The all-new Kia Rio is here and I’m really pleased to say that the Korean car company has another pleasing and well-rounded model to offer Australian car buyers.
On the back of the arrival of impressive new-generation versions of the Kia Sportage, Sorento (our 2015 Car of the year), Cerato and Carnival in recent years, the new Kia Rio is a vastly improved offering.
I will address the ‘elephant in the room’ early on though - the auto transmission.
The only real weak spot in the new Rio, Kia Australia can only offer a four-speed auto transmission in the Rio at the moment and this does let the new model down.
There are strong rumors that a six-speed auto is coming to Australia and this seems likely as the Rio is offered with a six-speed auto in other markets, including the USA.
The official line from Kia Australia is to “watch this space” and we will bring you more news on that as it comes to hand.
The new-gen model though does launch with the four-speed auto (once again mated exclusively to a 1.4 litre petrol engine) and that means you simply don’t have the spread of ratios that we are generally so used to today.
Does it really matter? Well, to most people probably not, however you can certainly feel in the new Rio that the limited gears aren’t giving the engine as much assistance as would a six-speed gearbox.
For example, accelerate away from a dead stop and you find the revs somewhat die in a flat spot as the transmission shifts up to second.
Or while travelling up a hill, with more ratios you barely feel a shift back from perhaps 6th to 4th, but in the Rio dropping from 4th to 3rd gives you quite a noticeable jolt and sudden increase in revs.
So the four-speed auto really manages to take a bit of the shine off what it an otherwise much nicer Kia Rio to drive.
Fortunately, if you don’t mind doing it yourself, Kia is continuing to offer a six-speed manual in the base model Rio S and I found this to be quite an enjoyable option.
Kia has gone back to the drawing board and redesigned the steering - the end result is excellent.
The ride and handling are also vastly improved and this is thanks to reworked suspension and a stiffer chassis.
That new chassis also gives you a wider and longer Kia Rio with a longer wheelbase too.
Cabin space and boot space (up 10%) are increased due to these added dimensions and while rear seat legroom is still a bit tight, overall, the 2017 Kia Rio interior is adequately roomy (at least for four adults).
Aside from the impressive on-road characteristics, the best thing about the new Kia Rio is that new chassis.
More rigid than Rio’s of the past, the car no longer feels like a budget-focused ‘tin can’, but a more grown up and overall more enjoyable car.
While I was also very impressed by the quality feel in functions such as the door handles, again, no longer cheap feeling, the Kia Rio is a lot more grown up.
Inside that cabin you will find more comfortable seats and a much-needed centre console bin that provides a centre arm rest for front seat passengers.
Satellite-navigation, digital radio and cruise control are all offered as standard in the mid-spec Si and top-spec SLi.
Those two higher grade models also get a leather wrapped steering wheel and this does feel a whole lot better in your hands than the base model’s plastic wheel.
All three model grades boast a reverse camera, auto headlights and a 7″ touchscreen that is nicely located on the dashboard.
A welcome addition to the new Rio is also a handy smartphone storage shelf at the front of the console and just near the AUX audio and USB inputs.
I was a touch disappointed to see that the cruise control system doesn’t display what your set speed is (a feature quite common today), conversely the new Kia Rio picks up points for a lightning fast infotainment system and top-shelf sat-nav system.
That sat-nav system even features speed sign recognition and a handy split screen function that feeds you info, such as where fuel stations are located, accommodation options etc. as you drive along.
Finally, the climate control system adjustments have been redesigned and they are elegantly simple and effective.
Though Kia seems to have added a timed-recirculate system to the new model that will see the ‘recirculate’ setting revert back to ‘fresh air’ after around five minutes.
Some people, myself included, find this function a bit frustrating, especially when driving through city tunnels and around trucks.
The auto transmission may be a turn-off for some, however I still believe the new Rio needs to be on your light car test-drive list.
NUTS and BOLTS - 2017 Kia Rio
Engine: 1.4 litre petrol producing 73kW/133Nm
Transmission: Four-speed auto or six-speed manual (S grade only)
Safety: Not tested
Warranty: Seven years
Origin: South Korea
Price: S Manual from $16,990, S Auto from $19,090, Si Auto from $21,490, SLi Auto from $22,990