This improved version of the MK4 model Kia Rio now looks an even better alternative to the Corsas and Fiestas of this world, with mild hybrid engine tech, a smarter look and much improved levels of media connectivity. Prices are keen and the seven-year warranty speaks for itself.
For buyers, the supermini category has never been more important. Why? Because modern examples of the breed are now for the first time large enough to function as complete family cars. Take, for example, the model we're looking at here, Kia's fourth generation Rio. It's as big as a turn of the century Astra or Focus from the Family Hatchback segment, the next pricier class up. More importantly, it's the first really top class supermini the Korean brand has ever bought us. It's a progression that anyone familiar with Kia will have been expecting. The first two generations of Rio were quite embarrassing but the MK3 model of 2011 was pretty class-competitive. When the wraps came off this fourth generation version in the autumn of 2016 though, it was clear that it was going to be a bit more than that and this design has been further improved in the updated form we look at here. This is a car that targets nothing less than the top of the segment in terms of the things that really matter to supermini buyers - styling, running costs and everyday practicality. How close it gets is what we're here to find out.
The key news here is the introduction of Kia's 48V MHEV mild hybrid engine technology, an 'EcoDynamics+' set-up which makes an appearance paired with the uprated 118bhp version of the brand's latest 'Smartstream' 1.0-litre T-Gdi petrol engine. The unit comes with a Drive Mode Select system, giving drivers the choice to customise their drive with 'Eco', 'Sport' and 'Normal' settings. This Rio EcoDynamics+ model is also one of the first models from Kia to be equipped with the brand's latest 'iMT' 'intelligent Manual Transmission' set-up. This uses a 'clutch-by-wire' system that contributes to the MHEV system's greater fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions, while retaining the driver engagement of a conventional manual transmission. Other conventional petrol engines are still being offered in this car - including a conventional version of the 1.0 T-Gdi unit in 99bhp form, which now gets a 6-speed manual gearbox or the option of Kia's 7-speed 7DCT auto. There's also a new version of Kia's naturally aspirated 1.25-litre pertrol engine, with innovative Dual Port Injection technology and a power output of 83bhp. Otherwise, things are much as before. If your experience of the Kia Rio extends back before the launch of this MK4 version, you'll find this current car much more engaging to drive than its predecessors. The stiffer bodyshell helps here, a structure which allowed the development team to introduce a more compliant suspension system, improving the car's compliance and comfort at all speeds, while supposedly facilitating more enjoyable, engaging handling characteristics. A repositioned power steering gearbox has also provided greater feel through the helm too.
This improved version of the fourth generation Rio certainly looks more distinctive. The refreshed design retains the car's iconic 'tiger-nose' grille, narrowed for a more focused appearance and matched by a lower, wider front bumper and distinctive new fog lamp housing. These changes give the front of the car a smoother, yet more purposeful appearance, imbuing it with a more confident stance on the road. All models now feature new full LED headlamps with integral running lights. As before, the grille is integrated with bi-function headlights, sculpted for a sharp look and featuring a U-shaped LED daytime running light signature. In profile, a relatively lengthy, balanced stance is achieved with a long bonnet and long front overhang, a thin quite upright C-pillar and a relatively short rear overhang. Inside, the main update is a larger 8.0-inch centre-dash touchscreen, plus there's a higher-resolution 4.2-inch digital display in the driver's instrument cluster. This improved Rio is also now available with a new interior customisation option in the form of a blue colour pack. This adds a dash of colour and flair to the cabin, with coloured seat bolsters, dashboard and door arm rests, matched with contrast stitching. And in the rear? Well as usual with a car of this kind, you'd certainly struggle to fit three fully-sized folk across the rear bench, though if that was ever necessary, the low centre transmission tunnel would make things a little easier. Let's finish with a few words on bootspace. The tailgate is light to lift and reveals a 325-litre luggage area that's still one of the very largest in the supermini segment. The load bay is well shaped too, with little intrusion either from the wheelarches or the suspension turrets. With the rear bench lowered, the area provided isn't quite flat but it is reasonably spacious with 980-litres of fresh air on offer.
Rio pricing is still decent value: this car sits in the £14,900 to £21,500 bracket. That might sound a lot but most variants will be sold in the £16,000 to £18,500 bracket, which makes this one of the more affordable Fiesta-sized superminis out there. As before, the sales focus for the UK will be on the five-door bodystyle. The line-up here is based around '1', '2', '3' and 'GT-Line S' trim levels. As before, equipment levels are strong. Kia's keen to talk about this updated model's larger 8.0-inch touchscreen display, which is fitted to plusher versions and offers Display Audio or Satellite Navigation packages depending on vehicle specification. This set-up uses the brand's innovative 'Phase II' UVO Connect telematics system and offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-mirroring, negating the need for owners to connect their smartphone via a cable. This upgraded Rio features several of Kia's latest camera safety Advanced Driving Assistance Systems. These include Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) with pedestrian, vehicle and cyclist recognition, plus Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), Driver Attention Warning (DAW) and Blind Collision Warning (BCW). Also available is Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist (BCA), Intelligent Speed Limit Warning (ISLW), Smart Cruise Control (SCC) and Lane Following Assist (LFA). The Rio also features Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist (RCCA) and Rear Occupant Alert (ROA).
Kia's 'EcoDynamics+' mild hybrid system which features in the MHEV 1.0 T-GDI 118bhp model works as these kinds of set-ups usually do. It supplements the engine's torque output with power from a compact 48-volt lithium-ion polymer battery and extends engine 'off time' with a Mild-Hybrid Starter-Generator (MHSG) unit. The MHSG is connected by a belt to the engine's crankshaft and switches seamlessly between 'motor' and 'generator' modes. In 'motor' mode, under acceleration, the MHSG provides electric power assistance to reduce engine load and emissions. As the car decelerates, the MHSG has the ability under certain conditions to switch to 'generator' mode, recuperating energy from the crankshaft to recharge the battery. As a result, impressive WLTP-rated returns are possible - up to 52.3mpg on the combined cycle and up to 122g/km of CO2. Even the conventional 1.0 T-GDI 99bhp petrol engine should certainly prove to be very frugal. This base T-GDi unit manages virtually the same figures are the MHEV version - 52.3mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and 123g/km of WLTP-rated CO2. The base 1.25-litre model manages 49.6mpg and 128g/km. All variants get an Idle Stop & Go (ISG) system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck at the lights or waiting in traffic. As with all Kias, the Rio is covered by a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty that's longer than any other car in the same class. Servicing should be affordable and the various pre-paid servicing packages you can buy will further help manage costs in this regard, with 'Care-3' or 'Care-3 Plus' packages offering retail customers fixed-cost, inflation-proof servicing for either three or five years. Should you sell the car in this period, the remaining scheduled maintenance allocation can be passed on to the next owner.
It's easy to see why Kia is one of the fastest growing car makers in the world, doubling its global sales over the last few years thanks to a range of models now seriously troubling the European market's established players. Here's another one that'll add to their concerns, smartly styled and class-leadingly spacious and efficient. As a result, it can now compete head-on with its mainstream rivals and betters many of them. This then, is a car that has come of age. No longer is it a supermini you'd recommend largely because of generous equipment or a modest asking price. True, it still isn't the sharpest handling car in its class and there are a few rivals with classier cabins. None though, are more practical or more refined and few have a nicer ride - another of the reasons why this could be considered a smart alternative to a larger Focus-class family hatchback. If you're thinking of buying in this segment, then you probably won't be considering this car as an option. But take it from us, you probably should be.