Here's a fun fact: The Kia Rio is actually the successor of the good ol' Pride. In fact, that name was still being for the previous-generation model. Needless to say, Kia's B-segment offering has come a long way since the days of the 'CD5' (Remember those?).
Admit it or not, Kia has made big strides in a relatively short amount of time. The Korean automaker has been rolling out pretty striking and daring designs for the past couple of years. The latest example to arrive to here is the fourth-generation Rio, and it's no exception. I say it looks sharper than ever.
For the all-new Rio, Kia ditched the rounded, playful shape of its predecessor in favor of a more aggressive, angular body. It's as if Kia wants to say that the Rio has grown up quite a lot since its first iteration back in 2000. Slimmer, upswept headlights and defined bumper edges certainly do its part in making the Rio look edgier. From the front, one might even mistake it for a European 'supermini', especially if you cover up the badges.
Complementing the sharper front end is a clean and uncluttered side profile. Like the Sorento, there are no deep character lines on the doors, just gentle sweeping curves to give the doors a little more character. Typical of Kias in this day and age, the window line points upwards towards the rear, giving the Rio rather slim windows. The Euro influence is even clearer at the rear with its simple-looking tail lights with an LED light signature. All in all, I do have to say that the Rio isn't a boring-looking hatch.
The Rio continues to impress with its interior design. It's far removed from the previous-generation's slab sided look. Now, there's a panel that adds more detail to the passenger side of the dash, adding a bit of flair to the cabin. Even the air-conditioning buttons and switches have been styled while the silver and gloss black trim further accents further accents a sporty vibe. The steering wheel is thick-rimmed and nice to touch plus, there is an air of quality when you press the buttons. Mind you, this is a B-segment hatch so hard wearing plastics are to be expected.
Space, however, isn't the Rio's strongest suit. The rear quarters are a little on the tight side and, with its sloping roofline, headroom is at a premium. Couple that with the slim windows and it feels more cramped than it really does. Granted, it is a small hatchback but some of its contemporaries feel more spacious despite the similar footprint. As for cargo space, it is adequate at best, but not outstanding. Still, I appreciate the fact that it has steering wheel adjustments for reach, meaning one can find the ideal driving position with no problem at all.
Carried over from the previous model is its engine. Still using the 1.4-liter Kappa engine, it is the same one found in the current Hyundai Accent. Power is rated at 100 PS and 135 Nm of torque, much like the older Rio. Curiously, it still shifts via a four-speed automatic transmission but there is a manual mode should you fancy the mood for some spirited driving.
Unfortunately, it's the four-speed automatic that would prove to be the weakest link of the Rio. With a limited amount of gears to maximize, it takes a while to upshift and downshift when left on its own devices. As a result, it blunts performance with sluggish responses and initial pick up. Even if cars in this class are not primarily built for performance, it does affect the overall driving experience with uphill crests and overtaking requiring careful planning or the use of manual mode.
With only four speeds to choose from, the rather old-school transmission severely affects fuel efficiency. In heavy city traffic, (16 km/h average), fuel economy was a low 7.3 kilometers per liter. Mixing light and heavy traffic yielded just 8.2 kilometers per liter at 18 km/h. At 23 km/h however, it improves to 9.4 kilometers per liter.
That aside, the Rio actually made for a decent daily commuter. Engine noise is well suppressed and so was wind noise. Yes, there is tire noise but it's mainly due to the low-profile tires. At the same time, the seats were also supportive which made sitting in traffic that bit more bearable. There is a degree of refinement when cruising in the Rio and it somewhat makes up for the transmission.
Perhaps the trump card of the Rio is its chassis and handling. It felt solid and rigid when taking on the corners, giving it a surprisingly dynamic drive. Couple that with a steering system that provided weight and feedback, I actually ended up enjoying driving the Rio spiritedly. Who would have thought that Kia would make a relatively fun hatchback? That said, the ride is pretty firm with a fair amount of impact harshness being felt in the cabin. If anything, the ride and handling reminds me of the first-generation Honda Jazz. If the Rio was given a transmission more deserving of its chassis, it would have had all the makings of a fun little hatchback.
This top of the line Rio GL starts at Php 955,000 which sounds pretty hefty for a small hatchback. You do get a smart key with push-button start, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, rear parking assist and even charging outlets for both front and rear passengers. I do have to note the lack of a touchscreen which some might expect at this price point and stability control would make it a safer, more appealing package. To make up for it, the range-topping Rio comes with cornering lights, a feature commonly found is higher-end crossovers and premium sedans.
To sum up, the all-new Rio has most of the right ingredients to make it a competent hatchback. It's stylish inside and out, reasonably refined and surprisingly dynamic. Really, it's the transmission that lets down this otherwise appealing package. Perhaps if it had at least a five-speed automatic, or even a CVT, the Rio would be one of the well-rounded cars in its class. Here's to hoping for a significant transmission upgrade soon.