Kia's Rio has been a dark horse on the local market as its perky Picanto and strapping Sportage siblings have captured the limelight. Armed with new engines and fresh European styling, does the new Kia Rio have what it takes to escape from beneath its sibKia's Rio has been a dark horse on the local market as its perky Picanto and strapping Sportage siblings have captured the limelight. Armed with new engines and fresh European styling, does the new Kia Rio have what it takes to escape from beneath its siblings' shadows and upset the current sub-compact heavyweights?

Incorporating modern design trends with its bold front and grille, eye-catching light clusters and neat exterior styling all round, the Rio has been entirely redesigned from the ground up. Or, as Chung-Yul Hwang, programme manager at Kia's Research and Development centre, said, "Everything apart from the name has changed."

The all-new Rio will be launched locally in October, and Raymond Levine, president and chief executive of Kia SA, said the car would be aimed straight at the current market leader, Toyota's Corolla/RunX range of saloons and hatchbacks.

The new car benefits from a longer wheelbase and is visibly more spacious and offers more cabin space than the model it replaces. Apart from the larger interior, both the saloon and hatchback versions have a flat rear seat folding set-up that further increases the load space.

Along our route from the northern Parisian suburbs through the rural regions surrounding Chantilly, France, the mix of fast-paced urban and narrow, winding rural roads allowed us to become familiar with the new Rio.

Its independent front suspension and semi-independent rear suspension came a long way to ensuring a safe and comforting ride to all the occupants as we zipped past the fields and vineyards and zapped through picturesque little villages.

The car is noticeably more refined with NVH (Noise, Harshness and Vibration) noted as one of the 40 key areas for improvement during the car's two-year developmental period. The extensive fine-tuning became increasingly evident as the pre-production models at the launch were mercilessly bounced along sections of the French countryside with not one rattle or groan emanate from its panels.

The cars will be launched with a choice of three engines: a sprightly DOHC 1,4-litre petrol, a very convincing 1,6-litre petrol engine with CVVT and a fantastic 1,5-litre diesel using common-rail technology.

With an amazing 235 N.m at your disposal from as low down as 2 000 r/min (and 80 kW at 4 000 r/min), the little diesel engine could give many rival manufacturers a kick on the shins.

Using a high-pressure, direct injection common-rail system with a variable geometry turbocharger, the four-cylinder double-overhead cam CRDi astounded with its heaps of torque. Kia claims that, equipped with this engine, the car is capable of accelerating from 0 - 100 km/h in 11,5 seconds and reaching a top speed of 176 km/h. Fuel consumption on a combined cycle was measured at 4,7l per 100 km.

Equally impressive was the double-overhead cam, four cylinder 1,6-litre petrol engine with continuously variable valve timing that produces 82,4 kW at 6 000 r/min. Peak torque of 146 N.m is available at 4 500 r/min. With the manual transmission, the car is able to accelerate to 100 km/h in 10,2 seconds and can also reach speeds up to 190 km/h.

Although its credentials are less lofty than the models mentioned above, the 16-valve 1,4-litre with DOHC produces 70,3 kW at 6 000 r/min and 125,4 N.m at 4 700 r/min. This version accelerates from zero to 100 km/h in 12,4 seconds and reaches a top speed of 177 km/h.

Fuel consumption for the 1,6-litre on the combined cycle was measured at 6,5 litres per 100 km, while this was measured at 6,2 litres for the 1,4-litre.

The cars will be offered with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic will however not be an option on the diesel-powered version.

Apart from the increased performance and better ride comfort, all cars come with four-disc ABS, dual side impact beams at the front and single beams at the rear. Dual front airbags are standard, while side airbags and an active head restraint for the driver are optional.

EBD and ESP systems are optional, as well as the park assistance system at the rear.

As far as the passive safety systems go, the car is fitted with dual side impact beams at the front and single beams in the doors at the rear. Dual front airbags are standard and side airbags optional for the car's occupants. Active head restraints can also be ordered for the drivers seat.

The cars are only offered with two equipment levels, but there are three option packs available for drivers who would like a more individual style. The base equipment level, the LX, comes with a heated rear window, two-tome interior and an instrument panel with a rev counter listed as standard equipment.

With EX specification, the cars have power steering, power windows all round, height adjustable drivers seat with armrests and a more sophisticated instrument cluster.

Optional equipment on all models could include air conditioning, power mirrors and fog lamps.

It is projected that the new Rio will have an overall Euro NCAP rating of four stars and a pedestrian safety rating of three. At the media brief following the drive, journalists were also assured that Kia's engines would be Euro5 compliant when the new stage is phased in from 2007 or 2008. Since the Rio will also be exported to the US, the engines also meet the US emission's targets.

The launch is regarded as a significant event for Kia as the company continues to strengthen its position in several regions around the world. In the first five months of 2005, 372 000 cars were exported, Kia Motor Corporation senior vice president Yong Mo-Ahn said. This 50 per cent increase year-on-year for the first five months of 2005 has put Kia well on its way to achieving a sales target of one million units by the end of the year.

The Korean manufacturer is currently one of the world's fastest growing brands, with local and international suppliers struggling to meet with the current consumer demand. This was acknowledged by the Kia executives, who promised that expanded capacity from two new plants in Slovakia and China, each with a projected capacity of 300 000 cars per annum, would be able to alleviate the supply issue. However, it was stated that no production facilities were being planned for the local Middle East/Africa region.

Original article from Car