It’s not easy being small, but in motoring terms, light vehicles under $20,000 is a category that goes from strength to strength and seems to pack more value in every year. The combatants for 2011 were no different with the three favourites going in all delivering strongly in terms of safety, inclusions, driveability and value for money. That’s the main point of change for the category too. What manufacturers have been able to squeeze in to such a small package is seriously impressive. This year, it was going to be a tough fight.
This year’s winner, the Kia Rio is one such example that delivers well beyond its price point and diminutive small car origins. As tested, it sells for $18,990, which is pretty competitive in anyone’s language. For that outlay, buyers get 5 doors with plenty of interior space, a free revving, willing and efficient 1.6-litre petrol engine and a crisp 6-speed manual transmission. All in all, it adds up an extremely fun daily drive that certainly doesn’t break the budget.
Central to this new model is an all new design, both inside and out that is visible immediately. Exterior styling is handsome from any angle and benefits from the placement of an experienced and respected Italian designer in a North American design studio, and there’s none of that fussy detailing sometimes associated with this entry level end of the market, particularly from South Korea. Inside, the cockpit is both functional and comfortable and perhaps more importantly, well executed. Adults can sit comfortably in the back seats and the luggage area (in what is a small hatchback remember) is generous, with or without the rear seats folded down. There is all the connectivity and all the multimedia options you need, controls that feel sturdy and are well placed and a general feeling of quality and tightness throughout the cabin. This feeling of quality fit and finish is evident even over nasty, uneven road surfaces where you would expect a small car to develop any number of rattles and squeaks. There’s none in the Kia.
Standard equipment is impressive and, on this Si grade, includes all the electronic assistance you’d expect including traction and stability control, which makes the driving experience safe in the most dubious of environments. Safety hasn’t been overlooked either with 6 airbags standard along with a 5 star ANCAP rating. There’s plenty to like about the Rio in this regard.
The Rio outpointed or equaled all comers in the areas of performance, handling, ride and braking. Importantly, the Rio has most certainly benefited from a concerted local effort to tune and recalibrate the suspension and damping to suit Aussie conditions and Aussie roads. The front end feel and steering precision is the equal of many more expensive vehicles. If you’re looking for a budget conscious vehicle that delivers all the equipment you need and puts a smile on your face, every time you drive it, the Kia Rio Si is as good as it gets.
Kia Rio Si
Hyundai Accent Active
Suzuki Swift GL
2010 - Hyundai i20 Active