Korean car maker Kia is cleverly wriggling deeper into the hearts and wallets of the South African motoring public with model after model of stylish, family-friendly, light on the pocket and wall-to-wall high-tech vehicles.
The Rio... ready to rattle the competition.
A good example of the type of weapons in its marketing onslaught is the unwrapping of the sedan version of its hugely popular Rio Hatch. The Rio hatch has been selling at the rate of about 1000 units a month and Kia reckons the sedan version is going to add another 500 units to that figure.
The new Rio sedan is an all-out attack on the B segment of the market with Kia clearly determined to rattle the cages of well-established brands such as the Toyota Yaris, VW Polo and Ford Fiesta.
Just on looks alone the Rio, with its air of sporty youthfulness and neat, clean lines, is already right up there (and even ahead) of most of the front runners in this tightly contested race. It's longer, lower and wider than previous models which not only improves its looks quite dramatically bit also adds a lot more space for passenger comfort and luggage - and the car's aerodynamics is now so efficient that it has a drag figure of just Cd 0.31, which also makes it more fuel en emissions frugal.
It stands out Viewed head on, the new Rio brags with the brand's striking new corporate grille integrated with the front lamps. The Kia logo now also sits more prominently above the grille. In profile the car has a pleasant wedge shape and the coupe-like roofline actually makes it look longer than it is.
It is a car that really looks better on tar than it does on paper and it certainly stands out in this segment which tends more to bland than beautiful. Although Kia is targeting young families with this Rio I reckon the car has the kind of twinkle appeal that will also go down well with a wider audience, from trendy singles all the way to the bowls-and-bridge brigade.
The larger of the two engines produces 79kW and 135Nm which propels the 4-door manual model to 100km/h in 11.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 183km/h.
With an emissions rate starting at just 128g/km it also has the right credentials to appeal to the environmentally-friendly.
The interior of the new sedan certainly adds a lot of extra weight to the new Rio's appeal. The living quarters look and feel classy and a particularly attractive feature is a row of handsome new toggle switches which look much more upmarket than the lay-out of the previous model.
The fittings vary from model to model, but in the flag-ship 1.4 TEC model I drove at the media launch in the Boland the eye-catching highlight was the handsome leather trim on the seats. But this is only one of the numerous comfort and convenience features of the new sedan.
You can stay connected The Korean's appeal is also strengthened by its rich audio and connectivity offerings such as a radio with CD player and MP3 compatibility, plus AUX, iPod and USB connections as well as Bluetooth® hands-free.
All models are fitted with a bee-sting roof top antenna and four audio speakers (two front tweeter speakers are also standard on the top of the range models).
When it comes to cabin space the Rio muscles to the front of the B-segment pack by offering 45mm more front legroom, 10mm more front headroom 34mm more rear knee room than the model it replaces.
A handy and practical feature is the car's 60/40 rear seat split and fold-down capability which creates close to flat-floored storage space. Unlike the tendency towards forsaking a spare wheel or offering only a Marie biscuit emergency spare wheel, the Rio brags with a full size spare wheel fitted tucked away beneath the hinged trunk floor.
A few extra millimetres here and there, plus a host of features, add up to some very comfortable living quarters.
The new Rio sedan comes to local market with the choice of two petrol engines (1.25-litre and 1.4-litre) and three trim levels (1.2, 1.4 and 1.4 TEC).
The larger of the two engines produces 79kW and 135Nm which propels the 4-door manual model to 100km/h in 11.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 183km/h. The 1.25-litre engine in Rio delivers 65kW and 120Nm which gives it a 0-100km/h sprint time of 13.1 seconds and a top speed of 168km/h. The range has a CO2 rating of 129 - to - 165g/km and fuel usage of 5.4-to-7.0 litres/100km respectively for the two engine sizes.
The 1.4 engine model is mated to a fuel-stretching six-speed manual gearbox, while the 1.25-litre engine is fitted with a five-speed box. As an option, a four-speed automatic transmission will also be available for the 1.4-litre unit. All three transmissions are fitted with a high top gear ratio (virtually an overdrive) that cuts down engine revs when cruising, and helps with fuel economy and emissions.
Impressed I drove the top-of-the-range 1.4 TEC version during the Media launch and was impressed by the car's solid feel, quiet, smooth running and classy cabin ambience.
Flat - and ample - storage space ... without sacrificing the spare.
The car feels confident on the road and the suspension provides a nice balance between comfort and handling. Acceleration is brisk without knocking your breath away and it cruises along quite contently in traffic and on the open road. The top gears are clearly designed more for cruising at steady speed rather than rapid overtaking and cog-swapping is also necessary on undulating bits.
With a full load aboard and up on the Reef this would be more noticeable although this does little to distract from the fact that this pretty Rio does a darn fine job as a sensible, attractive and economical family transporter.
Overall, the latest Rio certainly feels steadier, smoother and classier than its predecessor, thanks to a re-engineered suspension, running gear and steering set-up. Although still not pin-sharp the car's electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering has more feel to it and Kia has gone to a lot of trouble to design a combined torque/angle sensor to make the car steadier in gusting side-winds.
Halt! Enthusiastic drivers who quite vociferously expound the pleasures and advantages of hydraulic steering over electric usually conveniently tend to overlook the fact that an electric system helps to reduce fuel consumption (of up to 3% in this new Rio).
The new Rio also scores well in the anchors department with combined disc and drum brakes supported by ABS and EBD. The car scrubs off speed rapidly and steadily without any sense of swerve or panic, even under fairly hard braking.
Ride and handling can be further enhanced on the 1.4 models by replacing the standard 15-inch alloys with 17-inchers wrapped in low profile 205/45 R17 rubber.
The Rio does a darn fine job as a sensible, attractive and economical family transporter.
However, as is the growing tendency among car manufacturers the Rio has a wide spread of impressive standard equipment, most of it included as standard in the price tag rather than being pricey optional add-ons. These include a fully- adjustable steering wheel, electric door mirrors and windows, trip computer, air-conditioner, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, a full complement of airbags, keyless entry system an central locking, burglar alarm and immobiliser.
A good range of extras In addition to these features the 1.4 models below the flagship have front fog lamps, folding mirrors, automatic light controls with 'Welcome and Escort' function and leather wrapped steering wheel,
The brag model TEC adds UV-protection solar windscreen glass, LED positioning lights and LED rear lamps, glove box with cooling function, rear parking sensors, automatic air-conditioning, rain sensor and automatic defogging and alloys foot pedals. One of the few optional extras is a powered 'Tilt and Slide' glass sunroof.
As is standard nowadays, the steering wheel is no longer just a means to point the vehicle in the desired direction and honk at the errant minibus - it's also a multifunction control centre.
Kia has become a popular, fast-growing brand world-wide and South Africa is no exception, looking at how well models such as the Cerato, Sportage and Picanto (which finished a strong second in the most recent South African Car of the Year title race) are selling over here.
The company says market research predicts that demand for B-segment cars is going to grow significantly over the next two years as more consumers shift to more economical, more fuel-efficient cars - downsizing to offset the continuous rise in fuel prices. Clearly Kia is pinning its hopes on the new Rio sedan to help it stake a strong claim for a share of the action in this market segment.
All models come with a four-year/60 000km service plan, a five-year/100 000km warranty and a three-year/ unlimited roadside assistance support included in the price.
The Rio sedan models and prices are: 1.2 Manual - R141 995 1.4 Manual - R159 995 1.4 Auto - R169 995 1.4 TEC Manual - R173 995 1.4 TEC Auto - R183 995
2012 Kia Rio Sedan First Look(1/2) | Nashville TN Kia Dealer
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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