Bargain-priced hatch that has same feature as luxury cars

The adage of good things in small packages has come to fruition.

Often in the annals of automotive history we’ve seen compact cars hit showrooms aimed at securing the bargain basement market. Small cars such as the Kia Rio are defying the past.

Packed with the latest gear, the recently updated Rio makes a play for younger and tech-savvy buyers.

Base model Rio S variants start from $18,990 drive-away and come with a big screen boasting smartphone mirroring capabilities we’ve previously only seen on high-end European models.

Our experience was behind the range-topping Rio GT-Line, which at $24,490 is about $500 more expensive than what was being asked this time last year, but remains a whole lot of car for your cash.

The Kia Rio 2021 models come with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Kia Rio 2021 models come with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.


The new eight-inch main touchscreen dominates the dash within a cabin that feels premium. While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were previously standard, the key improvement is wireless access meaning you no longer need to tether via a cord for operation.

GT-Line variants get the best of what’s on offer, and another new inclusion is a 4.2-inch driver instrument cluster as well as climate-controlled aircon. Other gear includes a flat-bottom steering wheel, alloy pedals, premium seat trim, carbon fibre-look dash and a six-speaker stereo system.

Minor changes have been made to the exterior, including tweaks to the front with a lower and wider front bumper along with a different fog lamp surround.

There are six colour options of white, black, red, yellow, and the two new additions of “sporty” blue and grey.

Kia has the best warranty in the business of seven years and unlimited kilometres.

Capped price servicing is available if you return to a dealer, with an average price over seven visits of $457 if maintaining intervals of annual or every 10,000km.

The base 1.4-litre engine is cheaper to service and has longer intervals of up to 15,000km.

Inside the 2021 model Kia Rio GT-Line.

Inside the 2021 model Kia Rio GT-Line.


Maintaining a five-star safety rating, key improvements have been introduced to the mid-spec Sport variants with autonomous emergency braking now standard. That functionality can slam on the brakes if the driver fails to act and was already on the previous generation GT-Line.

This model also has lane-keeping alerts to warn if the Rio strays outside the lines, auto high beam to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic and it also monitors driving behaviours and provides alerts if a break is required.

There is still the absence of front parking sensors, radar cruise control to maintain distances from other vehicles, along with AEB in reverse or a cross-traffic warning system which are becoming commonplace in many new vehicles. Rear parking sensors are standard, but the cross-traffic cameras are especially useful to keep an extra eye out when reversing from carparks.

There is surprising cabin space within the Kia Rio.

There is surprising cabin space within the Kia Rio.


Surprisingly roomy, the Rio GT-Line has sporting appeal which would be a key reason why buyers would choose it over a larger Cerato — which can be driven away for less but with fewer features.

Four adults can be accommodated in the Rio as long as those in the front are mindful of encroaching on rear leg space. Two growing boys had no complaints during our sojourns, while there is a USB port front and back for keeping devices fuelled.

Dual cup-holders in the console, door bottle accommodation and a useful space in front of the shifter provides a great storage option for phones, keys, wallets and other gear.

With more than 320 litres of boot space, it’s a deep allocation which can handle a couple of large suitcases. The rear seats fold 60-40, and we managed to fit an adult-size bike with the front wheel removed.

Engine power decreases in the Kia Rio 2021 models, reduced to 74kW from 88kW.

Engine power decreases in the Kia Rio 2021 models, reduced to 74kW from 88kW.


These new GT-Line models surprisingly come with less power than its predecessor. The three-cylinder turbo engine has been detuned to 74kW (down from 88kW), but still maintains 172Nm of torque.

Mated to a seven-speed dual clutch automatic, the little Rio shifts through the gears quickly to maintain optimum efficiency.

While not as perky as the model it replaces, the top-line variant remains a fun drive with the ability to change modes which improves acceleration response for a sportier feel or dulls the throttle for fuel efficiency.

Despite its size the Rio feels confident around town and on the highway with well-weighted steering and linear power delivery when you exercise your right ankle.

Fuel consumption averaged 6.2 litres for every 100km, which was close to the official figure from Kia of 5.7.

GT-Line variants top the Kia Rio 2021 model range.

GT-Line variants top the Kia Rio 2021 model range.


European good looks and features to match without requiring a long visit with the bank manager.


Sporting prowess without the neck-snapping performance, and I’m faster on my phone than when I’m behind the wheel of my car.

The Kia Rio 2021 models come with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Kia Rio 2021 models come with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.


Suzuki Swift Sport $29,990 D/A

One of the best-bang-for buck hatches on the market. A leap in price but also performance, with a 103kW/230Nm 1.4-litre turbo 4-cyl.

Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Comfortline $24,990 D/A

Among the class leaders in terms of driveability, powered by an 85kW/200Nm 1.0-litre 3-cyl. Doesn’t have the sporting extras that the Rio boasts, yet another sound and frugal performer.


Feeling more expensive than the price dictates, the Rio GT-Line is packed with personality and athleticism. While losing some power has stunted its acceleration prowess, it remains great looking compact runabout in town that can also handle
the highway.



PRICE $24,490 drive-away (pretty good value)

WARRANTY/SERVICING 7yr unlim’ km w’ty (the best); $1937 for 5 services (fine)

ENGINE 1.0-litre 74kW/172Nm 3-cyl, FWD (less power than previous model)

SAFETY 5 star, six airbags, AEB, lane keep assist, rear view camera, reverse sensors, driver attention alert (good)

THIRST 5.7 L/100km (6.2 on test)

SPARE Space-saver (expected)

BOOT 325L/980 (not bad)

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