2021 Kia Rio GT-Line Review – entertainment in a small package

I’ve said it before and will say it again. We are living in the best era at the moment (brushing aside the mayhem brought about by COVID-19, of course). You see, there is plenty of performance metal to choose from, from the perennial favourite Golf GTI to the ballistic Mercedes-AMG A45S, we are spoilt for choices. And that’s not all, as hot hatches mature and get even more powerful, a new genre of ‘warm hatches’ are starting to sprout from this fertile ground – case in point? This 2021 Kia Rio GT-Line.

Sitting at the pinnacle of the ever-popular Kia Rio hatch, the GT-Line brings everything you’ll want in a diminutive warmed up hatch that isn’t out of reach for most people. It’s stylish, fun and crammed with enough comfort, convenience and technology to put bigger and more expensive cars to shame.

The fourth-generation Kia Rio made its debut on local shores in 2017 but the 2021 model tested here rocks a few cosmetic changes and technology update to keep things fresh and err, up-to-date.

Priced from $24,490 plus on-road costs, the 2021 Kia Rio GT-Line is up $1,000 over the superseded model but is justified when safety technology such as Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keep Assist and Driver Attention Alert are now standard. Our test car also features the optional Signal Red Metallic paint, adding a further $520 to the price tag.

Packed with a feisty little 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, it produces a respectable 74kW at 4,500rpm and 172Nm at 1,500-4,500rpm, and is paired exclusively with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that sends power to the front wheels.

Compared to one of its direct rivals, the Mazda2 G15 Evolve, the Rio GT-Line has 19 percent more torque (172Nm vs 144Nm) but around 10 percent less power (74kW vs 82kW).

The gutsy 1.0-litre three-pot isn’t what you’d call powerful but with just 1,197 kg to lug around, it feels lively and agile.

Already a decent looking small hatch when it arrived four years ago, the midlife update enhances the car’s design even further with a more aggressive styling, subtly refreshed LED headlamps, quad LED front fog lights and revised 17-inch alloy wheels.

There are also sporty elements like gloss black wing mirrors, dark chrome surround for the front grille, roof-mounted rear spoiler and dual exhaust tips sprouting out from the GT-Line exclusive rear diffuser to set it apart and add to the sporty vibe.

Step inside and the well thought-out cabin continues to impress. While the fabric upholstery might be a little disappointing for a range-topper, it’s executed with thought and effort, and the contrasting seat piping and pattern on the seatbacks bring some visual flare to the interior, along with the textured, faux-carbon fibre trim on the dash. The manually adjustable seats are comfortable and supportive, too.

The leather-wrapped GT-Line steering wheel feels nice and chunky and comes with an accoutrement of buttons for the stereo and cruise control.

Built quality is generally up to Kia’s excellent standards these days, although the rubber matt in the phone tray appears a little wavey and not stuck on properly.

Its no surprise that Kia has always been rather generous with their equipment and the Rio GT-Line doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Standard equipment includes auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers, rear privacy glass, a swanky new 8.0-inch touchscreen with a 6-speaker audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry (no push button start, though), single-zone climate control, sporty alloy pedals and cruise control (non-adaptive).

Storage option is decent, too, in the Rio, with a pair of cup holders up front, a couple more in the second row and bottle holders on all four doors. The central storage bin is decently sized, too, with a lovely soft fabric lid that doubles as a centre armrest for elbows.

Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Rio feels spacious both front and back. The second row especially, is surprisingly spacious for a car of its stature, with good head and legroom, although there are no air vents for the rear passengers – a common trait amongst this class.

There is no wireless charging for your smartphones, either, with a single USB up front providing the sole power source for your devices.

The 60:40 split rear back rests folds down to provide a generous 980L of expanded boot space. This reduces to a still decent 325L when the second row is in play.

Young family with little humans will also be pleased to find the ISOFIX points on the second-row outboards seats, while all three seatbacks are equipped with top-tether points.

But what makes the GT-Line special is its charismatic little three-pot turbocharged petrol engine. While its power output of 74kW is the same as the 1.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol that powers the regular Rio, it brings an additional 39Nm that comes into play from just 1,500rpm and hang around until 4,000rpm.

Dispatched via a generally responsive seven-speed dual clutch transmission, the Rio GT-Line has some proper get-up-and-go, and like most transmission of its elk, it can be a little hesitant on take-off but once on the move, it’s a smooth little unit.

However, some might be slightly disappointed by the lack of paddle shifters (you can still shift manually via the gear lever but that’s somehow not quite as engaging) but left to its own devices, the transmission programming is relatively well sorted – dishing out the right gear most of the time.

The drivetrain comes with three drive modes – Eco, Comfort and sport – that alters engine mapping and throttle response. Eco dampens the responses slightly, while Sport is the opposite, adding some sharpness to the throttle and letting the revs hit a higher peak compared to Comfort.

Interestingly and also annoyingly, the drivetrain defaults to Eco at each restart, rendering the GT-Line feeling a little lethargic until you remember to take it out of Eco a few hundred meters down the road.

I’ve always liked how the regular Rio drives and the GT-Line adds a dose of sportiness to the driving experience. Throw some corners at the little Korean hatch and you might be surprised at how engaging it can be – dashing from one corner to the next with the agility of a Jack Russell. Traction from the 205/45 R17 Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyres is good and the steering isn’t overly heavy in Sport mode, yet is light enough at parking speed. What lacking is better exhaust note but I kept forgetting this isn’t a ‘true’ hot hatch!

Back in town however, the Rio GT-Line’s ride can be a little jiggly on corrugated and pockmarked roads, thanks to the slightly firmer suspension tune and lower profile tyres but isn’t bone shatteringly so.

On the fuel economy front, at the end of our week long test where we subjected the Rio GT-Line to a mix of urban, highway and enthusiastic country road blast, the trip computer returned 7.2L/100km, against Kia’s claim of 5.3L/100km on the combined cycle.

In terms of running costs, the Rio GT-Line needs to visit to the dealership every 12 months or slightly below average 10,000km, whichever comes first. Like Kia’s wider range, the Rio is eligible for the brand’s capped price servicing, costing $3,299 over seven years/70,000km, or an average of $471pa.

Verdict

Design & Comfort

8.0/10

Performance & Handling

7.5/10

Quality

8.0/10

Economy

7.5/10

Equipment & Features

8.0/10

OUR SCORE

3.9/5

Our Score: 3.9/5

+ Plus

  • Best looking of the Rio range
  • Updated 8.0-inch infotainment with wireless Apple CarPlay
  • Peppy engine and decent handling
  • Improved safety credentials

Minus

  • No blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert
  • Slightly busy ride
  • Temperamental wiresless CarPlay

Overall

The updated 2021 Kia Rio GT-Line is a stylish, zippy and well-equipped little car that blends everyday practicality with a mild dose of performance for those just stepping into the warm hatch realm.

Topped with up-to-date comfort and safety features, it’s makes for a decent first car, too if you budget allows.

2021 Kia Rio GT-Line Pricing and Specification

Price (Excl. on-road costs):From $24,490

As tested $25,010

Tested option: Signal Red Metallic Paint – $520.00

Warranty:7 years/Unlimited kilometres
Warranty Customer Assistance:1 year Roadside
Country of Origin:South Korea
Service Intervals:12 months / 10,000km
Engine:1.0-litre turbocharged inline three-cylinder petrol:

74kW @ 4,500rpm, 172Nm @ 1,500 – 4,500rpm

Transmission:7-speed dual clutch
Drivetrain:Front-wheel drive
Power to Weight Ratio (W/kg):61.8
Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):Claimed: 5.3 / Tested: 7.2
RON Rating:91
Fuel Capacity (L):45
Body:5-door hatchback, 5 seats
Safety:
  • 5-star ANCAP
  • 6 Airbags
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking with pedestrian avoidance
  • Forward Collision Warning
  • Cruise Control
  • Lane Keep Assist – Active
  • Driver Attention Alert
  • ABS, ESC, TCS, EBD, BA
  • Reversing Camera
  • Rear parking sensors
  • ISOFIX
  • Space saver spare
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) mm:4,070/1,725/1,450/2,580
Boot Space (min/max) (L):325/980
Turning Circle Between Kerbs:10.2
Tare Mass (kg):1,197
Towing Capacity (kg):Braked: 900kg / Unbraked: 450kg
Entertainment:8-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, USB, Aux in, AM/FM, 6 Speakers

Competitors: Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia, Suzuki Baleno

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