Kia Rio SLS: Road Test

words - Ken Gratton
Kia's flagship three-door has the makings of a hot hatch

Kia Rio SLS three-door hatch
Road Test

Price Guide (recommended price before statutory and delivery charges): $21,990
Options fitted (not included in above price): Metallic Paint $400
Crash rating: Five-star (ANCAP)
Fuel: 91 RON ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 6.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 145
Also consider: Citroen DS3 DStyle (from $26,990); Fiat 500 TwinAir (from $22,990); Hyundai Veloster (from $23,990); Skoda Fabia (from $18,990)

It's hard to find an obvious rival to Kia's Rio SLS — the three-door hatch with range-topping aspirations. It's axiomatic that three-door cars tend to be more stylish than their five-door counterparts and the Rio SLS offers a strong blend of affordability, comfort and driving dynamics in addition to that. tested the SLS just a week after we drove the three-door S, which occupies the entry end of the Rio range. Basic as it was, the Rio S impressed mightily especially given its price. At over $7000 more, could the auto-equipped SLS justify the premium?

Compared with the S, the SLS was just a nicer appointed car inside, naturally. With its combination of dark chrome trim around the instrument bezels and leather upholstery, the higher-grade Rio addressed one concern voiced in our review of the Rio S.

One issue with the Rio SLS was the lack of opening windows or HVAC vents in the rear. While this was pardonable in the bare-bones Rio S, it's harder to justify in a car priced at $21,990. That said, the SLS still represents fair value. Additional features include the 1.6-litre GDI engine, Kia's excellent six-speed automatic, alloy wheels with the 205/45 R17 Continental tyres, auto-on/off headlights, LED daytime running lights and rain-sensing wipers. Inside, the car boasted climate control, abovementioned leather, additional metal-look décor with soft-touch plastics and keyless start.

Understandably too, the refinement of the Rio SLS was measurably better than in the base model. While there was still some tyre noise, the premium three-door was altogether quieter when the engine was operating at higher revs. It's not just the refinement of the engine that commends itself either, it sounds sportier at lower revs, with a deeper burbling note to it. The 1.6 GDI engine was not only more pleasant to hear, it was also livelier than the 1.4-litre port-injected engine in the Rio S.

Performance with the very smooth-shifting six-speed auto was at least a match for the 1.4 with Kia's equally adept manual box. And Kia has chosen the right ratios for the auto transmission to make the most of the GDI engine's power delivery.

When the Rio SLS accelerates at full throttle, the engine note rises and falls as it would with a manual box. It's sportier, but sacrifices nothing in smoothness and responsive shifting. If it weren't for the fact that Kia seems to have got its act together with the shift quality of its manual transmission (based on our experience with the Rio S) we would have no hesitation in recommending buyers opt for the auto.

In the twisty bits, the Continental tyres fitted to the SLS provided very good grip, but contributed to occasional impact harshness over patchy bitumen. Otherwise the ride comfort was on a par with that of the S. It's firm overall, with reasonable compliance over longer and larger lumps and bumps. Body roll is kept to a minimum.

Thanks to the tyres, the steering felt more responsive in the higher spec car and there was none of the slightly vague feel at the straight-ahead encountered in the lower-priced variant.

Fuel consumption for the week was 8.4L/100km, according to the trip computer. It arguably should have been better, given the Rio covered something like 170km of open-road travel during the week, but the car did get bogged down in bumper-to-bumper traffic on at least a couple of occasions. And the writer didn't mind occasionally evaluating the GDI engine's performance at higher revs either...

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Published : Friday, 11 May 2012
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