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2021 Kia Rio GT-Line review: Cheap, safe and reliable first car

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This small hatchback targets young drivers looking for a new ride with a bit of pop, blending sharp looks with tremendous value, and is cheap to maintain. The price of small cars has skyrocketed in recent years as brands cut their most affordable models in favor of fully-loaded alternatives. But Kia is still one of the few brands that occupy that low $20,000 segment. We test out the top-of-the-line Rio GT-Line to see what it’s all about.

VALUE

The GT-Line was $22,990 drive-away a few years ago, but bargains are scarce in these troubled times. This hottest Rio is $3,000 more today, but decent value remains. A sporty body kit includes a more expansive front bumper housing a cluster of LED fog lights, and there are multi-spoke 17-inch alloys, a rear diffuser, twin exhausts, a roof spoiler, and LED running lights.

There’s cabin pizzazz with a chunky flat-bottom steering wheel, carbon effect trim, alloy pedals, and faux leather side bolsters on classy cloth seats. Auto lights and wipers, climate control, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and an 8-inch touchscreen are vital points.

The only Rio to score a turbo engine is a characterful three-cylinder mated to a performance-orientated double-clutch auto gearbox. Lesser Rios uses a more mundane non-turbo four-cylinder.

Warranty’s excellent at seven years and unlimited kilometers, but five years of services are a pricey $2128. Services are annual or every 10,000km, which is shorter than the typical 15,000km.

COMFORT

Cleverly packaged, the Rio feels a little roomier inside than rivals such as the Toyota Yaris or Mazda2. The cabin’s flashy with white stitching for the racy steering wheel and supportive seats, but it’s not plush. Hard scratchy plastics cover doors and the dash top, and despite its billing as the range-topping model, don’t expect luxuries such as heated seats, wireless phone charging or radar cruise control. Rear headroom is very good for a car this size, and legroom is passable, meaning two adults – plus a small one in the middle – can travel in decent comfort. It loses points for a lack of rear air vents and USB ports but storage spaces are generous and a 325-litre boot is deep and large for this segment.

SAFETY

Major bases are covered, but no more. Auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist and driver attention alert are standard, but there’s no blind-spot monitor or rear cross-traffic alert.

DRIVING

An update actually reduced performance from the GT-Line’s three-cylinder. It was formerly 88kW, but you now get only 74kW, though torque remains at 172Nm. Maximum torque arrives from just 1500rpm, giving a fun, perky performance in town, but it quickly runs out of puff, and 0-100km/h takes almost ten seconds.

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Tristan McCue is a 26-year-old junior programmer who enjoys reading, binge-watching boxed sets, and appearing in the background on TV. He is smart and friendly, but can also be very evil and a bit lazy.He is an Australian Christian. He has a post-graduate degree in computing.
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