Tested: Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDi GT-Line Accelerating Tech and Tradition

It’s a sign of the times for the automotive industry when the ‘highlights’ of a modern car are usually to be found inside the cabin rather than under the bonnet.

So it is with the latest range-topping Kia Rio 1.0 T-GDi GT-Line compact urban hatchback. That’s because this little ‘run-about’ brings to the market the levels of technology, refinement and, dare I say it, performance one would have only seen in the premium end of the car market just a few short years ago.

We all know the automotive sector is changing rapidly to meet the consumer’s digital demands, yet the speed of change seems to be moving just as fast in the traditional mechanical parts of the car as in the wealth of electronics now at the consumer’s disposal. Take the engine, for example.

On the face of it, a simple 1.0-liter three-cylinder gasoline configuration not too dissimilar to that first brought to the mass market by Suzuki way back in the early 1980s in the shape of the lovely little first generation Suzuki Swift, or Cultus or Forsa depending on the market. It was so successful, indeed, that it was even rebadged by other manufacturers including Chevrolet, Pontiac, Holden and Subaru.

Since then the configuration has seen among the most development of any engine layout in modern times, culminating in this sophisticated unit from Kia. The 998cc power plant is with 99bhp at 4,500rpm and 118bhp at 6,000rpm, while both deliver identical torque of 126ft-lbs available from 1,500rpm to 4,000rpm.

Naturally, the higher performance motor is hosted in the range-topping car we tested and you’d be hard-pressed to find any gaps in its performance parameters whether bumper-to-bumper in inner city London traffic of cruising at high motorway speeds on a round-trip to the UK’s second largest metropolis, Manchester in the north.

Set the cruise control on the motorway, and the little engine maintains a surprisingly relaxed gait uphill and down dale with its effort only registered by the driver’s display readout of instant fuel consumption. On that run of some 450 miles, the little engine managed a recorded 43mpg (36mpg US), a figure that did not appear to change significantly when zipping in and out of traffic on the congested streets near where I live in the center of the Capital.

Of course, this little power unit has come a long way since that used in the Old Suzuki and Kia claims to have cut average fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of its model range by 25% based on 2014 levels. The all-aluminum 1.0-liter T-GDi engine’s fuel injection sprays a fine mist of fuel directly into the cylinders under a high-pressure which ensures they use only as much fuel as necessary for the load being put on them.

These injectors are laser-drilled with six holes laid out in a pyramid shape so that the fine mist of fuel is spread more evenly throughout the cylinders than if it was being consistently sprayed into certain points. The engine also has a straight air intake port which ends in a sharp air intake throat, reducing air resistance and improving tumble flow for faster, more efficient combustion while suppressing engine knocking.

To this is married a single-scroll turbocharger paired with an electric wastegate motor. Kia says this arrangement improves turbocharger performance while scavenging clean air for the engine to re-use for combustion. At the same time it allows the wastegate to open to improve the flow of spent exhaust gases.

The motor is fitted with an integrated exhaust manifold which reduces exhaust gas temperatures, improving high speed response and fuel efficiency. Lower temperatures also result in cleaner emissions by allowing the catalytic converter to operate more effectively.

There is continuously variable valve timing on both the inlet and exhaust sides, electronic throttle control and light, low-friction moving parts. The crankshaft is offset from the centre-line to aid smoothness.

Most won’t notice all this mechanica working out on the road but, the net result is a powertrain that delivers high-speed cruising with the levels of relaxed driving that a much larger, less stressed, engine would have had to be employed to achieve in the past. In figures this means a claimed acceleration from 0-60mph in just 9.8 seconds and the top speed is 118mph, while combined fuel economy and emissions are rated at 46.3mpg (38.55mpg US) and 139g/km when paired with the six-speed manual gearbox that featured on our test car.

What the modern user will notice, is the ease of use of connectivity inside the cabin. The car features Kia Connected Services with TomTom through a 7-inch touchscreen navigation system. This includes live traffic updates, weather reports, speed camera locations and local point-of-interest searches.

Most noticeable is the seamless linking of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, something until recently the preserve of the premium sector. I’ve tried and, in some cases failed, to operate Android Auto on my BlackBerry Key 2 before but with the Rio it was flawless when plugged into a USB cable. About the only criticism I’d have is that the cable connected, rather than Bluetooth, means the phone’s charge could be set at 100% on a long run and, as we are told, that is not good for the device’s battery long-term health.

However, sounds are linked via Bluetooth for music streaming and this is supplemented with voice recognition in grades ‘3’ and ‘GT-Line’ and ‘GT-Line S’ models. UK prices for the model we tested start from £16,985 ($22,251) including taxes.

So, both in new and traditional technologies, the Rio packs a mighty punch for such a compact do-anything urban grafter.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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