Starting at less than £6,000 on-the-road, the five-door Rio line-up is set to play a key role in helping establish the fledgling South Korean brand as a fleet market contender. Kia aims to target small business operators with the Rio, which will be marketed as an alternative to the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra despite being priced to compete with the Fiesta and Corsa.
Powered by 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre engines, the Rio boasts European styling, seating for five and a 60-40 split rear seat that opens up a roomy luggage area. On-road prices range from £5,995 to £8,995.
Though not intended as a replacement for the Pride, the supermini that was Kia's best-seller before being discontinued last year, the Rio costs £500 less in entry-level form.
The only available colour is cherry red, there's no rev counter and windows have to be wound manually, but the base model does provide an air bag for the driver and pre-tensioners for the front seatbelts. With power steering and a tilt-adjust wheel, a rear wash-wipe system, in-car entertainment and a load area cover, the 1.3 L costs £6,895. A better spread of equipment comes with the 1.3 LX, the version thought to be of most interest to fleets.
At £7,645, it boasts power operation for the front windows and mirrors and comes with central locking and a height-adjustable driver's seat. But safety-conscious buyers will note that it is unusual in the sector in also having four-channel anti-lock braking plus electronic brake force distribution.
Top version in the Rio range is the £8,995 1.5 SE, which has alloy wheels, air conditioning, a neat rear roof spoiler and heated mirrors as well as more power under the bonnet.
Five-speed manual transmission is standard, but a four-speed automatic is a £750 option on both LX and SE models. The Rio has flowing style lines on the wedge-shape theme, but it appears chunky and estate-like at the rear. Inside, detailing is neat, but a drab-looking plastic dashboard betrays the car's Far Eastern origins.
Trim on all versions seems more inspired by durability than fashion, but the seats are comfortable and there is ample leg room.
The Rio matches the European market leaders in size, but not in outright performance. In 1.3-litre form in particular, the engine needs to be worked hard to achieve sprightly starts away from the traffic lights. But the story takes on a different aspect when the car is compared with the supermini models it rivals in pricing.
It's hard to dispute claims that this newcomer offers considerably better packaging and a lot more metal than you'd expect for the money. Over the smooth surfaces of our Scandinavian test route, both 1.3 and 1.5-litre examples provided comfortable travel with an easy manner and a well-controlled ride. Despite being lightly weighted for easy parking manoeuvres, the power steering still provided sufficient feedback at the wheel.
When fully extended in intermediate ratios, the smaller engine becomes noisy and feels a little harsh, but remains reasonably muted below 3,500 revs, which corresponds to motorway cruising speeds in fifth gear.
It's easy to see why customer clinics found the Rio to be popular with women drivers: all the controls are light and the combination of a high seating position and deep windscreen provides good visibility.
However, the car's attractive styling and upswept window line tend to compromise the view to the rear, so use of the mirrors is necessary for reversing.