Parkers overall rating: 3.4 out of 5 3.4
  • Wide selection of petrol motors available
  • Lower output 1.0-litre petrol the pick of the range
  • Choice of five- or six-speed manuals plus a four-speed auto

The Kia Rio range features three petrols and two no-longer-available diesels – plus four different gearboxes – a five- or six-speed manual, a seven-speed DCT automatic and a four-speed automatic.

Four petrol options 

The most popular configuration in the UK is expected to be the 82hp 1.25-litre four-cylinder engine with the five-speed manual gearbox. It’s fine for driving around town yet for motorways runs one of the punchier engines in the range would be advisable.

2019 Kia Rio GT-Line rear driving

Next up is a pair of 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged motors with a power output of 97hp and 116hp. Both sound pleasingly sporty, pull well through the gears and provide ample levels of torque for a car of this size. Overtaking isn’t a problem either thanks to a generous spread of power across the higher revs of each gear.

The downside is that both engines are slow to react at low revs which makes nipping in and out of city traffic a difficult task, although 0-60mph times of 10.3 seconds and 9.8 seconds for lower- and higher-output motors respectively aren’t too bad. 

Customers might be tempted by the extra 20hp of the more powerful 1.0-litre, but we’d stick with the 97hp version. It feels just as punchy in the real world – there’s only half a second in the 0-60mph times – and, for us, is the best engine in the range. The only detractor is that it’s limited to a five-speed manual gearbox, unlike the 116hp version which comes with a six-speed transmission or a seven-speed DCT dual-clutch auto.

2018 Kia Rio GT-Line side profile

The largest petrol in the on offer is the 98hp 1.4-litre four-cylinder, but it’s not the quickest. The 0-60mph time is 11.8 seconds (12.5 for the auto) so it’s one of the more relaxed engines on offer. We’d certainly pick the nippier turbos over this one. 

Diesel engine – no longer available

Customers after a diesel-powered Rio had the option of a 77hp or a 90hp 1.4-litre CRDi engine – both fitted with six-speed manual gearboxes as standard. Each engine offered an identical 240Nm of torque, allowing the Rio to pull well at low to medium speeds. However, once up to 70mph even the higher output 90hp version began to struggle.

Overtaking requires a change down into 4th gear and the engine needs to be worked to get any real increase in speed. For this reason, drivers who spend a lot of time on motorways would be better served by one of the more powerful petrol models, plus this model went off sale due to low sales, so it’ll have to be a used buy if you’re interested. 

How does it handle?

  • Safe and predictable but far from exciting
  • Provides adequate grip and composure
  • Pleasant ride makes it comfy 

2019 Kia Rio 2 front cornering silver

Safe and stable is the name of the game when it comes to the Rio’s handling. Grip and composure through corners is adequate, yet the car never feels agile enough to give any driver enjoyment.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of feel and sensitivity in the steering – especially around the straight ahead positon. Move the steering wheel a few degrees to the left or right and there’s little to suggest the front wheels have responded accordingly. It’s certainly not dangerous or off-putting, yet takes away any kind of precision in the steering.

This is fine at high speed, but superminis such as the Ford Fiesta have shown that agile handling needn’t come at the expense of instability or overly twitchy steering.

Move past this issue and the Rio has nicely weighted steering and a firm – but not overly so – chassis setup, allowing it to tackle potentially hazardous mid-corner bumps with ease. The turning circle is good enough for city driving and the overall footprint of the car feels compact from the driver’s seat.