New car review: Kia Rio GT-Line

For a small car, the Kia Rio packs plenty of features, plus a dash of sportiness in this GT-Line trim.

While some vehicle nameplates seem to come and go with the frequency of fashion changes, others, like the Toyota Corolla, show remarkable longevity.

Kia’s long-distance stayer is the compact Rio, which celebrates its 21st birthday in the middle of this year.

Kia recently gave the Rio, which is now in its fourth generation, a mid-life update to further enhance its appeal in the light car market where it squares up against rivals including the Mazda 2, Suzuki Swift, and Toyota Yaris. 

Versus this worthy trio, the little Kia boasts the not inconsiderable advantage of keener pricing with a starting price of $18,590 for the Rio S, with manual transmission. 

The latest Rio updates include a handful of subtle exterior design changes that the marketers claim give the car a simpler and less-cluttered look.

The brand’s now trademark tiger-nose grille is retained, albeit with a narrowed focus.

It’s matched to a lower and wider front bumper with new fog lamp housings.

There are also a couple of new paint colours thrown in for good measure on the range-topping GT-Line.

2021 Kia Rio

In total, there are up to seven paint colours to choose from, depending on model variant, but Rio buyers can expect to shell out an additional $520 for “premium paint” if they pick anything brighter than the standard Clear White.

The Rio’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine with outputs of 74kW/133Nm carries over unchanged in the two lower grades – the S, and the Sport.

Thankfully, the anachronistic four-speed auto previously found in the base model has been ditched in favour of the superior six-speed unit fitted to the Sport. 

Further up the model grades the GT-Line retains its 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, although peak power has been cut from 88kW to 74kW, with the 172Nm torque figure remaining unaltered.

It’s matched with a seven-speed self-shifting dual-clutch box.

The combination of dual-clutch transmission and small displacement turbo engine results in some initial hesitation getting off the line. 

But you can soon surf the GT-Line’s more generous torque curve, served up from a low 1500rpm through to 4000rpm, which makes it feel quite zesty with driveability that suits its compact city-car brief. 

Throttle response north of 4000rpm lacks the same enthusiasm though.

2021 Kia Rio.

Kia’s well-regarded local suspension engineering team has tweaked the Rio’s ride and handling with the halo model GT-Line delivering a markedly sporty flavour. 

It feels confident and light on its feet through the corners with decent grip levels and accurate steering.

However, that comes at the expense of ride quality, which is overly firm, finding road markers, surface joints and broken surfaces all too readily which elicit unpleasant bump-thump.

More appealing are the latest upgrades to the Rio’s convenience and safety features. 

There’s now a larger 8.0-inch colour LCD infotainment touchscreen with wireless Android Auto and AppleCarPlay connectivity, the latter eliminating the need for a phone cable.

On GT-Line and Sport there’s also a new 4.2-inch colour instrument pod, while the GT-Line alone benefits from the addition of climate control with auto window defogger.

Autonomous emergency braking with vehicle, pedestrian, and cyclist detection capability, previously reserved exclusively for the GT-Line, has been trickled down to the lower grade Sport.

Buyers of Sport and GT-Line models can now tick off forward collision warning, lane keep assist, high beam assist and driver attention alert, as part of their car’s enhanced safety systems. 

2021 Kia Rio

The driver attention alert system uses cameras and sensors to monitor steering inputs and patterns, providing an audio and visual alert when erratic driving is detected.

The Rio’s interior is functional and easy to live with. All models feature a comfortable six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat with height adjustment, along with steering that adjusts for tilt and reach.

As might be expected at the price, there’s a lot of hard plastic trims adorning the cabin, but it’s all neatly put together.

Folding the 60:40 split-fold rear seat expands the 325L (VDA) of boot space to a handy 980L.

Rio’s scheduled service intervals are 12 months/15,000km for 1.4-litre models and 12 months/10,000km for the turbo GT-Line, with the first seven capped price services totalling $2947 and $3299, respectively.

Like the rest of the Kia range, Rio owners can enjoy the confidence a seven years/unlimited-kilometre new car warranty cover provides.  

Key stats

MLP: $24,990 drive-away.

ENGINE: 1.0-litre turbo petrol three cylinder.

ANCAP CRASH RATING:  Five stars (2017).

FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined cycle, litres/100km):  5.3 (124g/km CO₂).

FOR: Peppy around town, feels light and nimble, long warranty.

AGAINST: Limited rear leg room, powertrain lag off the line, hard interior plastics, space saver spare, overly firm ride.