat touch.
The 2017 Kia Rio offers a big improvement in the design area and some will appreciate its less shouty design, but the sheer improvement of the new Micra over the old one makes it our winner.
Winner: 2017 Nissan Micra
Kia Rio vs Nissan Micra: Practicality
Pop the 2017 Micra’s hatch and a 300-litre boot presents itself, which is less than that of the Skoda Fabia and Honda Jazz, but 10 litres more than the Fiesta, 15 litres more than the Vauxhall Corsa and 20 litres more than the VW Polo.
Drop the rear seats and the volume increases to 1,004 litres, while 60:40 split-folding seats make it possible to store longer items without having to leave everyone at home. As for head room, the driver’s seat can accommodate someone up to 6ft8 in height.
The 2017 Rio, meanwhile, has a 325-litre boot – an increase of 13 per cent on its 288-litre predecessor. This is partly down to being 66mm longer than the new Micra (4,065 vs 3,999mm). Kia is yet to get back to us on what space you get with the rear seats down, but we expect it to be more than the 923 litres of the older model.
Both cars now only come in a five-door flavour, which means it is easier for everyone to get in and out. Both have various storage spaces to store all your tat and hold a coffee. Both are highly maneuverable though the reduced visibility, particularly the back window, loses the new Micra a point.
The new Micra is a practical steed, but the size advantage of the Kia Rio makes it a better place for tall people in the back and it can take on bigger shopping trips. It is, therefore, the more practical option.
Winner: 2017 Kia Rio
Kia Rio vs Nissan Micra: Performance & handling
We expected both cars to be rather dull in this area, but that was anything but the case. Neither car has quite the same sporty attitude as the Fiesta, admittedly, but both cars use their softer, more body-roll-prone setups to absorb bumps.
Both superminis are prone to body roll, but a predictable amount. We would have to say the new Kia Rio struggles with bigger bumps at low speeds (it struggles to settle), but it is a tad quieter and more refined all the way up to 70mph although the Micra is excellent in this area, too.
With that said, the Micra can hit a bump mid-corner and stay on course while the Kia Rio jumps into a new line of its choosing. It never puts you off driving it quickly, but it does reveal the suspension setup’s limits.
We have only driven the petrol version of the Micra, which outputs 88.5bhp and 140Nm of torque. It is a revvy engine that makes a throatier sound than a 0.9-litre should but it needs more effort in the gear department to make progress. We found ourselves spending a lot of time holding onto third and fourth.
The Kia Rio’s Renault-borrowed 1.0-litre T-GDi petrol is only available with a higher trim, but the extra money does give you a much peppier drive that makes solid progress before the turbo kicks in. Its 99bhp and 170Nm of torque output really does make a lot of difference.
You can get a 118bhp version of the T-GDi, which opens up the option of a six-speed manual, but you have to shell out for the pricier First Edition and it is very hard to feel the performance gain.
Meanwhile the Kia Rio’s 1.4-litre CRDi diesel is much less refined, but quietens down nearly as much as the petrol. Just be sure to avoid the automatic because it makes the fuel economy and CO2 figures sub-par for a supermini.
We hope to test the Micra’s diesel soon (it snowed on the European launch), but expect the four-cylinder to behave in a similar fashion as it has 89bhp and 162lb/ft of torque.
Neither cars offer a great deal of steering feedback and err on the side of too light, but it is easy to tell when the wheels are out of grip and reducing your speed is easily done with their respective braking systems. Plus it helps make both easier to drive around town.
We were surprised the level of enjoyment you could get from both cars, but we have to hand the point to the Kia Rio for being much less gutless and just that little bit more involving. With that said, neither match the ability of the current Fiesta.
Winner: 2017 Kia Rio
Kia Rio vs Nissan Micra: Economy & efficiency
Though the government is looking at making diesel ownership more expensive, with suggestions of double parking rates in certain cities, both cars are their most frugal with one under the bonnet.
The Nissan Micra’s 1.5-litre dCi offers up to 88.3mpg (combined) and 85g/km of CO2, making it potentially very cheap to run if you can take it steady. After the 2017 VED changes kick in, it will cost £100 a year to tax.
A diesel Kia Rio offers 80.7mpg and 92g/km in its 76bhp output – we saw a return of 50mpg-plus on a mixture of town and country driving. It is worth noting the fuel economy reading tops out at 50mpg, which means you can only guess how good you do beyond that. The 89bhp version of the same engine manages 74.3mpg (combined) and 98g/km if you crave more oomph.
The most eco-friendly petrol for the Kia Rio is the 1.0-litre T-GDi, which scores a claimed 62.8mpg and 102g/km. The cheaper to buy 1.25-litre petrol comes in at 58.8mpg and 109g/km and we saw a return of 45mpg on our test drive without much effort.
In the Micra petrol camp, expect up to 61.4mpg (combined) and 99g/km, with larger alloy wheels increasing the CO2 rating. A less powerful petrol is on the way that promises to be even more frugal, but we are concerned it will be too slow.
Based on those numbers, the petrol Micra is better on paper but in reality we can see owners revving it harder, making it more expensive at the pump. If you want diesel, the Micra appears the better bet but we are yet to drive it. We call this a draw.
Kia Rio vs Nissan Micra: Equipment & value
Serious brownie points are scored by the Micra for featuring autonomous emergency braking and lane assist as standard on all models. You have to pay for the grade 2 Kia Rio if you want it, although it can be added to a grade 1 for not a lot of dosh.
This point is somewhat balanced out by the fact Kia offers a class-leading seven-year, 100,000 mile warranty that dwarves the three-year, 60,000-mile Nissan offering. Warranty extensions are available, but you will have to pay for them.
An entry-level Kia Rio Grade 1 comes with air conditioning, front electric windows, electrically adjustable door mirrors, four-speaker sound system, automatic headlights and Bluetooth connectivity. Yours from £11,995.
An entry-level Nissan Micra Visia comes with LED daytime running lights, Intelligent Emergency Braking, Intelligent Lane Intervention, High Beam Assist, trip computer, two-speaker sound system and a height-adjustable driver’s seat. Also from £11,995.
There is no Android Auto on the Micra, but it does come with Apple CarPlay if you go for the N-Connecta or Acenta trims (any higher than that and you lose the option) and you can spec a competent Bose sound system for £500 that adds two speakers to the driver headrest.
It makes most sense to go for the grade 2 Rio (from £13,745) as it offers the best mix of creature comforts, safety and value for money. An equivalent Micra costs from £14,995 and has 16-inch steels instead of the 15-inch alloys on the Rio, as well as cruise control, a five-inch infotainment display and body-coloured door handles.
The all-singing and all-dancing First Edition is £17,445, which is a lot for a supermini. Still less than the Micra Tekna, though, which costs from £17,295, and both come with the likes of even bigger alloys, automatic air conditioning and keyless stop/start.
Though both cars are best served without too many extras as the idea of a £18,000 supermini hurts our brain, the Kia Rio appears to offer slightly better value for money in the mid-range, which is where both cars make the most sense. It is also 29bhp more powerful for similar money at the top end.
Winner: 2017 Kia Rio
Kia Rio vs Nissan Micra: Safety
As we stated above, the Kia Rio gets autonomous emergency braking and lane assist if you go for the grade 2 car, while both feature on all new Micra trim levels. That makes it potentially safer by default, although the Rio does at match the Micra when it comes to having hill start assist.
The Kia Rio has two front airbags, twin curtain airbags and two side airbags. A Micra also comes with six airbags. Neither car is yet to undergo Euro NCAP testing, but we know the Micra is safer at its most basic level, which could be a key concern for those buying a car for an older or younger loved one.
Winner: 2017 Nissan Micra
Kia Rio vs Nissan Micra: Which is best?
On the one hand, the Kia Rio looks less exciting but is more fun to drive and, with the right engine, generally zippier. The new Micra is more stylish and appealing to younger, trendier types but the petrol engine is borderline gutless.
Further helping the Kia Rio’s case is the fact it has a bigger boot and is more practical overall, but the interior is not as nice to look at. But then it can do both CarPlay and Android Auto, plus that big-old warranty is hard to ignore.
Really it boils down to how much you care about safety and aesthetics as the Nissan Micra is better in both departments, regardless of how much you want to spend on other extras. The Kia Rio comes into its own with a slightly bigger spend.
To use an overused motoring cliché, the Micra is the one your heart would go for as it is a trendier proposition. But following your head gets a more rewarding drive and a better all-rounder. If you can stomach a less appealing badge, that is. A close fight, then, but we have to hand it to the 2017 Kia Rio.
Overall winner: 2017 Kia Rio