2017 Kia Rio SLi.
2017 Kia Rio SLi.

ROAD TEST: 2017 Kia Rio a funky little metro machine

BIG can be beautiful.

Just take a look at the growing number plus-size models on international catwalks. All hail the recognition of curves.

Good things can also come in small packages. Take the likes of Prince, Tom Cruise (Top Gun era - before he was jumping on couches) and Mahatma Gandhi... all little blokes achieving big things.

Kia's Rio also falls into that category.

The little South Korean hatch arrived earlier this year with a curvy European shape.

While traditionally the car size targeted by value seekers, what if you want something with a little luxury?

You can get a base model Rio for $17,490 drive-away, but there is an option for a top-spec derivative which comes with a whole heap of bells and whistles from about $26,000 on the road.

VALUE

This top-shelf Rio leaves nothing on the rack. All-inclusive are a six-speaker stereo system with full Bluetooth connectivity and seven-inch touchscreen, satnav with traffic updates, smartphone mirroring apps Apple Carplay and Android Auto, auto lights, 16-inch alloys, tinted rear glass, sunroof, soft touch arm rests, alloy foot pedals, automatic climate control air-con along with man-made leather trim.

Where Kia shines is product backing.

There is nothing better than the seven-year warranty, along with roadside assist for the same period, which is transferable to new owners.

Capped price servicing is available for those returning to the dealership for maintenance annually or every 15,000km, with the average price $348 over seven visits. Not as inexpensive as some, but fluids and filters are included.

The range-topping 2017 Kia Rio SLi.
The range-topping 2017 Kia Rio SLi. Contributed

SAFETY

Five-star safety comes courtesy of six airbags, anti-lock brakes, reverse parking sensors, rear view camera, hill start assist, stability and traction control, LED daytime running lights, as well as a vehicle management system which keeps the car stable when simultaneously braking and cornering - especially on wet, slippery and rough roads.

The SLi also gets night-time turning lights which provide extra illumination when you corner.

DRIVING

Designed as a metro machine, it cuts a swathe through towns and city streets.

Handling prowess shines and cornering can be undertaken with complete confidence.

Live in a hilly area and the Rio's weakness is exposed. You have to maintain the revs for ascents and on occasions flatten the accelerator - sometimes, depending on the gradient, you really have to get the whip out.

Under the skin is a 1.4-litre petrol engine partnered to a four-speed auto... the latter is an ageing unit, and it could do with a couple of extra ratios to squeeze out some more performance.

Not that buyers in this segment are chasing a slingshot, but some will find the Rio lacks punch. Once the shortcomings are recognised you learn to flick the shifter across and change gears manually when tackling steep terrain, and it will hold speed nicely above 3000rpm.

Fuel consumption on test was about seven litres for every 100km - which is about on par with competitors in the genre, maybe slightly thirstier, although it runs on regular unleaded.

The 2017 Kia Rio range (l-r) white S, red SLi and blue Si.
The 2017 Kia Rio range (l-r) white S, red SLi and blue Si. Contributed

PRACTICALITY

Larger than the car it replaces, it's best suited to four passengers but it can handle five. The Rio also has a sizable boot able to handle a couple of medium-size suitcases, or a grocery shop, and if you have awkward size gear, there are 60-40 folding rear seat-backs. We accommodated a 180cm surfboard with the rear seats down and slotted between the two front seats.

There are excellent storage nooks up front near USB and 12-volt points, two cup holders in the centre console and bottle holders in each door (only 500ml bottles in the back).

HEAD SAYS

Lacking some urgency, you need to work the four-cylinder engine hard up hills. Once its spinning, the Rio is a weapon around the bends, which generates plenty of driver confidence.

HEART SAYS

European good looks with strong specification, the touch-screen with smartphone compatibility is awesome.

2017 Kia Rio SLi interior.
2017 Kia Rio SLi interior.

ALTERNATIVES

TOYOTA YARIS ZR $22,470

It too has an ageing powertrain (1.5-litre/four-speed auto) which can be noisy and inefficient, but it's cheap to run and includes autonomous emergency braking and lane departure alert.

SKODA FABIA MONTE CARLO $23,490

Features a punchy 1.2-litre turbo/seven-speed dual-clutch auto, where you get AEB standard, radar cruise optional. Wagon adds $1150.

MAZDA2 GT $21,680

The 1.5-litre/six-speed combination delivers best-in-class fuel efficiency, along with impressive safety equipment.

HOLDEN BARINA LT $20,390

Reasonably well sorted hatch with solid space, although the interior is in need of some love to match the pace.

The 2017 Kia Rio audio system supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
The 2017 Kia Rio audio system supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay Contributed

AT A GLANCE

Kia Rio SLi

PRICE $22,990 plus on-roads (expensive but good kit)

ENGINE 1.4-litre 4-cyl petrol 74kW/133Nm, 4sp auto (adequate)

SAFETY 5-star, reverse parking sensors, rear view camera, hill start assist (good)

THIRST 6.2L/100km (real world test more than 7).

SPARE Space saver (expected)

BOOT 325 litres (ok)

0-100KM/H 12 seconds


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