THE PROS & CONS
What’s Best: Interior room takes this into the compact car segment blended with attractive exterior styling and leading edge telematics.
What’s Worst: Interior materials are fine, but there is just too much coal black going on.
What’s Interesting: Heated front seats, heated steering wheel and rearview camera all standard at under $15,000.
QUEBEC CITY, PQ: One of Kia’s most successful models, especially in Canada, is the sub-compact Rio.
With the all new fourth-generation hatchback version in showrooms now with the sedan to follow in the fall, Kia is making it even more attractive than ever to get into one.
With year-over-year sales up 5.5 per cent, Kia Canada dug deep into the design and amenities for Rio.
For example, all 2018 Rios, including the $14,995 base model, will come standard with heated front seats, heated steering wheel and rear-view camera.
Powering the Rio is the same engine as in the last generation, Kia’s tried and true 1.6-litre direct injection inline four-cylinder, producing 130 hp and 119 lb/ft of torque on regular gas.
NRCan fuel consumption ratings were not available at the press launch, but for comparison, a 2015 Rio 5-Door tested on these pages returned 6.6/4.9L/100 km (43/58 mpg) city/highway for the manual, 6.8/4.9L/100 km (42/58 mpg) city/highway with the automatic.
A six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission are found on the entry LX models, while the six-speed auto is standard on the EX trim models. All Rios are front-wheel-drive.
Cargo volume behind the second row seats is 493 litres and 928 litres with the seat folded flat. And to make loading easier, the hatch opening is 71 mm wider, loading height is up by 26 mm and luggage tray depth is 20 mm deeper and includes a cargo privacy cover to hide valuables.
Suspension remains MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam at the rear and 15-inch wheels are found on the LX or EX, while 17-inch alloys come on the EX Sport model and up.
Despite being a sub-compact, front and rear leg, hip and shoulder room are almost identical, a rarity in this class where back seats sometimes are for kiddies only.
Where this car stands out compared to Rios that have gone before is what I call the Schreyer Factor, meaning Peter Schreyer who transformed Kia from a maker of “cheap and cheerful” econoboxes into the brand that leads all other makers in J.D. Power quality studies the last two years in a row.
Here’s one small example
When the Rio arrived in 2001, it was awash in hard, shiny plastic interior trim that scratched easily and came loose a lot.
Look inside the 2018 Rio and that’s all gone, with soft touch materials, a dual level centre console with connectivity ports cellphone/tablet storage, a centre stack with a floating-style touchscreen/head unit, and one thing I really like about Kias — all the secondary controls such as HVAC are set as high up on the instrument panel as possible.
On the outside, the Schreyer Factor sense of styling results in a pert overall design with very short front and rear overhangs and a standard rear spoiler and backup camera.
And unlike the first two pre-Schreyer generations, these Rios have color – six hues, in fact, including a vibrant Hyper Blue.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Rio is introducing its new UVO Intelligence system that will commence rolling out across the entire Kia model line featuring a number of app or website controlled remote services.
Found on the EX models and up, telematics allow remote engine start/stop (including climate control), door lock/unlock, “find my car” locator, various maintenance and service and automatic crash/SOS emergency help/roadside assistance, all with a live agent.
All this and more is free for five years and that stays with the car even if sold to a second owner.
And, of course, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are part of the package. My co-driver used his Samsung smartphone to turn the touchscreen into a navi that gave us route directions to a lunch stop during the press launch in and around Quebec City.
My Montreal-based driving partner knows the region well and we opted to take the Chemin du Roy (the original road linking Montreal and Quebec City) all the way and it was fabulous.
With a hint of fall color change showing on the trees, the hilly up and down sparsely travelled two-lane blacktop reveal handling that was jounce-free, which was not the case with the first generation Rio.
With lots of room for two big guys, the 1.6-litre was more than capable of handling the constant prodding of the throttle, while the brakes were just as smooth and easy to modulate as the gas.
In short, it drove more like a compact car but without feeling as big.
Kia knows Rio is up against some tough customers in the sub-compact arena, but with the level of standard equipment not to mention greater power, they are ready for the cross shopping that is bound to take place.
But if potential buyers do just that, they’ll find the company slogan “The Power to Surprise” really does apply when it comes to the 2018 Kia Rio 5-Door.
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