India’s car market, as promising it seems, is a very difficult place to be. To even find a footing, is a challenge and any one brave enough must come prepared for some tough battles and long lasting scars. Ask any of the brands who have been trying to make a mark and I am sure they will agree, off the record mostly. To take on the leaders, you need amazing products, great pricing, expansive dealer network and very deep pockets. Kia Motors has shown, in other parts of the world, that they possess all the above. We take the Kia Rio for a spin, which will go head on with Maruti Suzuki Baleno and Hyundai i20.
Most people in India, may not be aware of the history of the Rio and if one were to go purely by its looks, then the lack of awareness may not be a bad thing. The Rio has always been a car which offered practicality and space at a good price. This one is the fourth generation and it has only taken those attributes higher, while also having a simultaneously improved design.
Compared to the competition we think it goes up against, the exterior does look a bit conservative, but it did turn many a heads while I was driving it around. Regular motorists turned into full blown paparazzi, camera phones out, trying to get a photo of the Rio. Most of them, Kia might be happy to know, were in a Maruti or Hyundai. On the outside, it is a good looking car, no doubt.
Before we move to the interior, I should clarify – the car we drove may not come to India in the same spec. I think it may be good idea if it doesn’t; the interiors simply aren’t what you expect when you’re already that impressed by the exterior. You get the feeling you’re in a European car, albeit one from the late 2000s. Quality of materials is good and it feels sturdy, but there is nothing modern about it. All black looks good, but the switches and buttons feel old and the touchscreen is a little too small. The interior will need a big leg up to compete with new age hatchbacks. Unless, the competition is a Fiat Punto. Even then, it may still not be up to the mark.
Globally, Kia offers multiple engine options, including a 1-litre turbo diesel, 1-litre diesel and petrol, and the one we drove here, the 1.2-litre petrol, which makes 83 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 12.1 kgm of torque at 4,000 rpm. If you forget the competition, it’s not a bad motor to have in a car this size. It isn’t outright peppy nor does it like to be pushed, but if you insist, it does deliver the goods after a brief test of your patience. For city driving it seems sufficient as long as you don’t mind working the gear box a bit. The five-speed manual gearbox is smooth and the clutch is light, so working through the cogs is easier. I had the car for two days and drove it only in the city, getting a mileage of almost 12 kpl which isn’t too bad, I’d say.
The suspension is where Kia has done a good job, but the ride might still be a tad stiff compared to other rivals in the segment. Which is good news for those in the drivers seat, not so much for the passengers. The rear is a comfortable space to be in, otherwise. Leg room and head room are sufficient for two people, although three will be certainly be a squeeze. The seats are comfortable, and again, the driver has the best seat in the house, with good visibility. The rear view is a bit cramped, but our car had a rear view camera to make things easy. It would be easier if the touchscreen was a smidge larger, too. All in all, the Rio in its current state of spec will win hearts when it comes to looks, but the head may not agree due to the features and driving pleasure that the competition offers. With almost a year to go before Kia brings the car to India, there is hope. After all, the most difficult aspect of cracking the Indian market is its fickle customer. With the right engine options, competitive features and a good price, the Rio has a very good chance of taking the fight to Maruti and Hyundai. We sure hope it does!
Kia Rio Technical Specifications
Displacement: 1.2L, 4-cyl petrol
Max power: 83 @ 6000 rpm
Max torque: 12.1 kgm @ 6000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed, manual
TYRES F/R: 195/55 R16
DIMENSIONS L/W/H (mm): 4065/1725/1445
Kerb weight: 1198 kg
Fuel capacity: 45 litres
PRICE Rs 6-9 lakh (Expected; ex-showroom, Delhi)
Photos by Aniruddh Kaushal