Car Review

The Kia Rio 1.4 Tec Auto is not quite the carnival it could be

The 2019 Kia Rio boasts handsome looks and generous specifications, but it's let down by a lack of oomph and clunky automatic gearbox

17 February 2019 - 00:08 By thomas falkiner
The Kia Rio 1.4 Tec Auto.
The Kia Rio 1.4 Tec Auto.
Image: Supplied

The Kia Rio wasn't launched that long ago - are they updating it already?

Well they're giving it a new automatic gearbox. When the aesthetically pleasing fourth-generation Kia Rio was launched in 2017 it was only available with a horrendous four-speed "slush-O-matic" that shifted gears like it was 1978. People complained and Kia listened, which is why this awful transmission has finally been banished to the archives and replaced with a new six-speed unit.

Great news - does it make a difference?

Sort of. Six ratios are always going to be better than four - especially when accelerating from a standstill. As such the new automatic Rio does feel a tad sprightlier off the mark. But the transmission does still feel decidedly old school in the way it goes about its business.

While shifts can be described as lethargic at best (especially when driven in manual mode), the electronic brain controlling the transmission either has the engine bogging down in too low a gear or roaring somewhere near the rev limiter in too high a gear. It's this lack of linear middle ground that still makes Kia's two-pedalled Rio a frustrating steer.

What about the engine? Is it enough in this day and age?

I'm a fan of naturally aspirated engines but the 1.4-litre motor doing duty here feels underpowered. In the city it does a decent enough job but out on the highway in fast-moving traffic it really struggles to keep pace. 

FAST FACTS: Kia Rio 1.4 Tec Auto

• ENGINE: 1396cc four-cylinder petrol
• POWER: 74kW at 6,300rpm
• TORQUE: 135Nm at 4,200rpm
• TRANSMISSION: Six-speed auto
• 0-100KM/H:  13.2 seconds (claimed)
• TOP SPEED: 166km/h (claimed)
• FUEL: 9.2l/100km (achieved)
• PRICE: From R319,995

The power-sapping torque convertor (essentially what connects the automatic gearbox to the engine) doesn't help matters either. Overtaking slower vehicles is always something of a stressful, teeth-clenching affair.

Fuel economy isn't fantastic either. I drove a mixture of road conditions (urban and freeway) over my week-long test period and could only average 9.2l/100km. Not great.

Ouch! Is it any good to drive though?

For what it is, the Rio impressed me. It rides well and feels nicely composed even across choppier tracts of asphalt. On the flip-side it handles pretty well too.

Though no Ford Fiesta or Polo Vivo GT, the Rio can still carry a fair amount of gusto through corners before it starts to feel flustered. Nice job, Kia. 

Anything else I should know?

The cabin is one of the best in its class thanks to excellent ergonomics and build quality that wouldn't be out of place in an Audi A3 from a few years ago.

With plenty of fore/aft steering-wheel adjustment the Rio also offers a perfect driving position no matter what your proportions.

You also get cruise control, a sunroof, rear park-assist camera, rain-sensing wipers plus an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

With handsome looks and generous specifications there's a lot going for the Rio. What a pity it's let down by that engine and automatic gearbox. If Kia could address this with a turbo motor and a dual-clutch box they'd be onto something.