25 September 2023

2019 Kia Rio GT-Line – $23,090

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By Karl Peskett.

Good things come in threes, or so the saying goes. Well, good sounds also come in threes. Starting from the top, there has never been a bad sounding V12, and most V6 engines have a good note, too. Halve that again for another great sounding motor.

Yes, you read that right – three-cylinder engines are metallic, growly, and fully of character. However, they’re not exactly quick. With one litre of capacity and only three pistons, it’s never going to set the world on fire.

So, you need something to perk it up a bit. How about a tiny, little, exhaust-driven fan? Yep, a turbocharger should do it.

And that’s the formula that Kia went with for its most sporting Rio, the GT-line. It’s also the most expensive, by a long way, at over $23K. But it’s both the most engaging and best-handling Rio ever made. So, does that mean it’s worth buying? Well, let’s take a closer look.

The 2019 Rio is the biggest it has ever been, with five doors and a neat-looking cabin that is styled around the current Kia design language. The sporting intent is clear as soon as you step inside, with two-tone seats with edge piping, contrast stitching, a faux carbon-fibre dash fascia and metal pedals.

The plastics on the door cards, though, are very hard, and you can see and feel cheaper materials around the place. But it’s a car built to a price, so you can’t expect champagne on a beer budget.

There’s a touchscreen infotainment display up front, which uses Android Auto and Apple Car Play to mirror your smartphone. It’s the same system as used in many of Hyundai and Kia’s products, so if you’ve used it in one, you’ll be familiar with the menus. Setting up Bluetooth pairing is quite simple and the steering wheel controls come in handy for changing tracks on your phone or quickly bringing the volume down when needed.

Let’s talk space, though. Up front, there are no complaints at all. With plenty of seat length and height adjustment, just about everyone can find a good seating position. The centre armrest is quite narrow, though, so either the driver or the passenger gets to use it, but not both at the same time.

The back seat is actually more roomy than you’d expect, with an angled squab and the backs of the front seats are moulded to allow more knee room. Headroom is also very good, and with a six-foot driver and passenger up front, there won’t be too many complaints for those in the back. Unless you try to cram three adults across the back seat – that’s never going to work.

The boot space is very usable – 325 litres at last count – and with back seats that fold down, you can load larger items inside.

So, the Rio is practical, but a little cheap inside. But what about the driving experience?

Well, the most sporting Rio is definitely that – sporting. The steering has a good weighting, if a little numb, and it turns in sharply enough. With retuned suspension, the GT-Line model corners very flat and neutral. So, it’s actually quite quick when you thread together a few sweeping turns.

But drive it around town and normal speeds and the larger wheels, stiffer suspension and Continental tyres combine to give a very thumping and crashy ride. Every ridge, every crack in the road is both heard and felt, and heaven help if you have to go over train lines – the GT-Line becomes a banging, crashy mess. Get it on a coarse chip highway and the road noise becomes almost unbearable, too.

And while we’re on the negatives, let’s talk about the drivetrain. Sure, it sounds great and there’s actually quite a bit of torque – 172Nm and 88kW – but there’s also a lot of turbo lag. Combine that with the dual-clutch transmission and there’s take-up lag as well. That makes setting off either a blaze of glory where it revs too high and you chirp the front wheels, or a slow and uninspiring event.

When on the roll, it’s quite a zippy little thing, but you really need the speed up to feel like it’s enjoyable. And then there’s the fuel economy. On average, you’re talking high 9L/100km figures when driven with a bit of enthusiasm. It should be around 5.4L/100km according to Kia.

So here’s the deal. The GT-Line Rio is easily the best looking (and sounding) in the range and it has AEB and lane keep assist as standard. But it’s a full $5300 over the Rio Sport, which has everything you need except the AEB.

If a car costs just under $18K, then you think it’s a good deal. Putting it over $23K and it just doesn’t seem to stack up, despite the fact it’s clearly safer. If the GT-Line came in manual so you could use that three-cylinder engine to its fullest potential (and was therefore cheaper), that would be one to go for.

Instead, we’d suggest leaving the Rio entirely and head to a Volkswagen dealer. The Polo has a nicer interior, better build quality, has a better ride and has AEB as standard.

Even with Kia’s seven-year warranty, the extra two years of coverage over the VW just isn’t enough to make it a convincing package.

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