Kia's pleasingly sporting character

Price: $28,990
Engine: 996cc turbo-charged three-cylinder diesel, maximum power 88kW; maximum torque, 171Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
Brakes and stability systems: -
Safety: Five-star Australian NCAP
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 205/45 R17 tyres.
Fuel and economy: Petrol, 5.4L/100km standard combined, tank capacity 45L
Emissions: 124g CO2/km
Dimensions: Length 4065mm, width 1725mm, height 1450mm Kerb weight: 1195kg

Overview

What’s new?
When Kia launched the current fourth-generation Rio back in 2017, there were rumours that a sporty variant would eventually be added to the range. Enter the Rio GT-Line, featuring a characterful 88kW/171Nm 1.0-litre turbo engine, with power delivered to the front wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission.

As well as providing more pep than other members of the Rio family — all of which have non-turbo 1.4-litre engines — the GT Line features a sports-tuned suspension and a range of distinctive interior and exterior styling tweaks.

A $28,990 sticker places the GT-Line at the top of the Rio price tree, which otherwise ranges from $22,490 for the LX manual to $26,990 for the LTD auto. The GT-Line aside, those automatics are now six-speeds by the way, a major advance on the 4-speed transmissions the range was originally launched with.

What’s it like to look at?
The current Rio’s chunky, high-waisted styling lends itself well to a subtle sporty dress-up. Along with alloys shod with 205/45 R17 tyres, this includes a more aggressive rendition of the usual tiger-nose front end, side skirts, twin exhausts, LED fog lights, a decent rear spoiler, and GT-Line badging. The rear spoiler and other accents are finished in black gloss, which contrasted very nicely with the test car’s vibrant red paint.

What’s it like inside?
Roomy by class standards, and neat-and-tidy rather than bold in its execution, the usual Rio interior is nicely enhanced in GT-Line guise.

A patterned imitation carbon fibre strip runs across the dash, with the 7-inch touchscreen for the car’s multi-media interface in the centre. There’s a leather-rimmed GT-Line-embossed sport steering wheel, and alloy pedals. Mounted quite low, the supportive manually-adjusting front sports seats combine faux leather bolstering with textured fibre cushions and contrast stitching and piping.

The rear of the cabin musters fine leg room and adequate headroom by class standards, and the 325-litre boot capacity is decent for a small car too.

What comes as standard?
Keyless entry and start, climate control air-conditioning, satellite navigation, a reversing camera, parking sensors, and auto lights and wipers and a 6-speaker sound system are the key comfort and convenience features. Bluetooth connectivity is straightforward, there is Apple CarPlay/Android Auto pairing, and USB, AUX and 12-volt plugs provided.

The GT-Line’s safety muster includes autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, and blind spot detection, but the cruise control is a passive rather than radar-adaptive system.

What’s it like to drive?
The engine and chassis/suspension set-up sits at the heart of the GT-Line’s behind-the-wheel appeal.

Possessed of a slightly discordant three-cylinder burble, the motor delivers punchy performance from moderate revs. It remains zesty through the mid-range but runs short of puff as the 6500rpm red line approaches.

In everyday driving, urban and highway, the transmission impresses for the seamless quality of its shifts, except on initial take-off it can be a little harsh.

There’s a moment’s hesitation kicking down for lower gears, so it is best to take manual control off the shifting during sporting driving. Unfortunately there is no push-button sport mode or paddle shifts, so it is necessary to use the tiptronic-style shift gate for this.

Kia has done well tuning the GT-Line’s chassis and suspension for sporting flair. With plenty of grip and well-contained body roll, it corners very strongly, gripping well and resisting understeer until severely provoke. The steering is nicely weighted, but would benefit from more feel.

Ride quality is reasonably firm, but not to the point off being in anyway uncomfortable, except perhaps on very poorly surfaced city streets.

Unfortunately, though, those performance-focused Continental tyres invoke a marked coarse chip road rumble.

What’s the verdict?
While it’s not an out-and-out hot hatch, the GT-Line Rio has a pleasingly sporting character that makes it a natural and appealing flagship for the range.

 - Photos and copy by David Thomson

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