First drive in the updated Kia Rio

Yaaars and yaaars ago, when I was still at CAR magazine, the Kia Rio launched in South Africa. It was 2011, a time when hangovers were not yet a thing for me. Anyway, one of my friends was looking to buy a car and in this segment it was always the obvious Volkswagen Polo that I would recommend. I even owned a Polo at that time. But when the Rio arrived, sheesh, I was like, “YOU HAVE TO BUY THE RIO!” And so my friend did.

Fast forward to 2020 and my friend now has two kids and I have crippling hangovers, but the point is, that the Rio is still very much a contender in what is a rather tough segment. The Volkswagen Polo still dominates, but Kia is hoping with a few updates to this generation Rio, which was launched in 2017, it can continue to be an option to those who don’t want to follow the crowd.


Look, it is hard to say really. If you look at it you won’t really be able to tell unless someone points out what is different. Basically, the only tweaks are to the headlights, the radiator grille, the front bumper and the fog lights. That’s it. The rear remains exactly the same. But, there are two new colours on offer, both of which are on my featured image. They are Sporty Blue and Perennial Grey. Both of which look banging in the metal. (PS. I will never use the word ‘banging’ again, I realise I cannot pull it off).


The biggest change is probably that of the entry-level LS model now being offered with a 1.4-litre engine. It was always seen as more of a fleet car and so the 1.2-litre sufficed, but now, it will appeal to the private customers as well. This is the model that we got to drive on the launch and I was helluva impressed with the cabin, especially that of the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is standard across the range. Having driven the previous model to the launch, I can assure you, the change is huge inside.

Kia Rio
I love the look of the updated Rio’s cabin…even with an auto.


It really is the vibe. I don’t think you need anything more. You’ve got the same engine you’d find in the TEC…that being the top of the range model. So it only comes to spec and of course the alloys that everyone loves the TEC for. On the LS you can expect a multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, all-round electric windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, electric side mirrors, rake and reach adjustable steering wheel, automatic headlight control, a 60:40-split rear bench, USB charger and a 3.5-inch LCD cluster. Not to mention two airbags, ABS, and Isofix anchorage points. Now you tell me, what more could you possibly need?

Ok fine, the next up in the range, the LX, adds an auto up/down and safety feature to the electric windows, a folding function for the electric mirrors and integrated indicator lights, and Hill Start Assist. Ok and one biggie is that of electronic stability control. But now then, you have everything you need, surely?!

Well fine, the EX adds stuff like a rear view camera and park assist system, which is obviously handy, but not entirely necessary if you park like a pro, like me, obvs! And the TEC adds all the fancy pants stuff like rear seat alert, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, auto window de-fogger, leather upholstery and extra airbags, taking it a total of six. Well sure, these do come in handy. And I do enjoy being as safe as possible. But it is not to say you are unsafe in the other derivatives.


I can’t tell you what you need, obviously, so I will leave the choice of derivative up to you. What I can tell you about is the engine, which is the 1.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol unit. I wish I was writing turbocharged here, but alas, I cannot. In comparison to its rivals, such as the Polo or Ford Fiesta, it is just not up to scratch in terms of performance. When it comes to its own 1.2-litre sibling, you will want to spend the extra money for the 1.4. With 73 kW and 135 Nm of torque, you will be grateful for the extra oomph, especially when wanting to over take. Although I do advise not trying this on a steep incline with a fully loaded car.

The six-speed manual transmission, though, is just a joy. It would be my choice over the torque-converter transmission, unless you are sitting in a crap-load of traffic everyday and are looking for the convenience of an auto ‘box and not the performance of it.


I have always been a fan of the Rio and I continue to be a fan of the Rio. Would I buy it over a Polo? Probably not, but only because of the performance aspect. However, it would be my very close second choice. The other options on the table are the Ford Fiesta or Hyundai i20. But you know my heart has a huge soft spot for the Kia brand, and for good reason. Now go and test drive one and tell me what you think.


The Rio comes standard with a four-year/60 000 km service plan and five-year/unlimited km warranty.

KIA Rio 1.2 LS Manual: R280,995
KIA Rio 1.4 LS Manual: R291,995
KIA Rio 1.4 LS Auto: R308,995
KIA Rio 1.4 LX Manual: R306,995
KIA Rio 1.4 LX Auto: R323,995
KIA Rio 1.4 EX Manual: R319,995
KIA Rio 1.4 EX Auto: R336,995
KIA Rio 1.4 TEC Manual: R344,995
KIA Rio 1.4 TEC Auto: R361,995

I’m Julz, South African motoring journalist with a passion for cars and a questionable sense of humour. I am not your average motoring journalist, and this is not your average motoring website.

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