Kia Rio hatchback: Base-spec manual vs four-speed auto
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We drive the new base-level Kia Rio LX Manual, while Colin Smith test an automatic version of the hatchback
The Kia Rio is one of the most popular and respected small cars on the New Zealand market, and the new 2017 model has a lot to live up to.
The new Rio is wider, slightly longer and sits lower, all of which helps make it a better car to drive than its predecessor.
Though less distinctive than the previous Rio, the new model is a sharp-looking small hatch that offers an impressive list of technology features, even in the baseline LX model.
There are three Rio models, including the baseline LX six-speed manual version that we tested. It sells for $22,490 plus on road costs.
At the moment, Kia New Zealand is offering the automatic LX for only $20,490 plus orc, although it normally sells for $23,490.
So our manual Rio test car costs $2000 more than the automatic equivalent, but only while an introductory special offer is in place.
Like all Rios, the LX is powered by a 1368cc four-cylinder engine, which puts out 74kW of power at 6000rpm, and 133Nm of torque.
While you are getting your head around the concept of saving money by buying the automatic, however temporarily, the two other models are the mid-range EX, which sells for $25,490 plus orc, while the top-line Limited model costs $26,990 plus orc.
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$306.46 p/w $1,225.83 p/m
This is a well-equipped small car, with the standard safety package including six airbags, vehicle stability management, corner brake control and hill start assist.
None of the Rios includes the active safety and driver assist features now appearing on many small cars. But the base model comes with most controls on the steering wheel, including radio volume/station buttons, and cruise control. Apple Car Play and Android Auto operate on the entire range of Rios.
There are front, side and side-curtain airbags on all models, and the reversing camera includes useful guidelines that make reversing into a tight spot a breeze.
The Rio also has a short rear overhang, and the hatch door is upright, helping to make reversing manoeuvres easier.
The LX rides well, sitting on 15-inch alloy wheels. The steering is responsive and the Rio corners well.
The manual gearbox is smooth and the shifts are short and direct.
However, the indicator on the dashboard often suggests the driver shift up into sixth gear, just when the car starts to feel like it is responding well to the demands of the driver. You often shift into sixth, knowing full well you will have to change down almost immediately to gain speed quickly.
But, the Rio is a fun car to drive around town and, in heavy central Auckland traffic, it is easy to remain in third and fourth when driving from one set of traffic lights to the next.
On the open road, the Rio is fine once it has gained sufficient momentum to approach the speed limit, but passing ability, even in fifth gear, is limited.
However, the Rio is economical, especially the manual LX.
Kia claims a 5.6 litre/100km fuel usage for the manual, compared with 6.2litres/100km for the automatic versions.
During almost a week behind the wheel, I achieved an average of 5.9litres/100km, which is the closest I have come to a manufacturer's listed economy figure.
The upshot is that even in real driving conditions, combining Auckland urban and main highway motoring, and with a relatively heavy foot, the Rio LX is a frugal motoring proposition.
Kia's reputation for reliability (the Rio comes with a five-year, 100,000km warranty, and five years of roadside assistance), and the level of useful driver technology and connectivity aboard, all help make it a compelling competitor in the intensely competitive small hatch segment of the market.
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Small things can count for a lot in small cars. The few extra millimetres of dimensions offered by the fourth-generation Kia Rio make a considerable difference to its passenger and load-carrying space to provide small hatchback family functionality.
The differences are small but an overall length of 4065mm (rather than the typical sub-4 metre super-mini measurement) and a body slightly wider than most at 1725mm provide benefits. So does the generous 325-litre load volume.
It's enough to consider the new Rio as a quarter-size larger than rivals such as the Mazda2, Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris.
But measuring up a little bigger means the Rio is also heavier than its competitors -- at 1246kg something in the region of 150-200kg depending on specifications.
Photo / Colin Smith
And that flows through to a level of performance and efficiency that isn't as modern as the new Rio's handsome looks and appealing equipment levels appear to promise.
Under the bonnet there's a 1368cc fuel-injected engine with 74kW output at 6000rpm and 133Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
The power and weight numbers mean the Rio is a little on the low side when it comes to performance. But the biggest thing that makes a difference in a new-for-2017 small car is an old-school four-speed automatic transmission.
The Rio can deliver smooth response around town but venture out on to highways and four gears aren't enough to provide a modern level of response and efficiency.
Reasonably wide ratio gaps and sometimes reluctant kickdown response are impediments to refined highway performance and the car would be transformed by having two more gears and a small extra helping of kilowatts and Newton metres.
Photo / Colin Smith
At 100km/h, the engine is already beginning to sound busy using 2600rpm in fourth gear with a big step to 3600rpm with the shift into third.
Four gears also count against efficiency. On an open road journey, I managed to ease the consumption down to 7.1L/100km, but it's still a stretch to the claimed combined cycle consumption of 6.2L/100km.
Stay within the urban environs and the Rio will achieve about 8.0L/100km.
More engine and more gears would bring the Rio to life and there's a chassis that would easily cope with some extra urgency.
The new Rio is a step forward in its dynamics and it steers accurately with wide-track confidence and plenty of cornering grip -- especially in the Limited model with excellent Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyres in 205/45 R17 size fitted to eight-spoke alloy wheels.\