2021 Kia Rio GT-Line review: Cheap, safe and reliable first car

This small hatchback targets young drivers looking for a new ride with a bit of pop, blending sharp looks with great value and is cheap to maintain.

The price of small cars have skyrocketed in recent years as brands cut their cheapest models in favour of fully-loaded alternatives. But Kia is still one of the few brands that occupy that low-$20,000 segment.

We test out the top of the line Rio GT-Line to see what its all about.


The GT-Line was $22,990 drive-away a few years ago, but bargains are scarce in these troubled times. This hottest Rio is $3,000 more today but decent value remains. A sporty body kit includes a wider front bumper housing a cluster of LED fog lights and there are multi-spoke 17-inch alloys, a rear diffuser, twin exhausts, a roof spoiler and LED running lights.

There’s cabin pizzazz with a chunky flat-bottom steering wheel, carbon effect trim, alloy pedals and faux leather side bolsters on classy cloth seats. Auto lights and wipers, climate control, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and an 8-inch touchscreen are strong points.

It’s the only Rio to score a turbo engine: a characterful three-cylinder mated to a performance-orientated double-clutch auto gearbox. Lesser Rios use a more mundane non-turbo four-cylinder.

Warranty’s excellent at seven years and unlimited kilometres, but five years of services are a pricey $2128. Services are annual or every 10,000km, which is shorter than the typical 15,000km.


Cleverly packaged, the Rio feels a little roomier inside than rivals such as the Toyota Yaris or Mazda2.

The cabin’s flashy with white stitching for the racy steering wheel and supportive seats, but it’s not plush. Hard scratchy plastics cover doors and the dash top, and despite its billing as the range-topping model, don’t expect luxuries such as heated seats, wireless phone charging or radar cruise control. Rear headroom is very good for a car this size and legroom is passable, meaning two adults – plus a small one in the middle – can travel in decent comfort. It loses points for a lack of rear air vents and USB ports but storage spaces are generous and a 325-litre boot is deep and large for this segment.


Major bases are covered, but no more. Auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist and driver attention alert are standard but there’s no blind-spot monitor or rear cross-traffic alert.


An update actually reduced performance from the GT-Line’s three-cylinder. It was formerly 88kW but you now get only 74kW, though torque remains at 172Nm. Maximum torque arrives from just 1500rpm, giving fun, perky performance in town but it quickly runs out of puff and 0-100km/h takes almost ten seconds.

Typical of three-cylinders it makes a rorty note at high revs and Sport mode holds gears longer if you’re on a fun bit of road. The dual-clutch auto gives rapid changes at speed, but the lack of steering wheel paddles (or manual gearbox option) robs the driver of involvement.

The suspension – tuned in Australia – favours cornering ability over comfort. Grip is impressive, while you can confidently chuck the GT-Line into corners and it remains well balanced. So much so you start crying out for more power.

The trade-off is a crashy ride on poor surfaces. It’s not enough to merit a chiropractor visit but around town the constant bumping annoys. The low-profile tyres get noisy on highways, while the gearbox occasionally
jerks at low speed; the price of a driver’s car, you’d argue.

Our test returned a respectable 7.7L/100km and the little Kia needs only standard fuel.


A good fun first car for the enthusiast driver, although it could do with more power and an improved safety package.


Suzuki Swift GLX Turbo, about $28,790 drive-away

More safety gear and more power at 82kW, but only 160Nm torque. Fun, light, good-looking and cheap to run, it’s a cracking all-rounder, though pricier than the Kia.

Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Comfortline, about $27,490 drive-away

Not as showy, but a handsome city car with three-cylinder turbo offering 85kW and 200Nm. Good safety and a more grown-up choice, but it’s a classy rather than fun drive.

Kia Picanto GT manual, $21,490 drive-away

Same brand, smaller size. Shares the Rio’s engine, but its manual gearbox and lower mass means it’s a proper pocket-rocket funster. Even harsher ride than the Rio, but it’s a cheaper toy.


Price: $25,990 drive-away

Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol, 74kW/172Nm

Warranty/servicing: Seven-year/unlimited km, $2128 over five years

Safety: Six airbags, auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist, driver attention alert, rear sensors

Thirst: 5.3L/100km

Cargo: 325L

Spare: Space-saver

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