Kia toes the (GT) line
KIA RIO GT Line
Base price: $28,990
Powertrain and performance: 1.0-litre turbo-petrol 3-cylinder, 88kW/171Nm, 7-speed dual clutch automatic, FWD, Combined economy 5.4 litres per 100km.
Vital statistics: 4065mm long, 1450mm high, 2580mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 325 litres, 17-inch alloy wheels with 205/45 tyres.
We like: Smart looks. Characterful and eager engine. Surprisingly fun on the open road.
We don't like: Transmission is annoying. Firm ride.
Kia has recently taken to slapping the "GT Line" badging on their cars to denote that they have some sporty acoutrements and extra kit. But the GT Line version of the small Rio takes things a bit further - unlike other Kia GT Line cars, the Rio also gets a more powerful engine.
Does that mean it is transformed into sporty beast of a thing?
Well, let's not get carried away, because when I say "more powerful" it means an 88kW/171Nm engine, as opposed to the 74kW/133Nm engine in the standard car. So, no.
What it does do though is bring far more character to the Rio, as well as more willing and free-revving nature. All of this is due to the fact that the new engine is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo unit that is a charming little thing with great mid-range ability, that is happy to rev and eager to give everything it has got.
It is also hooked up to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission that is impressively slick and fast.
Unfortunately, the transmission is also the engine's downfall. The transmission seems to have an obsession with higher gears, which drops the little triple down out of its peak torque band constantly. Meaning you have to use more throttle to get it to shift down, completely ruining the economy...
It also means the GT Line isn't as fun to live with around town as it should be, with the transmission constantly dumping you in the wrong gear.
So it's city car that is annoying in the city then. What's it like on the open road?
The open road is where the Rio GT Line redeems itself. It is surprisingly responsive and eager, and has an enjoyable chassis under it.
Accurate and precise steering, great turn in and impressive mid-corner stability actually make the Rio quite a fun thing to throw around and very capable at open road cruising thanks to the engine's strong mid-range.
It does, however, have quite a firm ride and has a tendency to be brittle over uneven surfaces.
What else do you get for your extra money and GT Line badges?
Well, the Rio is a good-looking small car to begin with, but the GT Line additions make it even more handsome and distinctly a "special" model in the Rio line up. It looks nicely sporting and aggressive with its black gloss highlights that look particularly good on our bright red test car.
I personally am not that convinced by the gloss black fake grille though...
On the inside you get an attractive and well laid out cabin, with the GT Line's carbon fibre textured dash insert being a nice touch. A lovely little contoured sports steering wheel and some very comfortable seats look the part as well.
There is still a lot of hard plastic on the doors and the whole thing is very black - a splash of colour to break things up would be welcome.
So to put it into perspective using another car in its segment - is this a Swift Sport or just one of those weird stickered-up specials that Suzuki like to do?
To be fair to Kia, it is way more than a stickered-up special, with the GT Line representing a considerable step up over the rest of the Rio range in terms of equipment, looks and performance.
But it is sure no Swift Sport either.
While I was sitting in a car park n the Rio GT Line while I had it, a bloke came up to the window and asked "Is it manual?". I said no and he uttered an "Arrgggh" of disgust and wandered off saying "Pity, it looks the part too…"
And I can't disagree with him there.
Because the Rio would be a brilliant little car if it wasn't for its transmission. And it's not even because it is a bad transmission (quiet the opposite in fact) it is just frustratingly programmed.
The Rio GT Line has all the ingredients to be a brilliant little car, it just falters slightly at the line. Probably not enough that it should put anyone off it, just be prepared to be frustrated that they didn't put an adult in charge of programming the transmission.
Any other cars I should consider?
With its retail price of $28,990, the Rio GT Line has a few similarly-priced top-end baby competitors, such as the Honda Jazz RS Sport and Mugen models, Mazda2 Limited, Hyundai i20 Cross, Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo.
You could even consider a few lower-spec cars a segment up, with the likes of the Toyota Corolla and Holden Astra starting at similar pricing, while the Ford Focus, Hyundai i30 and Kia's own Cerato start at only a couple of thousand more.
But with its vaguely sporting pretensions, the car that puts it in its place is the previously-mentioned Suzuki Swift Sport. Which, to be fair, makes pretty much everything in this size and price range look a little underwhelming.