Just a week after Hyundai showed just how far it has come from its bargain basement beginnings, Kia has proven it's not far behind. The new Rio, set to drop at the Paris Motor Show, is more attractive and better built than its predecessor, and might cause a few sleepless nights for the European class leaders.
You just have to look at the exterior for the first sign this is a different type of Korean car. Since Peter Schreyer, (the man behind the original Audi TT), joined the design team at Kia, the brand has developed a consistent design language that carries nicely into the new Rio. With sharp creases and a slim, horizontal grill, the car's detailing does a good job of hiding the fact it's 15 mm (0.59 in) longer than its predecessor, even if we'd stop short of saying it looks as good as the new Hyundai i30 or Volkswagen Golf.
If the exterior is handsome but uninspiring, the interior of the new Rio is where it really shines. Kia says the materials chosen contribute to a more premium feeling, and the center console is angled towards the driver like it is in a classic BMW. If the console has been nicked from Munich, the floating touchscreen is a dead ringer for the one you'd find in the latest Mercedes C-Class. With Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, connectivity isn't an issue.
Power comes from a choice of compact gasoline engines, ranging from 82 hp (61 kW) to 118 hp (88 kW). Diesel power comes courtesy of a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine with either 69 or 88 hp (51 or 66 kW), both of which should emit less than 90 g/km. Top spec gasoline cars and diesels can be hooked up to a six-speed manual, while entry level models have to make do with a five-speeder.
Although there's no word on whether the company's brand new eight speed automatic will make an appearance, we'd be very surprised if it didn't.
Even though Korean cars haven't offered much for keen drivers in past, both Hyundai and Kia are making a concerted effort to win sportier drivers over. With a stiffer bodyshell, redesigned dampers and a new power steering system, the Rio has solid foundation upon which to build a hotter GT version.
Forgetting about sporty drivers, there will also be the full range of active safety features on offer including auto-emergency braking and lane departure warning. The bodyshell also makes use of more ultra-high strength steel, which helps if the systems and driver aren't able to avoid an accident.
Kia hasn't announced pricing for the new Rio, but the car will make its debut at the Paris Motor Show later this month.