There are 19 versions of the UK markets 2015 Rio

There are 19 versions of the UK market's 2015 Rio

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In South Korea it's always been the Pride, in China it's the K2, while in Russia, Europe and the Americas, Kia's B-hatchback is called Rio. The recently updated model is a solid cornerstone for its maker's future small car ambitions, worldwide.

Kia is one of those companies which is very good at keeping its cars fresh throughout their lifecycles. Just look at the Sportage. In the UK, sales are running at record levels, even though this model is in its seventh year of production. Mid-cycle styling updates are subtle - you can tell the head of Design previously worked at the Volkswagen Group. 

Ford of Europe would do well to follow Kia’s example, especially as the Fiesta is now looking dated, especially on the inside. Compare the dashboard, door trims, instrumentation, infotainment screen, lighting, seats and how everything feels and the Korean car wins, no contest. There is a very German design philosophy in play with Kias - every detail seems to be obsessed about, and yet the temptation to over style things has not been acted upon. It is just like being in a cheaper Polo.

The company appears to be in the good habit of listening to its dealers and customers, which does make you wonder if it’s really a coincidence that Kia is rapidly becoming the new Škoda. What I mean by that is seeing the owner comments on the UK importer’s website - negative and positive - and people clearly very much impressed by both the cars and the no-nonsense approach to their buying and servicing experience.

In the case of the Rio, model grades are straightforward, standard equipment is generous, and all variants are cheap to run. Plus you get that seven-year warranty. This applies in all European markets and it’s interesting to see the same multi-year guarantee applied to all cars being sold in Mexico, the brand’s newest market.

The car on test was a 1.4-litre petrol in grade 2, which is priced at GBP13,645. Its 1,396cc engine produces 107bhp @ 6,300 RPM and torque is 101 kb-ft @ 4,200. Accleration isn’t its strongpoint, with 0-60mph taking 11.0 seconds, while top speed is 114mph. The CO2 average is better though, at 114g/km, while Combined consumption is 56.5mpg.

The six-speed manual gearbox makes for quiet motorway journeys, and a length and width of just 4,050 and 1,720mm means the Rio will easily fit in the cosy parking spaces we must put up with in these islands. If you want an automatic, it has to be in combination with the 107bhp petrol engine and out of the 19 variants available, only two can be ordered with the auto gearbox. Plus, it only has four speeds.

Electrically folding mirrors are fitted to the 2 trim level (take note Audi, Porsche and others which make you pay for them) though you don’t get SatNav. You could almost make the case for the Rio as a family car too, thanks to things like doors which will take big water bottles, a huge glovebox and a deep lidded centre console cubby.

There is a lot more space in the back than you will find in, say, any form of Mini. A pity then that the rear occupants’ knees will be doing battle with some hard grey plastic. The doors have deep bottle holders, though they will only take vessels of a fairly narrow circumference. Electric windows feature for the back doors and the upholstery is a soft synthetic material.

The current Rio is now more than four years old, the world premiere having been at the Geneva motor show in March 2011. Kia’s home market model, the Pride, followed later the same month with its debut being at the Seoul motor show.

A four-door sedan - not available in Britain - was a world premiere as the Kia K2 at the 2011 Shanghai motor show, followed a day later by the near-identical Kia Rio sedan at the New York auto show in April 2011. The three-door was the last to arrive, its global debut being at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2011.

Cars for Europe are manufactured at the Sohari plant in greater Seoul (annual capacity: 350,000), and there is also assembly at Hyundai Motor’s St Petersburg factory but that’s for the local market. Chinese buyers’ cars are sourced from Yancheng, where the DYK joint venture has multiple production facilities.

The latest model was first seen at last October’s Paris motor show, which was where the facelift and now Euro 6-compliant engines premiered. DYK’s restyled K2 sedan was revealed at the following month's Guangzhou show, with the sedan's world premiere taking place at the Chicago auto show in February this year.

Engine choice in Britain starts with a 74bhp/170Nm 1.1 CRDi, then progresses to 84bhp/121Nm 1.2-litre and 1.4-litre petrol units, as well as an 89bhp/220Nm 1.4 CRDi. The smaller capacity three-cylinder diesel has a Combined average of 74mpg and CO2 emissions of under 100g/km. If you choose the base 1 trim with the 74bhp diesel, the Combined average is 88.3mpg.

The Rio is playing its role in the ongoing record sales for the brand in Britain. In the first half of the calendar year, Kia sold 42,248 vehicles, a level which puts it ahead of schedule for its 2015 goal: 80,000 units. By 2020, the brand is hoping it will have added a further 20,000 cars per annum to that tally. 

At a global level, Kia delivered 241,275 cars in June, and 1,437,348 for the first half of 2015 (-0.4% YoY). The Rio/Pride/K2 was the best selling model in markets outside South Korea, with total deliveries of 39,215. Year to date sales for the car reached 225,742 units in H1, which was more than 30,000 units ahead of the Sportage and Cerato/Forte/K3. Despite the ongoing collapsed state of the Russian new vehicle market (June: -30%, YtD: -36%), the Rio is holding up well there, coming in at number three in June, it sales actually rising by 3% so that in H1, 42,688 Rios were registered, a drop of just 10%.

There are unlikely to be any further tweaks to Kia’s best seller before the arrival of the successor model during 2017. The car's world premiere should be at the Geneva motor show, with the Pride to follow a month later at the Seoul show, the (2018MY) Rio sedan at the New York show, with the K2 expected to appear in November 2017 at the Guangzhou show.

Other future small Kias include the Morning/Picanto due in 2016 (project code: UA), a small PHEV crossover (DE), Sportage (QL, world premiere at the 2015 Frankfurt IAA in September), cee’d (2017) and Soul (2018). What about a B-crossover which was needed two years ago to attack the Opel-Vauxhall Mokka and all of its many rivals? It’s coming, Kia GB’s MD Paul Philpott recently told me, and it won’t be the same as China’s existing KX3. Other details of a selection of Kia’s next generation models will also be listed in an interview to be published on next week.

In his next vehicle review, Glenn Brooks will look at the new BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer and assess the Group's UKL1 architecture future models.

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