DOWNSIZING is one of today’s big buzzwords in the car industry, but even though it’s been a common theme for a couple years now you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t raise their eyebrows at a 1.1-litre diesel.
That’s what you’ll find at the heart of the Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi EcoDynamics, tested here in mid-range ‘2’ trim. It’s part of Kia’s attempt to get ahead of the game in terms of emissions and fuel economy, and there are more benefits besides to think about, which combine on paper to form a convincing argument for such a tiny engine.
Insurance, for example, is cheaper. This model is four insurance groups lower than it would be with the 1.4-litre diesel, but you still get a respectable 125lb.ft of torque to shuffle the car along through town. Road tax is free as well, although ‘2’ cars sit at 99g/km rather than the cheaper ‘1’ model’s truly impressive 85g/km. The difference comes as a result of the extra weight and technology in the higher-spec car.
There’s a useful bit of equipment, too. The little diesel is turning 16-inch alloy wheels and carrying daytime running lights, electric folding door mirrors, various body-coloured and chrome exterior details, air conditioning, electric windows all round, leather trim on the steering wheel and gear knob, a chilled glove box and a bundle of safety kit.
It all comes in a known package in the shape of the Rio, a car that was released last year to universal nodding of heads and murmurs of approval. It’s a really nice place to be, where the dashboard, centre console and instrument cluster haven’t been over-designed but have been treated with enough daring to make it all feel much classier than it technically is.
The aircraft-inspired ‘toggle’ style switches for the air conditioning and circulation management are a special highlight, sticking out as they do towards the gear stick. It’s immediately likeable.
It’s only a B-segment supermini so you shouldn’t expect acres of room in the back, not that the legroom isn’t ample, but the driver and front passenger will be particularly happy with their lot. The rear passenger area can feel a little enclosed because of the rising shoulder line and small rear windscreen. There’s useful cabin storage space, dotted around in various shapes and sizes to cope with day-to-day demands.
Back to the engine, and as eager as it is and as hard as it tries, the little thing has its limits. To get 74bhp and 125lb.ft out of this size of diesel is remarkable, but it’s had to be tuned and optimised to within an inch of its life – figuratively speaking, of course. Kia’s seven-year warranty is testament to the confidence the company has in its smallest oil-burner’s longevity.
But this high level of tune means it’s designed to be driven on certain kinds of roads and in a certain way. It has a narrower comfort zone where it does its best work than some larger capacity engines and as the driver you need to concentrate harder to keep it there.
The rewards are impressive – expect a genuine 80-90mpg during a flat cruise at 30mph in third. A slight downhill anywhere and the instant fuel consumption readout can stay at its maximum 99.9mpg for so long you think it might have broken. Aspiring professional eco-drivers can accelerate lightly uphill in third and not sink below 35mpg. Suffice it to say that with a light throttle input the 1.1 CRDi EcoDynamics setup is very, very frugal.
The problem comes on faster roads. Its modest output is easily overwhelmed by the demands of 60mph A- and B-roads, and in fact whenever a swift getaway or significant uphill acceleration is on the cards this version of the Rio reaches its limits of pace very quickly. It’s not an ideal choice for drivers for whom patience is not a strong suit.
It also has an uncommon level of vibration at idle, which may or may not bother you but it’s there nonetheless. Fortunately a stop-start system cuts the engine whenever it can, saving more fuel and leaving the cabin lovely and serene.
The long and the short is that this version of the Rio is tailor-made for town drivers with gentle right feet. Somewhere around 50mpg is entirely realistic for a run mixing a good amount of low-speed cruising with traffic light queues, which is the sort of figure you could only hope for on a long motorway cruise 10 years ago.
For that reason it’s a great choice for a not insignificant number of people, and since there are other engines on offer that will be better suited to those searching for more grunt, the presence of the 1.1 CRDi isn’t just justified; it’s very welcome.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi EcoDynamics ‘2’, £13, 795 on the road. (Images are of the ‘3’ variant)
Engine: 1.1-litre turbocharged diesel producing 74bhp and 125lb.ft.Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.Performance: Top speed 98mph, 0-60mph in 15.5 seconds.Fuel economy (official): 74.3mpg.CO2 rating: 99g/km.