Something old, more things new in the 2017 Kia Rio Hatchback

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The 2017 Kia Rio hatchback is 90 percent new, except for the drivetrain.

When Kia Motors designed the fourth generation of the Rio, they made their best-selling global car 90 percent new.

Styled by design studios in Germany, California and Korea, the 2017 Rio is built on the new Hyundai/Kia KP2 platform (Hyundai owns 33.88 percent of Kia), has a wheelbase that is 10 mm longer than the third gen’s, a body that is 15 mm longer and weighs lighter due to the use of high-strength steel (from the Hyundai steel plant, the second largest in the world) in the front structure, A-pillar, roof and front subframe.

Also new or renewed is Kia’s signature tiger-nose grille which was finished in gloss black and reshaped to be thinner in height and wider across the front of the car.

The plastic strip between the headlights is painted black, simulating a grille opening.

The sculpted, projector-type headlights laced with LED daytime running lights underneath, the 17-inch alloy wheels, LED rear combination lamps and rear lip spoiler make the Rio look sharper and more mature than the outgoing model.

Premium interior

The Euro-inspired premium makeover continues in the cabin.

A 4.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system dominates the driver-angled dash together with the chunky steering wheel that has audio controls and cruise control mounted on it.

The infotainment system (Bluetooth, USB, aux-in, AM/FM radio and CD) works well due to the intuitive placement of controls: Every switch is where it should logically be.

The clean and uncluttered layout makes for excellent ergonomics.

The only flaw is that at night, the red figures on the touchscreen are difficult to decipher.

Faux brushed aluminum highlights adorn part of the steering wheel, the gear shifter, center console and control dials on the dashboard.

Other amenities in the Rio are rain-sensing wipers, a trip computer, alloy pedal covers, smart proximity key with push button start, power outlets front and rear, and rear parking sensor.

Passenger and cargo space

High-quality black fabric upholstery covers the figure-hugging, supportive and comfortable seats.

There is more room for backseat passengers and a bigger boot because of the expanded wheelbase.

Legroom, headroom and shoulder room are generous, but squeezing a third passenger into the backseat is not advised.

The backseat splits and folds 60/40. With the rear seat folded, cargo space increases from 325 to a class-leading 980 liters.

The tonneau cover over the cargo area in the test unit flapped whenever I drove over a road hump, but otherwise NVH was minimal, thanks to new spring and damper settings.

Performance

The added rigidity of the high-strength steel improves the Rio’s handling, resulting in less understeer when you negotiate corners and twisting roads.

The electrically assisted power steering offers well-weighted, engaging feedback. You feel connected to the road.

The new Rio feels lighter despite its larger dimensions and structure. In the city, the Rio is easy to drive and park.

But when faster driving is required on a highway or when you have to drive uphill or want to overtake on the expressway, the 1.4-liter engine mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission shows its age.

Something old: The 2017 Rio’s 1.4-liter Kappa engine produces 100 ps and 133 Nm max torque.

The lethargic drivetrain is probably the 10 percent of the 2017 Rio that is old, while the rest of the car is the new 90 percent.

Kia Motors says that the 1.4 Kappa engine was slightly detuned for better fuel economy. It claims that the fourth gen Rio consumes 6.2 liters per 100 kilometers.

But the engine starts whining when you plant your foot on the gas pedal to put on some speed between 80 to 100 km per hour.

Nevertheless, the 2017 Rio remains impressive for its Euro-inspired styling, smooth steering, nimble handling, and upscale, well-equipped, roomy interior.

Above all, it is affordable. Retail prices start at P735,000 for the Rio SL M/T, P845,000 for the Rio SL A/T, and P955,000 for the Rio GL A/T.



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