When shopping in the B segment, consumers are hardly left wanting. With all major, and some minor, manufacturers represented, there really is something for everyone. Kia’s presence in this bustling section of the industry is the Rio, which despite being a relatively rare sight on UK roads, is one of Kia’s best selling cars with the Korean OEM shifting over 475,000 units a year. For 2017, the Rio receives a through overhaul in a style typical for the modern Kia brand. The new car climbs several notches up the hypothetical ladder, rising firmly and assuredly above its predecessor in terms of design, build, perceived quality, ride comfort and efficiency.
One of the most important lynchpins to the overhauled range is a number of revised powertrains, all of which offer significant improvements in terms of emissions and efficiency over the outgoing engines. Whilst not a new engine in itself, the all-aluminum G3LC-6iL 1.0-liter turbocharged lump makes its first appearance in the MY2017 Rio. And quite the fit it is too. The 1.0 TGDi lump is available in a base power output of 99bhp, and a higher 118bhp model. The latter is standard fitment in the ‘First Edition’, which is loaded with extras including ride-ruining 17″ alloys and oddly a six-speed transmission, despite the mild increases in power. A Kia spokesperson at the launch event explained that the 118bhp derivative had been designed to accept the six-speed from the offset because of the increased power. I’m not entirely sure of that, as around 19bhp away from the absolute limit is, in the grand scale of things, an incredibly close tolerance to be running the lower bhp variant’s transmission at. Add to that, torque remains the same at 171Nm for either version.
Away from the slightly confusing model specifications, the lower output variant is a genuine hoot to drive. The car’s test route took in a variety of demanding country roads in rural Berkshire and Oxfordshire in the UK, which included a variety of fast, sweeping A-roads, motorways, B-roads and urban driving. At no point during the three-hour loop did the Kia disappoint. The powertrain is quiet and refined at city pace, it keeps NVH to a minimum with only the worst of broken road surfaces reverberating through to the cabin, whilst the five-speed manual transmission moves effortlessly between ratios thanks to a well judged throw and comfortable weighting. Kia quotes a 0-60mph time for the car of 10.3 seconds, which in hindsight feels quite conservative. With that gentle three-cylinder offbeat thrum, the G3LC-6iL engine makes progress around town enjoyable with that 171Nm peak torque output available from just 1,500 through to 4,000rpm meaning that regardless of gear, you’re never a million miles away from the powerband and usually sit right in the heart of it.
Kia states that it has worked hard to reduce any sensation of ‘lag’ in the turbocharged unit, and it works. The power delivery and throttle response in the Rio belying its small displacement and relatively modest 99bhp output. In most scenarios, this is more than enough to keep up with traffic and remain the legal side of speed limits. Despite the five-speed transmission, you also never feel like you are missing the extra cog, with the ratios seemingly well matched for UK road speeds, again allowing you to make progress effortlessly and in pleasing levels of comfort.
Elsewhere, other revisions to the range include a new-to-Rio 1.4-liter multi-point injection from the Kappa range of engines, and two 1.4-liter CRDi diesel engines, which replace the three-cylinder 1.1-liter. There’s a lot being said that ‘downsizing’ is on the ropes, and I for one thought that the benefits of it were overhyped. But the move from 1.4-liter to 1.0-liter in the Rio is an inspired one, and one that in reality proves that it is more about ‘right sizing’ and the G3LC-6iL is the perfect size for the Rio.