When you think of compact affordable cars, it’s hard to think outside the usual offerings from Nissan, VW, Ford and Vauxhall – but now Kia has entered the equation.
After unveiling the Stinger, an all-new GT car that we really didn’t expect from the Korean manufacturer, Kia has released the Rio, a slightly less fun – but still impressive car.
The Rio might not look as good as the Stinger, but it’s for a very different crowd. It’s a B-segment car, so it’s up against the likes of the new Nissan Micra, Volkswagen Golf and Renault Clio. And after some time with it on UK roads, I’d say it’s in with a chance of beating them, too
Kia Rio (2017) review: Design
The Rio looks pretty unremarkable on its own, but compare it to its predecessor and you’ll see how Kia design has improved in leaps and bounds. The Rio is slightly wider this time around, and because the headlights and fog lamps have been pushed out, the new car looks far more poised and aggressive than previous versions. From the outside at least, the Kia looks like a legitimate contender in the supermini sector.
Kia Rio (2017) review: Interior
Jump into the cabin and first impressions of the Kia’s interior are good, too. It’s no match for something like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class or Audi A1, but the Kia’s interior is actually quite stylish. The dashboard is dominated by what Kia calls a “floating screen”, while the rest of the car is full of clear, legible buttons within easy reach. That’s not to say it’s in any way cluttered, though: only the buttons on the steering wheel appear to look crammed. I drove both the First Edition and 2 grade version – read entry-level model – of the Rio, and the cabin was up to the same high standard in each, with finishes changing throughout.
Of course, good looks are nothing without substance, and the Rio puts up a surprisingly good showing on the tech front, too.
Kia Rio review (2017): Infotainment
The centrepiece of the Rio’s interior is a “floating” infotainment screen, and before we even get into the displays available, it’s worth noting just how good this style of screen is. The floating screen style is used by Audi, Mercedes-Benz and others to keep the screen close to the drive, while also giving the cabin an airy feel – and it does the same thing here.
However, the infotainment screen you get depends very much on the model of Kia Rio you get. The entry-level, 1-grade Rio gets a 3.8 monochrome audio display with RDS, and the 2-, 3- and First Edition-grade cars come with a colour infotainment system. However, 2-grade Rio gets a 5in touchscreen, while the 3-grade and range-topping First Edition Rio models get a 7in touchscreen.
Kia Rio (2017) review: Performance
I tested the two colour touchscreens, and found the performance of both was surprisingly good. Sure, the menus weren’t the most beautiful, but it was very quick and easy to navigate through the Rio’s menus. The Rio also features a homescreen that puts navigation on the left, and whichever apps you tend to use on the right. And although it wasn’t a polished solution, it provided everything you’d need to see at a glance. If you still find the touchscreen menus too much effort, you can use either voice control or physical buttons – one of which is assignable to any function of the infotainment system.
The same performance was evident when it came to browsing maps. When using my finger to drag the map in different directions, there was hardly any lag at all – something extremely surprising when you still find lag in cars such as the Jaguar XE for instance. And although it’s a relatively small thing, the lack of latency has a huge impact on your user experience. Cars that have laggy maps put you on the back foot when you’re driving and looking up directions, but you’ll find no such problems with the Kia Rio.
Kia Rio (2017) review: Navigation
The maps are good, then, but what’s the navigation like? In a word, solid. Maps are clear and load quickly, while directions are given onscreen and in ample time, with an audible countdown the closer you get to a turning. Although the Kia did have a small 3.8in screen between the dials, it didn’t seem to display navigation details – which is pretty disappointing.
On the right-hand corner of the main screen, the Kia’s navigation system also shows the next step of your journey – a nice touch. Higher-end cars will often zoom in automatically for tricky junctions or motorway exits, giving you even more detailed graphics – and that’s one of the other features it would have been nice to see here.
Kia Rio (2017) review: Audio and connectivity
Despite its price, the Kia Rio offers a good amount of variety when it comes to connectivity. A USB port and aux port are located just under the A/C system for charging your phone or listening to music, and the shelf just above the two ports provides a great place to leave your phone. If you don’t want to use wires, you can always use Bluetooth to wirelessly pair your device – although a safety “feature” prevents you from doing so even when moving very slowly. The Kia Rio also features an easy-to-use DAB radio function, for those who prefer to listen to something other than their personal devices.
Get your music in the car and you’ll find the audio quality on the Rio isn’t terrible. At most volumes the Rio sounds fine, although it lacks the clarity and range of more expensive cars. At louder volumes, however, the sound does tend to deteriorate, and that’s true whether you go for the four-speaker system in the 1-grade car, or the six-speaker system in all the other models.
Kia Rio (2017) review: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
However, the headline feature here is built-in compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which are featured in the 3-grade and First Edition models of the 2017 Kia Rio. Both worked as you’d expect them to, and it was also relatively easy to switch back and forth between the car’s infotainment and Apple or Google’s systems. The Kia Rio even makes it possible to assign a physical button to CarPlay or Android Auto.
The inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a huge bonus for this car – and it makes Nissan’s decision to leave it out of the 2017 Micra all the more puzzling.
Kia Rio (2017) review: Drive
The Kia Rio isn’t a car designed for performance, and after taking the car around UK roads this week, it’s clear that it’s more about getting from A to B. The ride is mostly quiet and smooth, while steering feels relatively direct, too. I drove two manual versions of the car – a 1 grade and a first edition – and although neither engine was designed for performance, both models offered reasonable acceleration. Unfortunately, though, the ride of the Kia Rio wasn’t as smooth – or often, as involving – as the 2017 Nissan Micra’s.
Kia Rio (2017) review: Safety and autonomous functions
Although we didn’t get to test them, the Rio also features a number of active safety features. Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and lane departure is standard on trim-levels except the entry-level 1-grade car, and even then it’s available as a £tbc option. Interestingly, the Kia’s AEB system can also detect pedestrians, something you rarely see in this sector of cars.
The Kia Rio doesn’t come with adaptive cruise control, but after having a chat with a Kia spokesperson, it appears this could be an update released later down the line. The Kia uses a camera and radar for its AEB and lane-departure functions; both of those elements are also used for adaptive cruise control. This means that only a software update would be required to unlock the new functionality, but whether Kia will do this or not is another story.
Kia Rio (2017) review: Price
The Kia Rio starts at £11,995 for the entry-level 1-grade, manual model, rising all the way to £17,445 for the six-speed First Edition car. Put them side by side with the new 2017 Nissan Micra, and it’s clear these cars are in direct competition.
Kia Rio (2017) review: Verdict
]Kia isn’t a name that stirs emotion or a good level of respect, but cars such as the Optima, Sportage, Stinger and now Rio are doing a lot to change that. The Rio looks smart, and although it doesn’t have a great deal of tech, it gathers all the essential features you’d need and executes them perfectly.
There’s a good level of standard dynamic safety features in the Rio, and although Kia’s infotainment system is actually pretty rapid, the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto gives you three solid options to use. If you’re in the market for an affordable supermini, check out the usual suspects such as the Nissan Micra and Volkswagen Polo – but make sure you take a hard look at the Kia Rio, too.