Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi Review – Well Made Super-Mini Packed with Tech Impresses Us

Kia Rio?

Touted as their ‘supermini’, the 2013 Kia Rio is aimed at pushing the boundaries for the small car sector. They boast high quality at a low cost. A great exterior design with a good level of interior build and material quality, plus one of their main selling points – superb fuel economy.

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi

With people now expecting more bang-for-buck when it comes to small cars, and supermini’s raising the bar in all these sectors in last couple of years, the Rio’s competition with cars like the Ford Fiesta, Peugeot 208, VW Polo, Renault Clio and Vauxhall Corsa are all elbowing and jostling for your attention. Kia Rio, it’s your turn to prove your worth.

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi-3238

Since Kia hired Peter Schreyer as Chief Designer in 2006, their turnaround from producing boring, nondescript – even ugly – cars to desirable ones is surely one of the car industries biggest success stories in recent history. Their line-up has the ‘tiger nose’ grille running through the range, and it’s a prominent feature on the front of the Rio.

The front end of the car has big, honeycomb grilles fully across a wide, jutted chin, giving it a muscular, taught appearance. Above that is the ‘tiger nose’, and each side are big swooping light pods that end sharply – giving them an angry mien. The bonnet sits really high up too, with a couple of jutted swage each side of the centre lines, adding further to the impression of being larger than it really is.

Available in 3 or 5-door guise, I was sent the three-door version. Personally, I prefer it over the five as it’s less fussy down the side. The Rio is actually a nice-looking car from any angle, even the side, where cars sometimes lack design or flair. There are deep, bold lines that add character, making the body flow from front to back. The front door of the 3-door model is really very long, and although the shoulder-line is high, that’s still a fair ol’ chunk of glass right there.

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi exterior details headlights badge multi

Around to the rear of the Rio and again, it’s still sweet, with enough going on to keep you happy without being too overdone. Actually, there’s a lot of a circa 2001 Seat Ibiza about the back end. Not a bad thing though, as it was a nice design, that Ibiza.

The only thing myself and a couple of other testers didn’t like were the 16″ wheels that come with the ‘2’. They look like wheel trims too much, and in fact a couple of people actually thought they were. The 17″ alloys that comes on the ‘3’ , and are also optional, are a much better design, and actually look very cool, filling the wheel wells perfectly. They’ll effect mpg slightly, but not enough to worry about.

Th Rio is smart-looking supermini. It’s chunky, cool, modern and easily stands up against its rivals if you were looking at buying into this sector of the market. I also think the design will stand the test of time superbly.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi-3067

If you’re going to compete with today’s supermini’s, best be prepared to sell one with a quality interior with plenty of gadgets. Buyers won’t stand for crap build or materials anymore, especially when money is tight and there’s a whole bunch of cars offering quality at a low price now.

Just a few years ago, you’d have laughed off looking at a small Kia for quality as a joke. You’re going to want to take a good look now though. Since the last Rio, Kia have added room in the cabin with a longer wheelbase, a higher roof and a slightly wider cabin, as well as making the boot area nearly four inches wider.

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi-3046

As with a lot of small cars now, the Rio is one of those deceptively-small-outside-big-inside vehicles. When the Rio arrived, I’d not researched it hugely deliberately to get my own first impression. Inside, the Rio feels much more grown-up than you would have thought and it has the type of layout and design you’d expect to find on something like a more expensive mid-sized saloon.

For sure though, it’s aimed at the younger market. Kia say although there are three trim grades, the overall quality remains high no matter what level you spec. That’ll be true. It’s good feature that I really like about Kia’s actually. Firstly, choosing your trim level is really simple; just choose engine preference and then one of three trim grades without having to wade though a zillion options, all the time agonising about how much it’s going to hurt your bank balance by the time you’ve finished ticking boxes.

Also, you don’t have to worry that because you’re buying lowest-spec of car, it’ll be as bog-standard as an Ryanair flight. Depending on what engine you chose the spec level does vary slightly, but you’re still getting useful stuff such as USB and auxiliary ports for your music on any of the Rio’s, and daytime running lights on the exterior. If you want to see each spec in detail, go to Kia’s website.

Interior features on the Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi 2

Points that stood out to me about the Rio’s interior were that the frontal section of the dash was soft-touch and textured instead of being hard, flat sections of dullness. The parts where you rest your arms on the doors, around where the power window switches are, is rubberised – again making it feel just that wee bit better than a hard plastic. Every single button you press, or dial you turn in the Rio is silent, instead of clicking or clacking loudly, and there’s just enough shiny (faux) chrome to liven-up the interior without it becoming tacky.

Climate controls on the Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi

As standard, there are two 12-volt ports in the front. That’s properly handy if there’s two or three of you travelling and you all have battery-sucking smart phones. Another standard on all models are front electric windows (why cars still have wind-y glass I cannot fathom), and a decent set of speakers too.

The Rio sent to us to test was the 1.1 CRDi ‘2’ three-door. Good, cool and useful stuff I liked included the level ‘2’ having an arm-rest which adjusts forward for the driver/passenger (why aren’t they always adjustable?) with a huge chasm-like storage area beneath. It also has an air-con-cooled glovebox to keep your Curly Wurly and Um Bongo cold, plus heated, electric wing mirrors and Bluetooth for your phone-calls and tunes.

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi adjustable arm rest

Another upgrade for the ‘2’ and ‘3’ models is the premium black cloth upholstery, which just a little more plusher than the standard ones. On that, the front seats are comfortable, although I’d like the driver’s to feature adjustable lumbar support as it’s not quite supportive enough. The rear seating on the 3-door are reclined at a nice, relaxed angle and are shaped to hold you a little more than a bench seat – a comfy place to sit really.

Rear seats on the Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi 2

Interior safety tech on any of the Kia Rio’s includes frontal, side and curtain airbags as well as ISOFIX points in the front and rear. All-in-all, the Rio’s interior is well-equipped with a good layout (if a little dull), comfortable and safe, and when you look at the trim level of the 1.1 CRDI ‘2’ that I tested compared with it’s rivals, the price bracket is highly competitive, falling below the similarly-specced VW Polo and Vauxhall Corsa by around £1,500 – £1,700, while the 208, Clio and Fiesta are priced around the same price give or take a few hundred pounds.

Engine and gearbox

Back in the bad old days, having a one-litre engine in meant your car would puff and wheeze its way up hilly countryside roads, and dropping down through the gears until you eventually ended up crawling in first or second, engine roaring in protest, was the norm. The Rio ‘2’ 1.1 CRDI EcoDynamics with ISG (Intelligent Stop & Go) sounds like it’ll be the same – an easy target for criticism. However, you would be wrong to assume that.

The 1.1 litre three-cylinder diesel with variable-geometry turbo has 74 hp and 125 lbs ft (170 Nm) of torque, the latter coming in at just 1,500 rpm, so easily enough pull when you’re weaving through town traffic. If, like me, you’ve got a few hilly sections to climb in your area, you’ll find the maximum horsepower high in the rev range at 4,000 rpm comes as an added little boost just when you think you’re going to run out of power, pulling you early up the steeper sections before you change up a gear and get the benefit of the torque again. It actually comes as a bit of a wave when you get near to 3,500 rpm up to the redline at 4,500, and it pulls surprisingly well for such a little engine.

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi 2 engine bay

Regarding noise, you’d think as it’s a 3-cylinder unit that you’d notice but truth be told, if you weren’t told it wasn’t a four-cylinder engine, you wouldn’t know, and even when you do I think there’s little, if any, difference in sound.

15.5 seconds. That’s how long it takes the 1.1 CRDI to sixty miles-per-hour. So, it is not the fastest car in that category, by any standard. However, let’s out that aside and realise that 1. the Rio 1.1 diesel is not about drag racing and burnouts, but 2. it’s all about the fuel economy. Still, that 0 – 60 time could put potential buyers off, making them think this is a slow car with as much go as an arthritic snail. Don’t be.

Once you’re moving, the 1.1 CRDI in Rio makes it nippy enough in the city to keep you smiling, and that power is not a problem at all on motorway runs, as it’ll get up to speed coming into the flow of traffic with enough vigour to make you think you’re driving a car with a bigger engine. Overtaking simply means dropping it a cog from 6th to 5th and the power is there to take you from sixty to eighty mph if needed.

Fuel economy, is, as mentioned, one of the main selling points of the 1.1 CRDI. Kia boast that this engine has ‘lower consumption… than any other non electric car on sale in the world, including hybrids and eco specials from rival companies‘ (2012 figures). That is quite a claim. Here’s t’thing though, there are different CO2 emissions and mpg figures for the same 1.1 CRDI engine, depending on what model you go for.

Kia Rio CD RDS Radio/CD audio with MP3 disc compatibility and bluetooth

In brief, buy the lowest spec Rio ‘1’ with the 1.1 diesel engine and you’ll get up to a whopping 94 mpg Extra Urban with 85 g/km CO2. Purchase the ‘1 Air’, and it’ll be 85.6 mpg and CO2 emissions of 94 g/km, while the ‘2’ that we had on trial gives 72.4 mpg urban, 80.7 extra urban and 74.3 combined, with 99 g/km CO2. It’s apparently down to the wheel and tyre package that each car has, plus a few other factors that I’m not 100% up on.

The 6-speed manual ‘box is really very good. The ratio’s are well set-up for both urban and motorway driving, while the physical change itself is positive, making selecting the gear you want easy and accurate. I’ve driven way more expensive cars with manual gear boxes that aren’t as good as the Rio’s.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

The Kia Rio is an enjoyable car to drive around town. Okay, the 1.1 CRDI isn’t what you’d call quick, but the Rio responds nicely to your input from your right foot (if you’re in the right gear), and from the steering wheel too. The Rio nips around bends and into gaps in the traffic in an agile manner that’ll bring a smile to your work-stressed face.

Driving the Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi 2

The electronically-assisted steering adjusts its weightiness depending on the speed of the car, and I found city driving and parking a breeze due to the light feel, and once you’re moving, the ‘wheel is weightier and gave good response to my input, making driving down flowing or tight country lanes a pleasure.

The Rio’s suspension is good enough for a non-sports-orientated small car. I was surprised that it only has independent suspension on the front, rather than all-round. The rear is made up of a coupled torsion-beam axle-type, but Kia have apparently improved the stiffness and strength over the last Rio to reduce understeer and give better stability at speed. Whatever though, those are just words – how does it do overall in the real world?

I found it fine. Yes, when the wheels hit a bad patch of pot-holed road, the car banged rather than flowed, but then again a lot of cars would do much the same. Speed bumps are taken well, with the Rio coping well with even the behemoth versions of these evil things. In honesty, the Rio did much better over a lot of the bad road surfaces than I expected it would, and passengers were happy with the ride too.

Roll one bends isn’t massively noticeable or something that’ll curb an enthusiastic drive, even though the car is obviously not set up in a sporty manner, and I found the chassis and suspension a good all-round set-up for town, country and motorway driving. A point to remember is that the Rio rides more like bigger family saloon than a small car, as in it’s more refined than the price suggests.

The brakes are also impressive on the Rio. All-round discs provide plenty of bite, with good feel and a positivity that’ll surprise. Jam them on, and some electronic wizardry you’d only expect on more expensive cars. These include the normal ABS, but then there’s electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist, which’ll jam on the brakes 100% if the car feels like you’re braking hard to avoid an accident.

Driving the Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi 2

That, and the fact it’ll flash the rear high brake-light repeatedly under hard braking to warn drivers behind makes the Rio a very safe car. Very clever, and after testing this, I’m reporting the system works really well indeed. Oh, to add to that list of safety gizmo’s is electronic stability control (ESC), which’ll apply the brakes at the necessary corner should the car start to go out of control. That’s a lot of safety stuff simply not available to smaller cars even 5 years ago.

Regarding how the car performs, I covered a lot of that in the Engine & Gearbox section, but suffice to say I loved just how well the 1.1 CRDI goes. It is easily sufficient for both urban and long-distance driving. A couple of motorway runs saw myself and another tester impressed with its ability to not feel like it has a 1.1 litre engine, or that it’s a small car, in fact. Road and wind noise levels are low enough to be happy with, and apart from the occasional rough section of motorway intruding sound into the cabin more than I liked, the Rio is a quiet car to be in.

Back on the topic of fuel economy, and in real-world driving conditions – plus the fact that most of us won’t drive anywhere near as sedately as the manufacturers mpg ‘testers’ will – could you achieve the sort of figures Kia say? I believe you can get close. I regularly drive a 7-mile route which includes sections of 30 mph road with lots of other traffic, then a straight uphill/downhill 60 mph section for a couple of miles, and then a hilly country road section with another sixty miles-per-hour limit. On that, I drove quick enough to keep up with the traffic, and accelerated and changed gear ‘sensibly’, and when the gear shift indicator told me too, and overall I managed nigh-on 65 miles-per-gallon.

Driving the Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi 2

The rest of the time, I mostly drove the Rio as I usually do test cars, and deliberately ignored the shift indicator to see how it did. The economy still didn’t suffer too much, and I got over 250 miles from just three-quaters of its tiny 43-litre fuel tank. Good-o!

The ISG (Intelligent Stop & Go) works well on the Rio, and is simple to use. It’s not slow to re-start once you want to set off, and it makes absolute sense to have it on. I’d say it even makes things a little more relaxed, with any stops for longer periods (railway crossings etc) made obviously quieter by the lack of noise.


The Rio will set you back £9,500 – £13,800 for the three-door version, and £10,000 – £15,700 for the 5-door. With the Rio interior using nice materials with a neat design regardless of the spec level, you’re getting a car from a company well-renowned for setting the bar on good quality at low cost.

I’ll repeat what I wrote earlier, in that the price of the Rio ‘2’ 1.1 CRDI manual ISG is highly competitive, falling below the similarly-specced VW Polo and Vauxhall Corsa by around £1,500 – £1,700, while the 208, Clio and Fiesta are priced around the same price give or take a few hundred pounds.

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDI ‘2’ Manual verdict & score

Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi-3282-2

You’re probably catching my drift by now. The Rio drives, and has the interior quality and comfort, of a car bigger car and more expensive than it is. The 1.1 CRDI engine is great, super-economical and provides easily enough power for both the city or long drives.

While it’s cool enough to appeal to the younger market, it will also absolutely be attractive to others, such as small families. The super-mini car segment is highly competitive now, with manufacturers offering more bangs-for-bucks than ever before, and the Kia Rio is holding its own very well in the present company. I’m impressed, and so was anyone else that drove, or were driven, in it.

Do you own a Kia Rio? What’s your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below if you’ve got a minute.

Exterior  8
Interior (‘2’ spec)  8
Engine (1.1 CRDI)  8
Gearbox (man.)  7
Price  8
Drive  7.5
Overall Score  8.0 / 10 


Model (as tested)  2012 Kia Rio 1.1 CRDI ‘2-spec’ 3-door
Spec includes  Bluetooth sound system with AUX & USB ports, Intelligent Stop & Go, heated power mirrors, cooled glovebox, front fog lamps, 16″ alloy wheels, hill-start assist, 2 x 12v sockets  See spec sheet for more
Options you should spec  17″ alloy wheels
Price (as tested)  £13,195 on the road
Engine  1.1 CRDI diesel, 3-cylinder, variable geometry turbo
Power, Torque, CO2  74 hp and 125 lbs ft (170 Nm) | CO2: 99 g/km
Drive, Gears (as tested)  front engine, front wheel drive | 6-speed manual gearbox
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, EuroNCAP  Max speed: 99 mph | 0 – 60 mph: 15.5 seconds | 5-Star Euro NCAP rating
Fuel economy (mpg)  Urban: 67.3 mpg, Extra Urban: 80.7 mpg, Combined: 74.3 mpg
Weight  Max. kerb weight: 1250 kgs (2,755 lbs) | Gross weight: 1,640 kg (3,615 lbs)
Websites  Kia U.K., Kia U.S.A, Kia Worldwide

Check out our other car reviews here

Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies| Photography: Jason Fanthorpe, Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

One response to “Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi Review – Well Made Super-Mini Packed with Tech Impresses Us”

  1. Kia Fan

    When my son passed his driving test we initially thought he was going to take over my wife’s Kia Soul Quantum, as he’s over 6 feet tall.

    We finally opted for a three and a half year old Rio 3 in white, four door 1.4 petrol.

    The wheels on this car look larger than 17″ as they completely fill the arches and in white I think it has a little WRC look about it. We added the Kia ‘mudflaps’ which are more like cosmetic spats, alloy pedals, Philips Xtreme headlight bulbs, swapped out the interior light bulbs for LED as well as the indicator bulbs for LED.

    Understandably he loves the car and it drives really smoothly, almost silent and the short wheelbase makes it super manoeuvrable.

    The equipment levels are very good, it even features cornering lights.

    I see these becoming more popular with young drivers when the prices of 2011 models start to fall.

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