The new model onslaught from Kia is relentless. Next to arrive is the five-door Rio hatchback, targeted at the Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris. Will its undeniable good looks, promise of value for money and a headline grabbing seven-year warranty make it a contender for honours in the B-segment?
In the Metal:
At this stage it's well known that Kia's design resurgence is lead by Peter Schreyer, previously of Audi. The most obvious change he has made to Kia's cars is the addition of the 'tiger grille' and it's a prominent feature of the new Rio too. Sharply contoured headlights emphasise it, with LED daytime running lights for good measure. Elsewhere the Rio is reminiscent of several other cars in the class, including the Toyota Yaris, SEAT Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo, but it's still a coherent, attractive design.
The interior is less dramatic, but still smart. The plastics seem of good quality and there's a tactility to the switchgear and surfaces that blows the old Kia Rio away. Space and comfort up front is good, while rear legroom seems about average for the class. The boot is, surprisingly, smaller than the Fiesta's and that of the Yaris.
Just two engines will be offered in Ireland initially. The biggest seller is likely to be the 1.25-litre petrol engine. Somewhat surprisingly, this segment is still dominated by petrol engines due to the relatively low mileage covered. The 1.25-litre unit emits just 114g/km of CO2 so it's comfortably in Band A making any alternative pointless. It puts out 85hp and 121Nm of torque, which will be adequate for around-town driving. It feels a little out of breath on twisting mountain roads, though the five-speed gearshift is slick enough.
The 1.4-litre diesel has 89hp and a much more useful 220Nm of torque. That's telling on the same hilly stretch of road as it needs less revs and doesn't bog down so easily. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on that car.
Kia has pitched the Rio's chassis in the middle of comfortable and sporty, so it handles a twisty road in a tidy, safe fashion, while dealing with the worst of urban decay adequately. There is a slightly hard edge to the ride over the worst bumps, but it's no less comfy than its rivals. It feels remarkably like the Fiesta in fact.
What you get for your Money:
Our four-star rating here is a preliminary one, as Kia Ireland has not yet officially released prices - or specifications. It's thought that the 1.25-litre petrol-fuelled Rio will start somewhere below €15,500, with the 1.4-litre diesel version a little over €2,000 more. That would mean it'll undercut the big players in the class, while presumably boasting better equipment levels. Two trim levels will be offered. We'd hope that air conditioning, Bluetooth, iPod connectivity and stereo controls for it all are standard, though watch this space for more.
Due to the vagaries of our tax system Irish buyers are being denied a 1.1-litre turbodiesel version of the Kia Rio. Its three-cylinder engine emits just 85g/km of CO2, which is apparently the lowest figure of any non-electric car on sale in the world. However, there are no tax benefits to it as our system stands. Perhaps that'll change in the Budget this year.
A three-door version of the Rio will follow the five-door to market in 2012.
Kia has done it again. An aging model that served it well in terms of sales has been replaced by one that looks great and is competent in all areas. It promises to be good value too and of course that seven-year warranty attracts many buyers into the showroom. Can it knock the Fiesta and Yaris off their perches? Time will tell.