Car Reviews

2017 Kia Rio S Review

Isaac Bober’s 2017 Kia Rio S Review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: The new Kia Rio offers good looks and a roomy interior with a locally-tweaked suspension and steering package.

2017 Kia Rio S (manual)

Pricing $16,990+ORC Warranty seven-years, unlimited kilometres Engine 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 74kW at 6000rpm Torque 133Nm at 4000rpm Transmission six-speed manual (four-speed automatic available) Drive front-wheel Dimensions 4065mm (L); 1725mm (W); 1450mm (H) Boot space 325 litres Fuel Tank 45 litres Thirst 5.6L/100km combined

THE ALL-NEW Kia Rio launched earlier this year (and you can read out launch review HERE) giving Kia’s small car a much-needed refresh both inside and out. It’s now a bigger car than ever before and while the Kia has moved on from just being the Rio car company, it’s tiddler model still stands out as a core product in its armoury, representing around 16% of total sales globally.

What is it?

This fourth-generation Kia Rio is 15mm longer at 4065mm, sits 5mm lower at 1450mm, is the same width but the wheelbase is 10mm longer (up to 2580mm), making for a roomier cabin. The A-pillar is thinner and the wing mirrors have been pushed up to the base of the A-pillar, and the C-pillar is more upright and thinner than before (reduced by a staggering 87mm). All this contributes to improved vision around the vehicle.

The new Rio takes styling cues from bigger, newer models in the range, getting a refreshed, slimmer Tiger Nose grille, while some models get U-shapped LED daytime running lights. The new-look Rio, certainly carries a greater air of sophistication and maturity than its third-generation predecessor.

2017 Kia Rio S Review by Practical Motoring

But changes are more than just skin deep with Kia saying it’s upped the amount of high-strength lightweight steel to 51%, up from 33% in the old model. This has helped to stiffen the chassis, which Kia says improves ride refinement and improved crash performance, although neither ANCAP or Euro NCAP has conducted a test on the Kia Rio.

Indeed, further structural tweaks to improve ride and handling include, the addition of more rigid front suspension struts and cross member and a raised rear torsion beam; “the adoption of new vertical rear shock absorbers and front shock absorbers with pre-loaded linear valve technology, both resulting in more linear handling and suspension response over broken road surfaces”. And, of course, the Rio, like all Kias sold here, gets a bespoke suspension and steering tune for Australia.

Unlike the old model, which was available in both three- and five-door trim, the new model is five-door only.

What’s the interior like?

There was nothing wrong with the interior of the old Rio and the same goes for this new one. Everything is where it should be and all of the switches and dials are easy to reach and operate. It’s a functional interior and it’s clear to see that Kia measures itself against the likes of Volkswagen and Skoda, when it comes to layout.

The materials too, even in this entry-level Rio S are nice to the touch even if some are hard and scratchy. The surfacing of the plastic is such that it looks soft-touch and feels soft to the fingertip, if not the nail.

As we like, the heating and air con control is a dial making it very easy to operate, and there’s both a USB and 12V outlet at the base of the dashboard. The dash mounted touchscreen dominates the interior and while some claim it looks like an afterthought, I disagree and say that it’s simply following the trend of many other makers in tacking on a screen to the top of the dash. In our test car, the unit is a five-inch screen without nav… in other models there’s a sat-nav toting seven-inch screen. That said, it does offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity which should alleviate any ‘feature’ concerns you might have.

2017 Kia Rio S Review by Practical Motoring

So, the front of the car is workmanlike and functional; exactly what buyers at this end of the spectrum are looking for. That it carries an air of quality and design restraint, unlike some Japanese competitors, is icing on the cake.

The most important part, on the inside of the car, at least, is the fact it’s now roomier. Leg room has grown to 1120mm in the front and 770mm in the rear, shoulder room has grown to 1375mm in the front and 1355mm in the rear. And, despite the new Rio being 5mm shorter in height than the outgoing model, front and rear headroom are 1021mm and 966mm respectively.

Sat in the back, there’s good headroom for adults and because the rear seat is largely flat, you’ll be able to seat three adults across the back in a pinch. The driveline tunnel robs foot room for the middle passenger, but if you’re just travelling two up then there’s plenty of room and good vision out. I fitted my daughter’s booster seat and she had plenty of leg room, even with my wife in the front passenger seat.

The boot too is slightly bigger than before at 325 litres although at less than a metre it’s not an overly deep boot.

What’s it like on the road?

Unlike other markets, there’s only one engine available in the Kia Rio which is a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine making 74kW of power at 6000rpm and 133Nm of torque at 4000rpm. Our test car, the Rio S, is available with both a six-speed manual transmission and a four-speed automatic; mid- and upper-spec cars (Si and SLi) only get a four-speed automatic. Fuel consumption is 5.6L/100km (combined) for the manual.

Travelling two up, or even two adults and two kids, there’s more than enough grunt from the 1.4-litre engine when travelling around town or on the highway. Hills, however, will see you drop right back down through the gearbox to maintain momentum; indeed, such is the long gearing on the six-speeder that you’ll often find yourself happily travelling along in third gear on hills and on corner-thick roads without feeling the need to shift into fourth and beyond.

2017 Kia Rio S Review by Practical Motoring

The shift itself is a little mushy feeling but the throws are short and it’s well matched to the clutch which bites low in the pedal’s travel but with enough progression that it’s not an abrupt grab. The brake pedal too is nice and progressive.

As with other Kias, the Rio has had its suspension tweaked for Australian roads and it shows in the way it deals with a range of surfaces and controls its body into and out of corners. Fun to drive might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s comfortable, competent and easy to drive and position on the road; indeed, it eschews the dartiness of some of its competitors, and comes off feeling a little bigger on the road than it is.

The steering is direct and reasonably well weighted but it lacks for feel which probably isn’t such an issue given the relaxed nature of this thing’s handling. In the end, it could be a little sharper, but for the majority of buyers wanting a car to punt around town, the Rio will be fine with just enough connectedness to keep you feeling a part of the drive.

What about safety features?

The previous generation Rio was tested by Euro NCAP in 2011 (a left-hand drive 1.2L variant which we didn’t get here) and ANCAP, based on that test, awarded it five stars, scoring 34.99 out of 37. The scoring system is now tougher and while OS models are available with autonomous emergency braking, Australian-delivered models aren’t.

What you can expect in the Rio S, is traction and stability controls, ABS, hill-start assist, seatbelt reminders for all seats, reverse parking sensors and reverse parking camera with dynamic guidelines (meaning they move to show the direction of travel), dusk-sensing headlights, keyless entry and boot release, front, side and head-protecting side curtain airbags.

Why would you buy one?

Simple, because you want a small hatch that’s big enough for a family with an industry-leading seven-year warranty.

Editor's Rating

What's the interior like?
What's it like on the road?
What about safety features?
Practical Motoring Says: The entry-level Kia Rio S with a manual transmission will suit those looking for a roomy hatchback that won't break the bank. It's well-equipped for the $17k sticker price and is good to drive, if not quite as sharp as some of its rivals.


  • Galaxy Being

    Nice car spoiled by an old drivetrain. Drop in a 1.6 or turbo 1ltr and 6 speed automatic please.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.