Kia Rio (2011-2017) Review
The Kia Rio stands out from other used superminis thanks to its seven-year warranty
Strengths & weaknesses
- Economical diesels
- Excellent Kia warranty
- Good reliability record
- Inefficient petrol engines
- Underpowered and dull to drive
- Boot space and shape aren’t great
If you're looking for a car with small dimensions, good fuel economy and reasonable space for four adults, then you're spoilt for choice, with dozens of superminis that fit the bill.
But there's one thing that makes the Kia Rio stand out from the competition: the car's class-leading seven-year warranty that will make it an attractive second-hand purchase for many years to come.
This model was replaced by an all-new Rio at the beginning of the year, so is only available as a used car. As long as it's serviced on schedule and doesn't have more than 100,000 miles on the clock, then its major components will be guaranteed for seven years after it was first registered, and this benefit is passed on when the car is sold.
When new, the Rio was the most economical car in Britain, thanks to its 1.1-litre diesel engine which has an official fuel economy figure of up to 85.6mpg.
That's still an efficient figure, so it's no surprise that the engine was a popular choice: there are plenty of second-hand examples to choose from. It's slow to accelerate from a standstill but feels less sluggish when you get going.
If you don't want a diesel car - particularly if you're planning to make short journeys at slower speeds, which can affect diesel reliability - then the choice of petrol engines is less eyecatching. Fuel economy and performance are only average.
Sadly for the Rio, the same can be applied to much of the rest of the car, which fell behind the competition during its production run. Alternatives, such as the Vauxhall Corsa, i20 and Honda Jazz offer more space in the back and the 288-litre boot is no better than most rivals.
More efficient and powerful petrol engines are available in the Corsa, Ford Fiesta and Yaris, while the Rio's plain dashboard looks awkward and built to a cost when compared with those of the Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia and Renault Clio.
The Rio came competitively-priced and fairly well-equipped, with motorised side mirrors for easy adjustment and air conditioning on all but the most basic cars. It's still good value, with plenty of choice for less than £8,000. The five-door car is a better choice than the three-door model, which makes it more awkward to get into the back.
It's safe for a car of its age, with a full five star rating from the independent Euro NCAP organisation, which was awarded in 2011, but standards have since been raised and the latest vehicles must now pass tougher test to achieve the same score.
The Rio does do well at negotiating potholed roads, soaking up the worst of the judders to keep passengers comfortable, like the Fabia or Polo. The steering is light which makes manoeuvring easy in town, but it feels a bit detached from the rest of the car on faster roads, making steering less precise. A Fiesta or Mazda 2 has more of an agile, fun character.
And your choice of superminis doesn't just stop at used models. Britain's cheapest new car, the Dacia Sandero starts at around £6,000 (admittedly with very little equipment) and a Suzuki Baleno with standard sat-nav is less than £13,000.
But if you are looking for peace of mind, the Rio is the only car that's guaranteed for seven years from new.
Video published in 2011
|Seven years/100,000 miles
|Tax (min to max)
|£0 to £145
Best Kia Rio for...
Best for Economy – Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi SR7 5dr
The 1.1-litre diesel Rio used to be the most economical car in Britain. Its official 86mpg figure is eyecatching, but drops to around 60mpg in real-world driving. The car is exempt from tax.
Best for Families – Kia Rio 1.4 ISG 2 5dr
The 1.4-litre petrol engine is less sluggish than the most efficient diesel. In 2 specification, the Rio offers useful kit that family buyers will appreciate, including a central armrest and a chilled glovebox.
Best for Performance – Kia Rio 1.4 ISG 3 3dr
No Kia Rio is fast but the three-door looks sportier than the five-door and 3 specification includes bigger alloy wheels, but otherwise it’s no quicker than any other Rio with the 1.4-litre engine taking 11 seconds to accelerate from 0-62mph.
One to Avoid – KIA Rio 1.4 3 5dr Auto
The Kia Rio’s automatic gearbox is one area where it really shows its age. It reduces fuel economy and hikes up emissions enough to attract a stiff £145 a year road tax bill, while reducing performance.
- September 2011 Five-door Kia Rio goes on sale in UK
- January 2012 Three-door hatchback bodystyle joins range
- April 2014 Range-topping 4 trim level added to line-up
- October 2014 Styling has a minor update and digital radio made standard across range. Touchscreen sat-nav is available as an option.
- January 2015 SR7 trim level added to range
- January 2017 An all-new Kia Rio replaces this model
Understanding Kia Rio names
Trim 1 Air
Trim levels let you know how much equipment comes as standard with the car. The Rio range starts with 1 - the most basic and cheapest option, followed by 2, 3 and 4. SR7 was a level that slotted in between 1 and 2, while Air is another extra level, adding air conditioning to '1' cars.
Engine 1.1 CRDi EcoDynamics
The engine size is given in litres (here it's 1.1). In general, larger engines have more power and use more fuel, but that's not always the case. Diesel cars are badged CRDi. EcoDynamics is Kia's label for a range of fuel saving technologies that improve efficiency.
The letters stand for Intelligent Stop and Go - Kia's name for its stop/start system, which turns the engine off to save fuel when you pull up at traffic lights, for example. It restarts automatically as you move off.
Kia Rio Engines
Petrol: 1.25, 1.4 Diesel: 1.1 CRDi, 1.4 CRDi
Unlike most rival cars of a similar age, the Kia Rio doesn't have a small petrol engine that's turbocharged to boost power without having a big impact on fuel economy figures.
It means that neither of the petrol engines are particularly powerful, particularly the cheapest 1.25-litre version, which accelerates slowly. Officially, it returns 56.5mpg but the Equa Index, based on real-world fuel economy testing, suggests that most drivers will see around 42mpg.
That's virtually the same as the larger 1.4-litre petrol engine, so it's worth opting for this more powerful unit, especially as the price difference between used models is rarely more than a few hundred pounds. It's still not nippy but is better-suited to faster roads.
Choosing the automatic gearbox has a noticeable impact on performance. It also knocks more than 10mpg off the official figure and increases CO2 emissions, so owners must pay £145 each year in car tax.
Diesel Kia Rios are significantly more efficient, even if the 1.1-litre engine has lost its long-held crown as the most economical car on sale in the UK. In ultra-frugal Ecomotive form, it has an official 85mpg rating, but that falls to 60mpg in the real-world, according to the Equa Index.
It takes longer to accelerate than either petrol car (0-62mph takes around 16 seconds), but feels faster, as it doesn't need revving hard to produce its peak power.
Note that the 1.1-litre diesel engine and 1.4-litre petrol automatic combination are only available in the five-door Rio. All others are available with three or five doors.
Acceleration (0 - 62mph)
44.8 - 56.5mpg
11.0 - 12.7sec
105 - 113mph
78.5 - 85.6mpg
15.9 - 16.1sec
Kia Rio Trims
Trims: 1, 1 Air, SR7, 2, 3, 4
Kia had a simple number-based system for its trim levels - but managed to complicate it with some additions.
Every car comes with six airbags and Isofix mounts to securely atach child seats. They also feature hill-start assist, which prevents the car from rolling back when yo move away on a hill.
The Rio 1 gives you basics such as motorised side mirrors, front electric windows and 60:40 split-folding rear seats, enabling you to expand the boot space and retain at least one rear seat. It also includes Bluetooth to connect your phone wirelessly if you have a petrol car. The diesel Rio 1 did not come with the feature as standard.
The Rio 1 Air simply adds air-conditioning to that list, while the SR7 builds on the 1’s equipment with 15in alloy wheels, a front armrest, leather steering wheel and gearknob, a cooled glovebox and rear parking sensors.
The Kia Rio 2 strikes a good balance between price and equipment, adding 16in alloy wheels, front foglights and power-folding mirrors on top of the SR7.
Next up is the Rio 3, which has 17in alloy wheels, tinted glass, brighter LED lights, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, a useful automatic window defogger, cruise control, touchscreen sat-nav and a reversing camera. Some Kia Rio deals bring the cost of this car close to the Rio 2, making this relatively luxurious version affordable.
The Rio 4 trim (which is available only with five doors, not three) features leather seats, a heated steering wheel and a tilt-and-slide glass sunroof as well.
Kia Rio Reliability and warranty
The Kia Rio was ranked 22 out of 150 cars in Auto Express magazine’s 2016 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey.
It's a reassuring result for any potential buyer because the car has been on sale for six years, which suggests that it's continuing to give trouble-free service to most owners.
Build quality was less-highly rated: the Rio was ranked 71 out of 150, suggesting that some fixtures and fittings are less durable - or feel less solid - than in other superminis.
In the unlikely event that something does go wrong with the car, there’s that famous seven-year/100,000-mile warranty to fall back on. As small cars like the Rio tend to be used for short journeys, you’ll probably find the vast majority of Rios on the road are still covered by their manufacturer’s guarantee.
Used Kia Rio
The very first of this Kia Rio generation is still within warranty (as long as it hasn't exceeded 100,000 miles), so you can buy a car that's several years old and reduce the risk of big repair bills.
Most cars sold in 2015 will have been built after the 2014 update, so will feature a standard digital radio, as well as electrically adjustable side mirrors across the range. SR7 models are worth finding. Cheap when new, they are among the least expensive used Rios but still have alloy wheels, leather steering wheel and rear parking sensors.
In contrast, it's worth avoiding diesel Kia Rio 1 cars. These were the only ones that didn't come with Bluetooth as standard, so you're unlikely to be able to pair your phone wirelessly with the car. All other Rios came with the system from the car's launch date.
Despite the warranty and reliability, the Rio lost value quickly, which makes it an even cheaper second-hand car. You can pay little more than £6,000 for a well equipped, reasonably efficient, safe and reliable hatchback with several years’ warranty.
Prices below show typical BuyaCar discounts for used models.
1 year old
2 years old
3 years old
Best for performance
Best for families
Best for economy