The funky dilemma
“That looks fantastic!” I thought as I first set eyes on our KIA Rio test car, coated in launch red and hiding behind a picturesque old building. Its most striking features are those huge chrome wheels, the angry tiger nose and some very cool-looking headlights.
“Not too bad…” I thought as we slowly made our way through afternoon traffic. As can be expected, the Rio has light and obedient controls, is easy to drive and responds well to driver inputs. Thanks to those pimp wheels, the ride is a bit choppy at low speeds.
“It’s broken!” I yelled at my passenger as the highway finally allowed me to give it horns. We turned off the aircon, lifted all available feet and held our breath but the Rio responded poorly to full throttle. And not just because I had eight cylinders under foot during most of my holidays – the Rio is slow by most standards.
“That’s better.” We agreed when I stopped irritating the little car and blended back into traffic. With only a few thousand kilometres under its belt, our new mode of transport was probably powered by a small engine that’s still waking up or a medium-sized one that’s fast asleep.
“Pity…” mumbled my co-driver as we discussed our newfound dilemma. Someone may have even said “It’s all show and no go.” With such a funky and racy exterior, most owners and onlookers would expect more from the Rio and I’m afraid it’ll have its pants pulled down regularly with embarrassing results.
“Look at this!” exclaimed my passenger with a twisted neck. The rear legroom is amazing, as is the rest of passenger space and comfort. Rear visibility isn’t that great, fit ‘n finish is acceptable, the slab-sided dashboard has a whole host of stylish red displays and the steering wheel looks cool.
“Impressive” was our description of the car’s toys. Power windows and mirrors, power steering, multi-function adjustable steering wheel, trip computer, climate control, CD/mp3 radio with aux/ipod input, leather-look seats and 60/40 split rear bench. The only two absentees are cruise and traction control.
“Not that it neeeeds traction control” I added while stirring around the gearbox uphill. The Rio joins a club of cars that look amazing but lack a bit of oomph. So far, I’ve come up with the Mazda Etude, Hyundai Tiburon, the first Mustang and KIA’s own Koup.
“Ahh, look here!” I proclaimed at home while carrying my laptop to said passenger. Under the Rio’s bonnet you will find a teeny-weeny but very smooth 1,400 engine. That would explain our slow progress and suddenly all performance shortcomings were forgiven. For a 1.4L, it’s actually not that slow.
“That’s interesting…” someone mumbled as we read through the Rio line-up. Despite its C-segment size and hot hatch attitude, the Rio is available as a 1.2L (65kW/120Nm) or three 1.4L (all 79kW/135Nm). Two of these can be shipped with a 4-speed automatic and there are two differing spec levels available.
“Prices?” was the next obvious question and they range from N$139,995 for the 1.2L to N$181,995 for the top-spec auto. All Rios feature ABS brakes with EBD, 43L fuel tanks, at least two airbags, Bluetooth connectivity, alarm with immobiliser, remote central locking and the lesser models have less brash wheel options.
“Five year hundred thousand” was read out loud; the warranty is joined by a 4-year 60,000km service plan as standard. Despite looking everywhere, we couldn’t locate any performance data so we grabbed our GPS and simply tested it ourselves. The result? 0-100km/h in 12.2 seconds. Top speed unknown.
“There is some logic to this, you know…” announced a wise family member. We rarely get the chance to drive flat-out. We spend most of our time in traffic, sitting at the lights, surrounded by other vehicles on our way home, and staring down a row of 27 cars in the N2’s right lane.
“You’re right!” I suddenly realised. The Rio looks fast but is just a cheeky commuter that’ll save you tons of money. Earlier in January I curled my big toe too much while overtaking and the abovementioned eight cylinders landed me a speeding fine whose value equals an opulent dinner at some extravagant restaurant.
“The Rio won’t do that” concluded a friend with a resounding belly laugh. The only times it’ll struggle is uphill, in hot weather and/or when heavily laden. The rest of the times, it looks amazing, drives well, offers loads of space ‘n specs, and is tremendous value for money. It just isn’t very fast.
0-100m: 7.1s / 74.6km/h
0-200m: 11.2s / 95.8km/h
0-300m: 14.6s / 110.0km/h
0-400m: 17.7s / 121.5km/h
1/4mile: 17.8s @ 75.6mph (121.7km/h)
Climate Sunny, cool
Road Dry tarmac, level
Occupants Driver, no passengers
Fuel level 1/3