Latest Rio offers a wide choice of engines and trim level combinations

Latest Rio offers a wide choice of engines and trim level combinations

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Kia UK is covering all engine, fuel, transmission and trim bases with the launch of its fully redesigned Rio, the fourth generation of the B-segment 'supermini' to be sold here.

The latest range introduces new engines, 76hp and 89hp versions of a 1.4-litre turbodiesel, 99hp and 118hp variants of a three-cylinder petrol turbo, a new petrol 1.4 and updated 1.25 and 1.4 petrols, three levels of trim plus, as has become a Kia UK habit, a special, fully-loaded, 'launch edition' spec. Something for everyone, then.

As we noted in an earlier article, Kia is eyeing the future of diesel with a little caution and forward planning rather than panic. From a tax policy-encouraged trend to diesel passenger car power a decade or so ago, UK car buyers have seen the VW emissions scandal in the US, followed by accusations against other carmakers in Europe, and now cities are planning to penalise diesel drivers. Westminster council authorities in London have landed the latest blow with plans to charge diesel owners extra for parking from April. But Kia Motors UK chief Paul Philpott reckons diesel's days are not yet numbered. He told just-auto the industry was bracing itself for a slight downturn in diesel sales although "nothing dramatic". In fact Kia UK's sales of oil burners were up around 3% last year. And he believes much of the recent criticism is unfair. "The modern diesel is a very different beast to that which was around 10 years and advances are being made all the time. However, there are challenges ahead particularly if we are to hit CO2 reduction targets in 2020."

Kia, like other carmakers already have alternatives available besides petrol. "Over the past year we have introduced the Soul EV, Nero hybrid and Optima plug-in so there are plenty of choices available."

The little 89hp 1.4 CRDi (there is also a 76hp for lower trim levels) is a cracking engine in the new Rio, it sounds nice, is reasonably refined and pulls like a train from low revs. The 1.0T-GDi 99hp has more power but needs more use of the five gears to keep it on the boil and it could use the extra ratio you get with both versions of the 1.4 diesel.

Trim is competitive version by version (simple 1, 2, and 3 names; plus First Edition) and 3 seemed lavish for this end of the market - it includes heated 'leather' seats and a heated steering wheel rim, items which can cost you extra on luxury car models some segments above. There is a bit of cost-avoiding, as you might expect in a GBP11,995 to GBP17,445 range - the 'leather' is 'faux', there is just one seatback storage pocket in the rear (I can already hear The Family's battle over teddy bear space) and seat height adjust only for the driver.

But there is, according to model, a full connectivity package with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration and advanced driver assistance systems (autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian recognition). Like other automakers, Kia has used a central touchscreen to reduce the number of buttons and switches. The Rio is said to be the first car in its class with USB ports front and rear so that mobile devices can be charged from any seat. Suspension and steering are new, too. Kia said the Rio is known internally as 'a little Titan' and will be sold as a five-door model only, in line with customer demand. Globally, it's Kia's best-seller, with sales close to 475,000 a year, and, though overshadowed in the UK by the Slovakia-built Sportage crossover and cee'd range, "it is still a highly significant model, accounting for almost one-sixth of the company's sales".

Styling, characterised by straight lines and smooth surfaces, was a joint effort by design teams in Germany and the United States with the oversight of the main design office at Namyang in South Korea. Revised proportions and balance mean a longer wheelbase, bonnet and front overhang, a lower roofline and a more upright and compact back end. Increased leg and shoulder room are claimed to be among the best in class, as is headroom – despite the lower roofline. I'm ,er, generously dimensioned, if of average height, and was comfortable both as driver and passenger though I would have liked seat height adjust for the front passenger seat and a smidgeon more lower back support. Boot capacity is up by almost 13% to 325 litres – while the fuel tank is two litres larger at 45 litres.

Engines

New to the Rio include the 1.0-litre T-GDi (Turbocharged Gasoline Direct-injection) unit with fuel efficiency improved and CO2 emissions reduced compared with the outgoing Rio. Downsizing, turbocharging, direct fuel injection and weight reduction were the orders of the design day and the 99hp version emits 107g of CO2; the 118hp version 107g/km. Both are capable of more than 50mpg in city driving, respective 0-60mph acceleration times are 10.3 and 9.8 seconds, and both versions have a top speed of at least 115mph.

But the fuel economy champion is the lesser-powered, 76hp 1.4-litre diesel, a new option for the Rio, which replaces the former three-cylinder 1.1-litre CRDi. Both 1.4-litre diesels (the other puts out 89hp) have a healthy 240Nm of torque and CO2 emissions below 100g/km – 92g/km and 98g/km respectively. The 240Nm of torque is available from just 1,500rpm which probably explains why the 89hp version we tried was so relaxing to drive - the wide range of torque allows you to be lazy with the gearshifts though the six-speeder is a pleasure to use. This Rio model also feels slightly better planted on the road than the 1.0, was the pick of the pair we drove and should prove a popular choice.

The 1.25-litre petrol engine develops an unchanged 83hp and 121Nm of torque, and has CO2 emissions of 109g/km. Also new-to-Rio: a 1.4-litre multi-point injection petrol unit with power and torque outputs of 98hp and 133Nm and unchanged CO2 emissions (versus an earlier 1.4) of 114g/km. This engine is also available with (my preferred transmission type) - a four-speed automatic gearbox with CO2 emissions down to 140g/km from 147g/km. Four speeds is a bit old fashioned but would be more than adequate for how I would use this runabout and, I suspect, most other buyers would drive it. To the shops. Town. School. Mall. All manual Rios have Intelligent Stop & Go (ISG) engine stop-start. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard with the 99hp T-GDi engine and the 1.25 - all other manual models have six speeds.

The latest Rio has more rigid front struts than its predecessor and a raised torsion beam to improve stability, revised springs and shock absorbers to improve compliance and comfort, vertical rear shock absorbers and front shock absorbers with advanced new valve technology for more consistent responses, and a repositioned power steering gearbox which results in improved feel when the steering wheel is in the straight-ahead position. The overall effect is more immediate handling responses and greater confidence for the driver.

Body, and driver aids

A stiffer body shell is supported by active safety and advanced driver assistance systems including electronic stability control (ESC) and vehicle stability management (VSM) and all models bar the entry-level '1' grade have autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and a lane departure warning system fitted as standard – optional for '1' for a reasonable GBP350. AEB employs a long-range radar which detects other vehicles whilst a camera detects pedestrians ahead. Lane departure warning worked well without being a pest. New features include straight line stability which senses any difference in applied brake pressure between the right and left of the car and intervenes to keep it straight. Also new: cornering brake control which delivers asymmetrical brake pressure when braking in tight curves to counter loss of traction. Hill-start assist is standard range-wide.

Kit

Boy, have small cars become well equipped of late: even entry level grade 1 has air conditioning, front electric windows with an automatic function on the driver's side, remote locking, electrically adjustable heated door mirrors, a 3.8-inch display screen, Bluetooth, automatic light control, bi-function projection headlamps and cornering lights and LED daytime running lights plus body-coloured bumpers, door mirror casings and door handles, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and 60:40 split rear seats. A four-speaker audio system is standard and safety provisions include ESC, VSM and hill-start assist.

Grade 2 adds 15-inch alloy wheels in place of steels, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear shifter, rear electric windows, electric folding mirrors with LED indicator lights, a digital DAB radio, a five-inch colour display screen, six speakers, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, a 3.5-inch 'premium supervision cluster' (digital display), rear as well as front USB charging ports, cruise control with speed limiter and the AEB and LDW systems. There is chrome trim around the black radiator grille, premium black cloth upholstery and a centre storage box.

Grade 3 has 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic air conditioning, black faux leather upholstery (real enough to fool me till I read the press kit), seven-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, heated front seats and steering wheel, rain-sensing front wipers, privacy glass on the rear side windows and tailgate, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity and Bluetooth with voice recognition.

The limited-run First Edition has 17-inch alloys, a smart key entry system and engine start/stop button, stainless steel pedals, black and red faux leather upholstery and LED rear lights. Not bad.

Plans

This new Rio comes across as a well sorted, well equipped, attractive little supermini that is fun to drive - and pitches in to a tough crowd, topped by the big boys' Vauxhall/Opel Corsa, Ford Fiesta and VW Polo, a trio Kia has no intention of challenging. Having sold 89,346 cars in the UK last year, the local Kia Motors unit is hoping the Rio will account for 11,000-12,000 of this years likely tally of about 91,000 vehicles - a redesigned Picanto is coming this year and the big Stinger early in 2018. In-house pundits reckon the 99hp one-litre engine and the 2 trim level will prove most popular.

Philpott told us he was in "no hurry" to hit the brand's long-held target of 100,000 annual UK sales. "Probably not this year in a declining market, probably not 2018, likely in 2019." He said a lot of money was being spent on dealerships, especially on service and parts departments as a 12-14-day wait period for a service booking in some territories is "too long". He noted that longer warranties (Kia's is seven years or 100,000 miles while three- or five-year servicing packages are also offered) keep customers with dealers longer and that his brand now has the fourth largest (still in) warranty car parc in the UK after Ford, Vauxhall and VW.

Sourcing will remain as it is for now - Sportage, Venga and c'eed built in Slovakia account for 60% of UK sales and the rest come from Korea. "No plans to change sourcing," concludes Philpott.