STYLE and technological substance have been injected into the new Kia Rio.
Offering premium good looks and priced from $17,490 drive-away with an automatic transmission, Kia has made ground with its design and now offers slick interior features which are among the best in class.
Improved interior space, improved vision for the driver and a more appealing cabin are the headline acts in Kia's play for the compact hatch market.
Prices remain the same across three grades - S, Si and SLi - and all come with the same 1.4-litre petrol engine.
Across the range there's a four-speed automatic transmission, while a six-speed manual is only available on the entry-level option.
You have a sense of modern flair when getting inside the new Rio.
Hard plastics are still used across the dash and trims, but a seven-inch touch-screen along with the absence of the previously trademark red on black digital displays offers a significant step forward.
Key operations are skewed toward the driver, with analogue gauges flanking a customisable digital display offering easily read feedback for the pilot.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which mirrors key apps from your smartphone, is standard, and there is also a USB port for charging in the back seat where two adults can find reasonable head and leg room - as long as those in the front don't slide too far rearward.
Base models have cloth trim that feels hard-wearing.
Quality improves slightly in Si variants, while the range-topping SLi gets man-made leather and slightly softer materials on the doors.
On the road
Australian influence has delivered a car which rides well and offers supremely accurate steering.
The Kia Australia suspension and tuning team ensured cornering can be done with confidence and the Rio feels nicely balanced in rural environs where it easily carves through twisty terrain.
Around town and on the flats the little four-cylinder combined with an automatic box unit does a solid job.
When maintaining patience it performs honestly, although drivers looking for more urgent performance may find the Rio wanting.
The engine is slightly less powerful than the one it replaces, revised for fuel efficiency and to meet tightening European emission targets, and is partnered to an ageing four-speed automatic.
You need some patience when summonsing power and hills can also challenge momentum when pushing for extra speed.
Around town the drivetrain combination is solid, linear use of the accelerator offers timely shifts, while it sits comfortably around 2500rpm on the highway.
Push hard and the four-potter struggles to meet expectations, with the impressive chassis and suspension combination certainly capable of handling more engine power.
The six-speed manual does offer more rewarding performance, but Australians have developed an automatic obsession and more than 90% of buyers will take the auto shifter.
When revealed at the Paris motor show last September there were expectations a newer six-speed automatic would be available from July, but the constantly changing automotive world means this may not occur so swiftly. The plan for a more powerful turbocharged three-cylinder next year could also be delayed.
What do you get?
Basic equipment includes a six-speaker stereo system with full Bluetooth connectivity, air con, USB ports in both the front and rear of the cabin, auto lights, as well as safety gear including six airbags, anti-lock brakes, reverse parking sensors, rear view camera, hill start assist, stability and traction control as well as a vehicle management system (which helps when cornering and braking simultaneously).
Si models also gain daytime running lamps, 15-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights and indicators in the side mirrors, cruise control, interior black gloss inserts, vanity mirror light and sat nav with live traffic information.
The range-topping SLi model gets man-made leather trim, auto windscreen wipers, 16-inch alloys, tinted glass, sunroof, soft touch arm rests, alloy foot pedals and automatic climate control air con.
Fuel consumption on test was about seven litres for every 100km - which is about on par with competitors in the genre.
But pivotal for Kia is the seven-year warranty. Certainly offering peace of mind for long-term owners, the long protection also improves resale for those who offload after a few years.
With an ability to carry five (better suited to four), the Rio also has a sizable boot able to handle a couple of medium-size suitcases along with 60-40 folding rear seat-backs.
There are handy storage nooks up front near USB and 12-volt points, two cup holders in the centre console and bottle holders in each door (only 500ml bottles in the back).
The Rio was designed under the guidance of guru Peter Schreyer. There's good reason then that the hatchback offers strong European resemblance.
It abandons the "girlie" look often associated with the light-car market.
Kia's trademark tiger-nose grille is thinner and wider, there's a longer bonnet, it sits lower on the road, while there's a longer front overhang which is conversely shorter at the rear.
A greater wheelbase (distance between front and rear wheels) has enabled the Rio to be lengthened by 15mm.
Kia has focussed on the key areas which matter to light-size buyers - looks and features.
This is yet another good looking Kia and the brand continues to evolve.
The Rio's certainly more suited to around town driving, with those chasing rapid acceleration likely to be disappointed.
But for those who want a solid, steady and attractive runabout with impressive technological connectivity and the best warranty in the industry, the Rio remains a worthy choice.
Model: 2017 Kia Rio.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive small hatch.
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 74kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 133Nm @ 4000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
Consumption: 5.6 litres/100km (combined average, manual); 6.2L/100km (auto).
Bottom line: Rio S (m) $16,990, Rio S (a) $19,090, Si (a) $21,490, SLi (a) $22,990.
What matters most
What we liked: Outstanding steering feel, impressive touch-screen and tech.
What we'd like to see: Impressive chassis and suspension can handle more power, cruise control on base model.
What matters most: Seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist if dealer servicing maintained. Capped price servicing available over the same period, with intervals annual or every 15,000km.
Driving experience 14/20
Features and equipment 18/20
Functionality and comfort 15/20
Value for money 16/20
Style and design 18/20
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