Kia Rio hatchback
Price £10,095 - £16,695
- Cheap to run
- Long warranty
- Spacious interior
- Vague steering
- Dated interior
- Rather slow
At a glance
"The Kia Rio is an attractive, practical and thrifty rival to the Ford Fiesta with a seven-year warranty."
The Kia Rio is one of the best-looking small cars Kia has made, and it also has a spacious interior, making it an appealing alternative to the popular Ford Fiesta. The Rio also offers excellent fuel economy and is very easy to drive. Reliability should be strong, too.
Unfortunately, vague and overly light steering means it's not as much fun to drive as the Fiesta or a Renault Clio once you get out of town. Instead, the Rio is the practical choice, and as it's quite large for its class, there's an impressive amount of room for rear-seat passengers and plenty of storage space inside. The Rio is also available with a 1.1-litre diesel capable of hybrid-beating 88mpg fuel economy, although you have to sacrifice some refinement and performance if you want this model's ultra-low running costs.
While the Rio has more character than some previous Kias, many buyers simply want a hassle-free car to own, and thanks to a class-leading seven-year/100,000 mile warranty, the Rio should offer exactly that.
Find out what we think is the best small car by watching our video below.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Excellent diesels, but the petrol engines are only mediocre
The star of the show is the 1.1-litre CRDi Rio 1, which can manage 88.3mpg and emits just 85g/km of CO2, making it free to tax. This makes the Rio one of the most efficient small cars on sale in the UK – only the Toyota Yaris Hybrid and Renault Clio Eco are greener. But, while it grabs headlines, this basic version isn’t the best all-rounder, as it doesn’t even have air-con. More lavishly equipped versions with the same engine return between 74.3 and 78.5mpg, and still cost nothing to tax.
There’s also a more powerful 1.4-litre diesel that returns 70.6mpg and 105g/km emissions, costing £20 a year to tax. Petrol versions include a 1.25-litre with fuel economy of 56.5mpg, as well as a 1.4-litre, which is some way off the class best with figures of 53.3mpg and 124g/km of CO2. If you choose the automatic gearbox, economy drops to 44.1mpg and emissions increase to 150g/km.
The Fiesta has more advanced petrol engines, including the award-winning 1.0-litre EcoBoost that produces 99bhp, returns 65.7mpg and emits just 99g/km of CO2. However its advanced turbocharger and stop-start technology mean it also costs more to buy.
Engines, drive & performance
It’s not quick, but the Rio has plenty of grip and strong brakes
While the Rio scored better than any other small car in our Driver Power customer satsifaction survey, performance was its weakest area. The 1.1-litre diesel could be described as sluggish at best, taking around 15 seconds to go from 0-62mph. The 1.4-litre diesel takes 13.7 seconds, while the 1.4-litre petrol is the quickest in the range, taking 11.1 seconds. The 1.25-litre manages the same dash in 12.6 seconds.
Performance might not be the top priority for most small car buyers, but the Rio's relative lack of pace could make overtaking difficult. However, the petrol models in particular are nippy enough around town – where this car is likely to spend most of its time.
The Rio is quite wide and has firm suspension, so it feels stable and secure when driving around bends, even with several passengers on board. It’s also perfectly happy at higher speeds, where powerful brakes give you plenty of confidence. However, the steering is very light and has limited feel. That means the Rio will be easy to park, but not as much fun to drive as the more precise Fiesta and Clio, both of which feel more at home on twisty country roads.
Interior & comfort
Not too many frills, but Rio is comfortable and useful
'Small' cars have been getting bigger in recent years, and the Rio is a perfect example of this. This extra size means the Kia is surprisingly good over long distances, with little of the wind noise or buffeting that affects many superminis once you hit the motorway. Choose a petrol engine if you like a quiet car, as the small diesel is quite loud under acceleration. There’s no choice of suspension setup and the ride is quite firm, but this rarely makes life too uncomfortable, as the Rio deals with larger bumps adequately.
The interior is plain and functional, with some neat silver highlights, but some of the plastics are a little dull and not particularly tactile. At least there aren’t as many confusing buttons as you’ll find in a Fiesta, but the Rio's dashboard feels a bit dated next to the Clio and Yaris, which have touchscreen infotainment systems.
Visibility is generally good thanks to large windows and an upright driving position, but the wide windscreen pillars can cause a blind spot at some junctions and the small back window makes rear parking sensors a desirable option.
Practicality & boot space
Very spacious, with useful cubbyholes and sockets
The Rio is one of the largest cars in its class, with excellent headroom, so it can carry ferry four adults around in comfort, or even five for shorter journeys. We think the added practicality of the five-door is worth paying extra for, because it’s a little harder to climb into the back of the three-door model. The three-door's longer doors do make it easier get in the front – as long as you’re not in a tight parking space.
The Rio has a 288-litre boot, which is very close to what you get in a Fiesta or VW Polo, but smaller than the 379 litres offered by the Honda Jazz. The Rio’s seats split and fold to reveal 932 litres of luggage space, but the lowered seats create a step that makes it hard to slide items in. The rear boot lip is also quite high, making it tricky to load heavy items.
The Rio is one of the best cars of its type for interior storage, with a large glovebox, door bins and a handy slot in the dashboard for your mobile phone or sunglasses. There’s also a large area in front of the gearlever for your wallet or MP3 player, while some models even have a 12v socket and USB port fitted here to keep your gadgets charged up.
Reliability & safety
The top-rated small car as voted for by you
Kia has an excellent reputation for reliability, and it held on to seventh position in the Driver Power 2014 customer satisfaction survey, ahead of brands like Porsche, Audi, BMW and MINI. Out of 150 cars, the Rio was rated sixth for reliability.
While the Kia doesn’t feel particularly upmarket, it does feel built to last and there isn’t much complicated technology to cause headaches in the future. Even more reassuringly, Kia still offers one of the best warranties of any manufacturer, covering the car for seven years or 100,000 miles – whichever comes first.
You can’t fault the Rio’s safety credentials, either: it was awarded a five-star rating by Euro NCAP, including an impressive 92% score for adult occupant protection. Six airbags are included, along with technology to help prevent the car skidding and reduce stopping distances in emergencies.
Price, value for money & options
Well equipped, but infotainment system needs updating to compete
The entry-level Kia Rio 1 costs a few quid more than a basic Ford Fiesta, but has steering wheel stereo controls, front and rear electric windows, remote central locking and stop-start technology (the latter with the diesel engines only).
The 1 Air trim level adds air-con, while VR7 includes 15-inch alloy wheels and an enhanced interior with leather and silver highlights.
The 2, 3 and 4 specifications progressively add more creature comforts, including cruise control. The range-topping model boasts a heated steering wheel, keyless entry and leather seats.
These are impressive features, but the Rio feels dated compared with the latest Yaris, Polo and Clio, which feature touchscreen infotainment systems with sat nav. The Polo now features the same set-up you’ll find in the Volkswagen Golf, which brings a very upmarket feel to its cabin.
The Kia isn’t expected to hold onto its value over time as well as the Polo, but its long warranty and excellent performance in owner satisfaction surveys like Driver Power should help bolster resale values.