Isaac Bober’s launch-based 2017 Kia Rio SLi review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: The new Kia Rio is bigger than its predecessor, better equipped and better to drive.

2017 Kia Rio

Pricing From $16,990+ORC Warranty seven-years, unlimited kilometres Service Intervals 12 months/15,000km Safety not tested Engine 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 74kW at 6000rpm Torque 133Nm at 6000rpm Transmission four-speed automatic (six-speed manual on S variant only) Drive front-wheel Dimensions 4065mm (L); 1755mm (W); 1450mm (W) Turning Circle 10.2m Weight 1137-1162kg Spare space saver Fuel Tank 45 litres Thirst 5.6-6.2L/100km combined


KIA USED TO be known as the Rio car company in the same way Hyundai was known as the Excel car company. Those days are long behind both companies, although the Rio remains one of the core pillars for Kia around the world with annual sales, globally, of around 500,000 units, or 16% of total sales.

Speaking at the local launch of the Kia Rio, set against the backdrop of the Australian Open tennis tournament (Kia is the event’s major sponsor), Kia’s chief operating officer, Damien Meredith said: “While the days of Kia being the Rio car company in Australia are long past, the model remains a core plank in the growth and success of the brand in our market”.

What is it?

The new Kia Rio is the fourth-generation of the Korean car maker’s small car although it’s not so small as once it was which is good news for those looking for a small, but practical car. Indeed, the Rio is 15mm longer at 4065mm, sits 5mm lower at 1450mm, is the same width but the wheelbase is 10mm longer (up to 2580mm). 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.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

The styling for the new Rio was led by Kia’s Californian design team with oversight by the brand’s master of crayons, Peter Schreyer (Schreyer is ex-Audi and responsible for the design revolution of the Kia brand). The Rio still wears Kia’s distinctive ‘Tiger Nose’ grille but it’s thinner and wider with a gloss black grill cover on the mid- and upper-spec Si and SLi models. These models also get U-shapped LED daytime running lights. The bonnet, given the car is longer, has been stretched, while at the rear the Rio has a shorter overhang, and a near upright rear windscreen. The rear lights on the SLi (which we tested) are LED.

There are seven colours to choose from, although all colours except Clear White attract a $520 premium, and new colour, Mighty Yellow, won’t be available until July production models arrive.

All up, the new Rio is a more mature looking car than it’s ever been and, if you taped over the badge, could easily be parked next to anything from Europe and fit right in.

What’s it like on the inside?

Like the outside, the inside of the new Rio is straighter (the old model featured a more rounded dash board) and more mature looking. It’s also more practical with some class leading features, like the sat-nav in the Si and SLi variants, but I’ll come back to this. Adding the sense that the interior is wider than it was is the fact the air vents now run horizontally rather than vertically as on the old model. Both the Si and SLi get gloss black accents.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

Dominating the dashboard is a 7.0-inch touchscreen that offers Apple Car Play and Android Auto across the range, although Si and SLi offer native satellite navigation. There are USB outlets in both the front and back of the car across all model grades.

There’s only one interior colour scheme, black, but there are three trim levels, with the entry-level S getting fabric seats, the Si getting embossed fabric seats and the top-spec SLi getting a faux leather trim that doesn’t feel at all fake.

Climb inside and the seat in the SLi I drove isn’t overly bolstered but it feels comfortable with decent under-thigh support for longer drives. There’s good adjustment on the seat, both up and down, and forwards and backwards and because the steering offers both reach and height adjustment it’s easy for drivers of all heights to get comfortable behind the wheel.

The dashboard is well laid out and is slightly angled towards the driver. The controls are simple to use and Kia has reduced the number of buttons on the dashboard, all down to the addition of the 7.0-inch touchscreen which is surrounded by shortcut buttons – thankfully climate control is still separate. The previous-generation Rio didn’t offer a touchscreen as you can see from the interior photo below.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review
Previous generation Kia Rio SLi

There’s a lot of scratchy plastic even in the top-spec SLi, but because it’s all in places you won’t touch all that often and looks like it’s a soft-touch surface there’s little to complain about really. The stuff that you will be touching regularly, like the steering wheel, the gear shifter and the buttons surrounding the touchscreen and the climate controls all feel solid and good quality.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

In all, the dashboard gives the impression of being, in the SLi, from a more expensive vehicle. And that feeling grows when you use the sat-nav. The launch route took in twisting country roads from the city to Healesville, but on the way back from the lunch stop I used the sat-nav to guide me back into the guts of the city via the suburbs, and it’s excellent. A Kia developed system, I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the best sat-nav systems I’ve ever used, if not the best. And I don’t mean the best in a cheap car, I mean the best full-stop.

Adding a destination took seconds with the touch screen buttons quick to respond, the warnings/instructions were clear as were the graphics of, say, an intersection, and given well ahead of time… even down to reminders about overtaking lanes coming to an end.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

Other practical touches included a small shelf with a rubberised base to hold your phone and bottle holders in the door that will hold 1.5L bottles (we had 500mL bottles in them), while those in the rear will hold 500mL bottles.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

Climb into the back seat and with the front seat set to suit me (and I’m pretty much bang on six-foot tall) there was a comfortable amount of legroom. Head and shoulder room were good too, and that’s despite the new Rio being shorter than its predecessor. Two adults could easily fit in the back and while you could fit a third in between, you wouldn’t want to travel in that spot for too long. Although there’s minimal intrusion from the transmission tunnel which means through access is pretty good.

For parents, there are three top tether anchor points while only the two outboard seats have ISOFIX mounts. The back seats are 60:40 split fold.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

The boot has grown by 37 litres and is now a decent 325 litres (980 litres with the back seats folded down). There’s a decent boot lip (I wasn’t able to measure it), so, if you’ve got back problems and you’re keen on the Rio then make sure you check that out. There’s a space saver spare tyre sitting beneath the boot floor.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

What’s it like on the road?

The new Rio gets just one engine for the range (although Kia here is actively investigating the possibility of offering a more powerful 1.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder mated to a six-speed automatic). That engine is a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine making 74kW at 6000rpm and 133Nm of torque at 4000rpm. This engine is mated to a four-speed automatic, although a six-speed manual is available in the entry-level S variant. Fuel consumption for the automatic-equipped variant is 6.2L/100km combined, or 5.6L/100km for the manual-equipped S variant.

The launch drive took in some steep and twisting section of road and while the engine seemed willing enough, it was occasionally let down by the gearbox which felt, although only on hills, like it could have done with an extra gear ratio – dropping back and revving hard on hills to maintain the speed limit. But around town and even through level corners the engine, gearbox and throttle response was good.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

Kia’s engineers tweaked the steering on the new Rio, which now offers much more feel throughout its action and excellent on-centre stability (a clever way of seeing there’s no fidget in the wheel at highway speeds) which is what you want when you’re driving down the highway at 100km/h. The weighting is consistent and the steering direct but not darty.

Like all other Kia models, Kia Australia’s ride and handling team tuned the suspension (and steering) on the new Rio to better suit Australian roads. And it shows. The shock absorbers on the Rio are the same as those on the Cerato although the tune is different. They do a top job of dialling out bodyroll as well as offering improved response and recovery across out-of-nowhere bumps which are heard rather than felt through the cabin. Indeed, the Rio offers the sort of mature, well-controlled ride and handling you don’t find in its competitors and might not find if we didn’t get our own bespoke suspension tune.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

On the launch drive, there was a short section of corrugated dirt road, which is not the sort of road you expect to find on a drive loop for a small runabout but entirely in-keeping with the sorts of roads an owner might find themselves on. And the Rio was excellent, with no squeaks or rattles through the cabin and no vibration through the wheel. On the road, there was minimal wind or road noise in the cabin and conversation between front and back seat passengers was easy.

What about safety features?

The new Kia Rio still hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP but Kia claims its targeting a five-star result and believes it has all the necessary bits and pieces to achieve that. Stay tuned. For a start, the new Rio is made from a greater proportion of lightweight high strength steel (51%) than its predecessor (33%) so the body itself is stronger. Indeed, the stronger steel has been used to reinforce the A- and B-pillars, as well as side sills, roof structure, engine bay and floor pan.

2017 Kia Rio SLi review

Across the model range, the Rio gets Anti-lock Braking, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Emergency Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Control with Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Management System, Hill Start Assist, dusk–sensing headlights, six airbags, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, rear view camera with dynamic parking guidelines, and rear parking sensors. The reversing camera is good, but the picture isn’t the clearest and I’d expect it to pixelate in low light, but the inclusion of dynamic lines makes it one of the more useful systems on the market.

For Si and SLi additional features include LED daytime running lights and projector front fog lights. The SLi gains parking sensor dash display, and electrochromatic rear view mirror (auto dimming).

Why you’d buy one

The new Kia Rio is a much more mature vehicle than the one it replaces and that’s evident from the moment you climb inside – most evident thanks to the 7.0-inch touchscreen. And then you drive it around the corner and realise that it’s a much better package than it’s ever been. And while it used to sit behind, say, the Ford Fiesta for driving dynamics or the VW Polo for cabin quality, the new Rio is right up there with the best in the segment.

But where it steps ahead of the pack and makes itself the most appealing car in its class if through its industry-leading seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty. So, if you’re only criteria for a new, small car is that it should offer peace of mind, well, the Rio’s seven-year warranty won’t disappoint. That it’s better to look at, drive and sit in than before is icing on the cake.


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  1. I really love the Germanic look of this new Rio. Too bad about the drivetrain. It needs the 1.6 atmo or 1.0 turbo and the 6AT.

    1. Maybe. I reckon if you drove it you might change your mind. It really is a sophisticated little package and the ride and handling is excellent. But, yes, the 1.0T and 6AT would make it a cracker. – Isaac

      1. Thanks Isaac, I agree it looks like something that VW or Audi would produce, right down to the red Speedo markings for 30 & 50 Km/h. I actually would like it for a second car. If Kia fix the drivetrain I may take a closer look.

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