What is it?
What's up with Kia? If Skoda's transformation from laughing stock budget brand to top quality value outfit for savvy drivers has been amazing, then Kia's is absolutely stunning; the Korean company is heading onwards and upwards without the depths of the VW Group's bank account and parts bin.
Arguably much of the credit should go to head designer Peter Schreyer, aka Him Who Designed The Audi TT. Put the old Rio and this brand new, Schreyer-designed car side-by-side and you'll see how far the brand has come. Honestly, while the old one was acceptable purely by virtue of being cheap, this Rio is right up there with the class best.
Is it any good?
On the one hand, the Rio is probably not a car you could get excited about - although it does look very pretty - but on the other hand it does everything very well indeed; in that sense, it's accomplished in the same way the average Volkswagen is.
Firstly there's the size of it. It feels noticeably bigger than the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa. SEAT Ibiza and any other supermini you care to name. The quality is almost on par with the Fiesta too, with smatterings of soft touch plastic in the places it matters (the dash top and doors) and a layout that is both functional and pleasant to look at; the row of air conditioning switches, placed perfectly for use with a hand rested on the gear stick, look and feel lovely. It's also got loads of cabin storage - a common pitfall - including wizard's sleeve door pockets, a centre console bin and a massive glove box.
The fundamentals of driving the thing are all on the money, too, with big steering wheel and seat adjustment, good visibility, a ride that evokes the Fiesta's settled bump-soaking ability and steering that's light and sharp - perfect for in town. It's even good on the motorway, with only a slight twitchy feel to the steering (due to its sharpness), a quite loud petrol engine (in our test car's case) and some A-pillar wind noise really causing much issue.
Overall, the feeling is of a car of - sorry about this - Germanic solidity and refinement. From Korea.
Should I call the bank manager?
Obviously you should, because this is a Kia. It gets the company's standard seven-year warranty and is priced lower than its competitors, though not massively so, starting at £10,595.
We drove the 107bhp 1.4-litre petrol version in middle-of-the-range 2 specification. It's probably the spec to go for, with alloys, Bluetooth and air conditioning, but we're not convinced about the engine. Without having tried the smaller 1.25-litre petrol, we guess you'll prefer the bit extra economy of that version (55.4- against 51.4mpg) than the negligible extra pace of this one.
Plus, Kia is prepping an engine that will make the Rio the cleanest conventionally engined car ever made: the 1.1-litre three-cylinder diesel version, badged CRDi EcoDynamics, will emit just 85g/km of CO2 and return 88.3mpg. Couple that to the £259 care package that will cover all maintenance for the first three years and you've got one extremely cheap day-to-day supermini.
As a complete package the Rio is so compelling that it's hard to fathom its provenance. It's not quite as dynamic as a Fiesta or as solid as a Polo, but it's an extremely well-rounded car. Big enough to use as a family car for those with little kids, refined enough to put big miles on the clock, good looking and solid, Kia will not struggle to shift new Rios. The Korean's transformation continues.