KIA Rio II 2002 Road Test

Sat, 05 Oct 2002

The 2001 KIA Rio had a unique selling proposition. It was the only 5-door Ford Focus sized car with a UK list price from £5,995. But the cheapest Rio was the slowest seller. So for 2003, instead of cutting prices, KIA came up with another novel approach. It hugely improved the car. 

You notice as soon as you drive off. Instead of a dull chassis, notable only for its inert handling, you immediately feel life in your hands. The steering talks to you instead of sending you a memo. And the car responds like a proper, modern European hatchback. For that you can thank thicker front and rear anti-roll bars and much more positive three-point front strut mountings.

Inside, the dashboard is much neater, cleaner, easier to use and the plastics look higher quality. It still has a separate dashboard switch for the rear wash/wipe, but that seems to be a standard South East Asian quirk.

Outside, the ovular shape of the rear is no longer reflected by the bonnet and grille. These are now much easier on the eye and reflect the styling of KIA’s handsome new SUV, the Sorrento. This one change is likely to make the most difference to UK sales because it no longer raises any doubts in people’s minds about the car’s looks.
For £5,995 you still get a fairly basic car, which us why only 3% of Mk 1 sales were of the base version. It has no power steering, no electric windows, no electric mirrors, no central locking, no rear wiper, no luggage cover, no radio cassette player. But for 2003 you do get much better brakes and a power boost from 74bhp to 81bhp. Strangely, performance seems to be down a bit as it now takes 13.8 seconds to get to 60mph. But top speed remains around 100mph, fuel economy is greatly improved to 42.7mpg on the combined cycle, and emissions are down to the lowest BIK and VED bands for 2003.

It also has a proper manufacturer’s three year warranty, a drivers airbag, seatbelt pretensioners, pollen filter, ISOFIX child seat mountings, body colour bumpers, a 60/40 split folding rear seat and plenty of luggage space. In short, a lot of car for the money.

Yet for the extra £900 the 1.3L costs (most of which you'll get back on resale within three years) you get a lot more. Most importantly: power steering, a height-adjustable steering wheel, RDS stereo radio cassette player, rear wash/wipe, luggage cover and a wider colour range.

The 1.3s are also cheap to insure, in ABI Insurance Group 3. Dimensions are 4,215mm (13 ft 10 in) long; 1,675mm (5 ft 6 in) wide, and 1,440mm (4 ft 9 in) high, with a kerb weight of 1,053kg.
What's the downside? Though there’s plenty of luggage space, the Rio is surprisingly short of rear legroom and the centre rear belt is lap only. So, if you have a family, make sure they can all get comfortable before you draw your £6,895 out of the cash machine. And make sure you're comfortable with the idea of just a lap strap for the centre rear passenger.

The most obvious price rivals to the two cheapest Rios are Basic Citroen Saxos, basic Peugeot 106s, and basic FIAT Puntos with standard power steering.

Upscale from the 1.3L, for those with £7,645 burning a hole in their bank balances, the 1.3LS has the added features of Anti-Lock Brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, central door locking, front electric windows, electric mirrors, a height and tilt adjustable driver's seat squab, and bigger fourteen inch wheels with full-sized covers. For this model you can specify a four-speed electronically controlled automatic gearbox which comes in at £8,395.

The obvious rivals to this one are the new Citroen C3 1.4LX and Skoda Fabia 1.4 8v at current discounts.

After that, the specification ratchets up another couple of notches. The 97bhp 1.5SE comes with air-conditioning, alloy wheels, heated mirrors, leather covered steering wheel and gearknob, rear roof spoiler and mudflaps. Yet at £8,995 it's still a fiver short of £9,000 and several thousand below any other similar sized European car offering anything like its specification.

Lastly, but not least, the 1.5SE is available with the same four speed automatic transmission for a still very reasonable £9,795.
In the USA, the Rio sells like sun oil on Copacabana beach, partly on price and partly on its ten year or 100,000 mile manufacturer warranty. We just get a normal three year 60,000 mile warranty, but the cheapest UK Rio is actually £375 LESS than the cheapest Rio State-side.

Sadly, we’re not scheduled to get the neat looking four-door saloon version in the UK unless the public clamours for it. So if you want one, you’d better start clamouring.

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