You can't help but wonder why Kia is bothering to offer its 1.4-litre petrol engine in the Rio. Even without driving it the thing just doesn’t make sense. It's being offered in the same cars as the 1.5-litre diesel for exactly the same price yet the brochure tells us it's less powerful, much less torquey, slower in the sprint times and much thirstier. As far as I'm concerned it's a no-brainer and the review could stop there.
It won't, though, because it's rumoured there are still some people out there who just don't like the idea of running a diesel car. I'd argue that the evidence for the foolish nature of this stance is nowhere better evidenced than in the new Rio. I've been test driving the 1.4 in the base-model GS and the first thing I have to mention is the price. At £7995 on the road it's a budget car by anyone's standards - there's no other small family car can touch it - and yet it looks like anything but.
Kia used to reproduce redundant Mazda designs in the old days, but now this rapidly growing Korean company is turning out some good-looking pieces of metalware that you can be proud to be seen in.
Unlike the dowdy car it replaces, the new Rio carries a cohesive European theme about it. At a quick glance it could pass for something like an old model Vauxhall Astra thanks to its long sweeping curve of the window line, it’s tidy tail end and the serious expression around the front.
Inside the GS it's easier to see that it's built to a price. The matt-black plastic panel in the centre console has all the quality and aesthetics of an Action Man accessory, and the steering wheel feels thin and plasticky.
One other thing I found a little annoying was the dark hole in which the instruments lurked. You could read them in good daylight but I found they were so much clearer when the lights were illuminated that I tended to drive with them on all the time.
The most luxury gadget is a JVC sound system that combines radio with CD and MP3 player. Sounds nice, but anyone who’s ever worked with JVC kit will know the buttons are small, fiddly to use and virtually impossible to read. You can get used to it after a while but it takes longer than I had on this road test.
Safety isn't compromised by economy on the Rio. Even this GS gets antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution, and twin airbags for the front passengers.
So far as kit is concerned, there is air-conditioning, you get electric windows in the front only and the mirrors are manually adjusted. The steering wheel is adjustable only for tilt but thanks to the rake, reach and height adjustable driver’s seat, getting a comfortable position as you take a bead on the road is not a problem.
Starting up the engine, it sounds a bit thin and revvy. Blip the throttle and it gets excited quickly but takes a bit longer to calm down again. Slotting it into gear is no problem and once out on the road the little petrol engine shows that it's eager enough. The suspension is marginally softer than many in this sector of the market, but I really do mean marginally. It'll take tight, snaking corners and long sweeping bends at pace without causing any kind of alarm. On one stretch of bouncy back-road where I've found cars twice this expensive grounding out in the yumps and bumps, the Rio skipped through them without showing any signs of fluster.
The GS accommodation, although a little dowdy, dark and uninspiring, is more than adequate. In the back seats there's not a massive amount of knee room but plenty of headroom. You won't get three adults across the bench but there are three-point seatbelts for each of the three positions.
Even further back you'll find the cargo-hold is useful but not massive - the entrance is a bit narrow and the wheelarches intrude on the width of the bay. The backs of the rear seats split about 60/40 too so there's space to feed the Christmas tree through.
The summary is as simple as my introduction suggested. The 1.4-litre petrol engine is an adequate little unit, but why would you choose it when the diesel engine is quite exceptional?
I would also suggest that for those who can afford the £1000 step up to LX specification, it would be worth doing. For that you get a whole host of practical, safety and image enhancing things. Inside the seat fabric is classier, there's some nice silver trim to replace that cheap-looking black plastic and the steering wheel and gearknob are leather-bound.
Outside the bumpers and door handles are body-coloured and you get bigger and nicer alloy wheels and front fogs. In kit you can have electric mirrors and windows all round, active headrests, side and curtain airbags, remote-central locking - the list goes on. Money well spent, I'd say.
I'll be honest here. I can't think who would buy the 1.4 GS. As far as I'm concerned, its main role in the world is to highlight what excellent value the 1.5-litre diesel LX really is.