First Drive – Phil tests the all-new Kia Rio in Lisbon


By Philip Hedderman

It’s true – every cloud has a silver lining.

Take last Monday for example.

We touchdown in Lisbon airport and say to expectations are high is an understatement.

We’ve even dressed for the occasion.

Linen jacket, short sleeved shirt, combats that unzip at the knee, deck shoes and Ray Bans resting on top of the head.

Ah yes … if nothing else, it’s gonna be a scorcher.

The cabin door swings open and instead of the waft of dry heat us weary travellers are greeted by sheets of rain.

It’s bucketing down and I can’t help but wonder if the weather is payback for boasting to all and sundry of my imminent sojourn in the sun.

The shades are tucked away, the collar is lifted and we make our way to the car park where the new Kia Rio awaits our critical eye.

The press conference is scheduled for later in the evening and us motoring hacks are thrown in at the deep end.

By the deep end I mean we know very little about the new offering and we would just have to discover its delights for ourselves.

This is when the clouds begin to lift – metaphorically speaking.

First impressions are good – very good.

For starters it’s bigger, longer, wider and a damn sight prettier than its predecessor.

It has a younger, funkier feel to it thanks to the radical design and vibrant paintwork – even the blue and brown are desirable.

And the good news doesn’t end there.

No, this mega-handsome little mini is so impressive it has already stacked up one accolade and others are sure to follow.

Being hailed as a “revolution, not evolution”, the Korean giant’s baby is officially top of the eco tree with CO2 emissions of just 85g/km which in the UK would mean a zero rate of road tax.

Unfortunately there is no such incentive in Ireland so were stuck with the €104, but at least you’ll have the smug satisfaction of doing your bit to save the planet.

And you’ll be crusading in real style. In order to reach the Holy Grail, the new Rio was sent to the gym – primarily to shed a bit of weight and bulk up.

Head on, the profile is muscular and sporty and the massive headlights, quirky grille and sunken fog lights give her a real hot hatch look.

From the rear one could be forgiven if you were to mistaken her for a certain German marque – the very one Kia’s chief designer once worked for.

It’s got Peter Schreyer’s fingerprints all over it and the man behind the legendary Audi TT and Beetle is a real stickler for build quality.

We’ve already witnessed his fine work on the Cee’d, Pro Cee’d Soul and Venga.

That is again evident from the time you climb into the cabin where everything has an upmarket, premium feel to it.

The cockpit especially, from the three cylinder instrument cluster illuminated in soft blue with contrasting red graphics in the centre giving you all the car’s vital information.

The multi-function leather steering wheel ensures that audio, phone and on-board computer are at your fingertips and is accessible without taking your eyes off the road.

The centre stack toggle switches are particularly snazzy and are taken straight out of Herr Schreyer’s private jet.

The different coloured trim can be mixed and matched but the black with tan inlay didn’t do it for me and I much preferred the plain option.

It’s best to air on the side of caution not to be too adventurous.

This is worth noting as there is nothing surer to turn off a potential second hand buyer and anyway that tan inset is bound to be a stain magnet.

Considering this is a B Segment or slighter bigger supermini, there is ample room – enough for four six footers and a couple of overnight bags.

Don’t expect to lug massive loads around town but with split folding rear seats it’ll cope with the usual tasks facing us in everyday life.

Kia really see this type of car as the future as the Rio joins its brothers Venga and Soul in this cut-throat market.

Drive-wise, the cabin is well insulated so there is very little road noise.

The steering is light and precise and the strengthened suspensions gives a smoother more refined ride.

The two models coming to Ireland will be the 1.2 litre petrol and a 1.4 diesel – both tax band A.

First to come under scrutiny on the roads of Lisbon was the 1.2 which Kia reckon will make up 70pc of sales.

Unfortunately the 85bhp proved too little and it really struggled on inclines and proved frustrating while overtaking.

That could be down to the fact that the car lulls you into a false sense of security.

Because of it bulkier size it tricks the mind into thinking its more of a C-Segment offering and therefore you expect a little more oomph.

The oil burner on the other hand seemed to have the urgency it’s brother lacked – even though it possessed just 5bhp more at 90bhp.

The torque and the bigger, wider wheels proved a winner here and the difference between the two is like night and day.

That said, most Rio buyers are not going to hammering up and down motorways and are more likely to be put off by the extra €2,000 than the lack of grunt.

The new arrival, due in showrooms in October comes in three and five door and in two specs, EX and LX and will be priced at just over €15,500.

We don’t know exactly what kind of kit you’ll get for your lolly, but I’d expect it to be decent enough.

Throw in Kia’s frankly unbeatable bumper-to-bumper 7-year warranty and it’ll be pretty hard to beat.