Best light car under $20,000

The Kia Rio SLi delivers well beyond its price point and diminutive small car origins. As tested, it sells for $18,990.

For that outlay, buyers get five doors with plenty of interior space, a free-revving, willing and efficient 1.6-litre petrol engine, and a crisp six-speed manual transmission. It adds up to an extremely fun daily drive that certainly doesn’t break the budget.

Central to this new model is an all-new design that is visible immediately. The interior is both functional and comfortable and, perhaps more importantly, well executed. Adults can sit comfortably in the back seats and the luggage area (in what is a small hatch, remember) is generous, with or without the rear seats folded down.

All the connectivity and multimedia options you need are included; the controls feel sturdy and are well placed; and there is a general feeling of quality and tightness throughout.

Standard equipment is impressive and, on this SLi grade, includes all the electronic assistance you’d expect including traction and electronic stability control.

Safety hasn’t been overlooked either, with six airbags standard along with a five-star ANCAP rating.

Importantly, Rio has most certainly benefited from a concerted local effort to tune and recalibrate the suspension and damping to suit Australian roads.

Australia's Best Cars Best Light Car under $20,000 Kia Rio SLi

Manufacturer’s List Price: $18,990

Criteria out of 10 – Kia Rio SLi

Value for Money   Rating 
Pricing  2C
Depreciation  1M
Running Costs  8M
Fuel Consumption  9C
Warranty and dealer access   8H
Insurance  5L
Standard Features  8H

Design and Function   Rating 
Safety  9C
Environment  10C
Comfort  9M
Space  8L
Practicality  8M
Ergonomics  8M
Build and Finish  8H

On the Road   Rating 
Performance  8M
Ride  7M
Handling  8M
Braking  8H
Smoothness and Quietness   8L

Note: Level of weighting importance for each score: L = Low, M = Medium, H = High, C = Critical.