Kia's striking second generation Rio is a stark contrast to its predecessor and a genuinely exciting little car to see on the road. It promises a leap forward in quality and refinement, but can it deliver? I spent a week behind the wheel of the 1.4 version to find out.
The sporty front end is imposing and the 'bubble' body of the old car looks like a relic of the past in comparison.
Big headlights, gaping grilles and a wide bumper give it the appearance of a hot hatch, while the pronounced wheel arches and deep recesses side on are refreshing.
The back end is more reserved with a neat and uncluttered look and the large rear light clusters and curved rear screen are easy on the eye.
Kia's premise of 'style outside; quality inside' is immediately recognisable with a refined and well thought out cabin. None of the buttons are out of reach or annoying to use and every switch feels robust. The air conditioning dials are nicely weighted and though there is a lot of plastic, it's far from cheap and scratchy. It is a bit on the bland side though and some chrome details or more piano black fascias would make it more inviting.
A high seating position is welcome here as the tall roof and large windscreen give a good level of front facing visibility. The letterbox rear windscreen that adds to the looks is a major downfall for usability though and parking can be a bit of a chore as it is unclear exactly where the car ends. For this reason, rear parking sensors should definitely be fitted as an option.
Rear legroom is sufficient for tall adults with a 70mm increase in wheelbase and it's easy to get in and out of the doors.
What struck me about the car is that the quality continues even in the smallest details. It sounds solid not tinny when you shut the door and there's nothing fragile about the feel of the car. The decision to keep screws visible on certain parts of the dash are also welcome; at least you know the interior is well put together and free from plastic clips that are likely to snap. Kia has even gone to the effort of clearly stamping body panels under the bonnet and between the door shuts, so it's top marks for the premium finish.
A 200-mile round trip in the Rio proved that the big seats are supportive and comfortable, even after two hours of sitting in the same position. On motorways it feels solid and there's no sign of body shake at speed. The six-speed gearbox is an added bonus for cruising.
From the 1.4 litre 'Gamma' engine you can expect 107bhp and a 0-60mph jog at 11.1 seconds. It's far from gutless, but you have to work the engine hard to get a response and swift overtaking manoeuvres need to be thought out well in advance. Acceleration is leisurely in higher gears and the car reluctantly responds to being pushed.
Quiet and refined when you do push it hard, the engine at least refrains from sounding strangled. A claimed 51.4mpg is achievable, but for the most part I was returning around 38-40mpg with mixed driving. For the output, I expected a bigger reward in economy. CO2 emissions are average in class at 128g/km.
Electric power steering makes the Rio equally fun to zip around town in or drive fast along twisty county lanes. It's well weighted and light, but gives little indication of what the front wheels are up to when you push on.
Overall then, this car is an attractive option. It goes up against some stiff competition from the likes of Ford's rock-solid Fiesta to the equally popular Volkswagen Polo and is priced to match at a competitive £13,095 on the road.
Whether it will lure buyers away from the 'big six' manufacturers remains to be seen, but with outstanding looks and cracking build quality, Kia certainly has a fighting chance. Don't forget the huge benefit of a seven year warranty either; another ace up the Rio's sleeve.
Now that the 3-door Rio is available, there's nothing I'd like to see more than a performance model released with a turbocharged unit and twin exhausts to go with the looks. Though there have been no announcements, it could be well be in the pipeline and I'm sure it would be one hot hatch to watch out for.