Vehicle facelifts would typically be cosmetic changes, but that's not the case for the updated Kia Rio. At first glance it seems like a mild tweak, but Kia has given the subcompact car a major update under the hood. That's because, for the first time in tmildhe Rio's history, it's been given a mild-hybrid powertrain option.

But before we get to the engine, how can one tell the facelifted Rio from last year's model? The changes can be best described as subtle. Its grill has been made slimmer, and the bumper has been tweaked to accommodate a new set of foglight housings. It also gets LED headlights as standard, at least for the Euro-spec models. Also changed this year are the wheel options and there are new color options as well.

2020 Kia Rio gets a fresh look and new mild-hybrid system image

Inside, the most significant update is its infotainment system. The screen is now bigger, now at eight-inches wide. At the same time, the instrument cluster now comes with a 4.2-inch multi-colored vehicle information display. Kia expanded the interior color options, and the GT Line gets more sporty-looking bits such as (faux) carbon fiber trimmings.

Now, for the main highlight: the new mild-hybrid powertrain unit. New Rios can be specified with a 1.0-liter turbo engine that's paired to a 48-volt battery system and a Mild-Hybrid Starter-Generator (MHSG) unit. Peak power is rated at 120 PS along with 200 Nm of torque; impressive figures for a 1.0L subcompact car. The mild-hybrid system is also available with the 100 PS version of the 1.0-liter turbo.

Kia Rio gets charged up with mild-hybrid engines image

The MHSG is connected by belt to the engine’s crankshaft, and switches seamlessly between ‘motor’ and ‘generator’ modes. In ‘motor’ mode, under acceleration, the MHSG provides electric power assistance to reduce engine load and emissions. As the car decelerates, the MHSG has the ability under certain conditions to switch to ‘generator’ mode, recuperating energy from the crankshaft to recharge the battery.

Another technical highlight is the intelligent Manual Transmission or iMT. Instead of a mechanical linkage, the iMT’s clutch is controlled purely electronically. It integrates seamlessly with the MHSG to switch off the engine earlier than Kia’s Idle Stop & Go (ISG) start-stop system when coasting to a halt, improving overall fuel efficiency.

The mild-hybrid Rio isn't likely to be offered here in the near future. However, what we might see are the exterior and interior upgrades applied to the car. Engines might still be carried over, but the only way we'll know for sure is if Kia Philippines does bring in the facelifted model here.