Punchy three-cylinder Rio with bite

Motor companies, it must be said, are pretty good at getting money out of customers.

Many buyers have marched into a dealership, determined to walk out with a big bargain, only to end up with all accessories they never knew they wanted.

Research shows that new car buyers are more likely to spend $25,000 on a car than the more obvious benchmark of $20,000—about five times as possible.

Most of that extra spend, presumably, ends up ticking the “extras” box before signing on the dotted line and or simply opting for a more highly optioned variant that brings the added kit for the one price.

Enter the Kia Rio GT-Line—one of those cars costs $25,000.

But rather than all the usual trinkets and gadgets that inflate the asking price, this little Rio has something even more impressive—an entirely new engine and transmission.

While the most basic versions of this fourth-generation Rio make do with a modest 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine (producing 74kW and 133Nm), the sportier, more expensive GT line gets a baby 1-liter, three-cylinder engine.

Yes, that’s right – paying for the privilege of a smaller engine.

However, this version comes with a turbocharger. One that lifts the 1-liter engine’s outputs to a whopping 74 kilowatts, surprisingly, is the same power as the four-cylinder engine.

Still not quite a compelling argument. Wait to drive it.


The GT-Line’s secret ingredient is the torque – all 172Nm of it compared to the normally-aspirated car’s puny 133Nm.

It might not sound like much, but it gives the Rio GT-Line surprising performance in such a small, light machine, including a high-tech, double-clutch transmission, which adds further zip to the little Korean runabout.

With its $24,990 (plus on-road costs) price tag, it also makes a fairly convincing argument when it’s stacked up beside other rivals – the Mazda2 GT ($25,990), for instance, or the Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo ($27,990) and even the VW 85TSI ($25,690).

The little Kia undercuts them all on price, despite boasting a long list of those “extras”. Think 17-inch alloys; special GT styling and body kit; LED running lights; rear parking sensors; eight-inch touch screen infotainment; reversing camera; power-folding mirrors; power windows; and sports seats.

Suddenly that $25,000 has never sounded so good.

What’s more, it looks the part very much.

Since the outset, the Rio was a stand-out contender to be the least fashionable car on Australian roads. Launched in 1999, it was an awkward-looking, oddly-designed hatchback-slash-wagon that didn’t register on the list of vehicles anyone would aspire to own. More like something Mr. Bean might drive.

It was butt ugly to look at – and not much better to drive.

So the current sharply-styled, impressively dynamic Rio probably reflects the amazing strides made by its manufacturer over those two decades.

Of course, despite being the “flagship” of this model, the Rio makes no pretense at being a premium vehicle – like other entry-level Korean (and Japanese) machines, it’s largely built down to a price, not up to a particular standard.

Still, it presents a modern, quality vibe both inside and out.

And that perky little three-cylinder engine delivers quite a raspy, raucous exhaust note which matches the quite spicy performance for a modest little thing.

In sports mode, the Rio has a rev-matching system that blips the throttle as it downshifts through the twin-clutch auto. It’s quite a hoot as it revs and roars, pulling up at the traffic lights – like a Chihuahua baring its teeth at a rottweiler.

None of these things should deter drivers from testing this engaging little machine.

Fun to drive, cheap to buy and to run (it’s quite happy with the slightly cheaper 91 RON fuel and uses just 5.3L/100km), it makes sense for young first-timers and older empty-nesters. It’s not exactly fast but feels frisky in Sport mode, where the seven-speed self-shifter gets busy and keeps the engine nicely on the song – something of a requirement.

The good looks are just a bonus.


* HOW BIG? It’s not the smallest member of the Kia family – that honor belongs to the baby Picanto. The Rio is a compact hatch that will comfortably seat four, or five at a pinch

* HOW FAST? Even though its tiny engine produces just 78kW, it’s a spirited performer thanks to its turbocharged power and agile handling.

* HOW THIRSTY? Another area where its little engine helps – although it could be reasonable to expect better than its official thirst of 5.3L/100km.

* HOW MUCH? While the Rio range starts atat $20k, this one is the flagship at $24,990 plus on-road costs.

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.