Budget-friendly small car misses out on vital safety

Popular car brands such as Toyota and Mazda are shunning cheap circa-$20,000 cars in favour of fully-loaded versions, while brand such as Hyundai and Honda are dropping them completely.

Kia is bucking the trend with its budget-friendly Kia Rio S.


The Kia Rio S auto is sharply priced at $20,490 drive-away, which undercuts the cheapest versions of the Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris.

Despite its cheap price tag, the Rio has a good serve of connectivity and comfort features.

You can spot some cost-cutting in the basic exterior and small 15-inch steel wheels. Safety, or lack thereof, is a big issue.

Servicing is expensive for this segment at $2896 over seven years.


The base Rio is aimed at younger drivers who might be upgrading from a used car and Kia has kitted it out appropriately.

The seats are cloth and only the driver’s seat has electric adjustment.

Younger buyers will appreciate the large eight-inch touchscreen that is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, connected via USB port.

The rear seat is snug, but roomier than the Yaris or Mazda2, and a USB charging point for rear passengers is a nice surprise at this price.

Boot space is generous at 325L, much bigger than pricier rivals.


Standard equipment includes six airbags and a reversing camera with parking sensors.

The Kia Rio has a five-star ANCAP rating, but that score wouldn’t hold up if tested today because the current testing regime requires a number of active safety technologies to gain a maximum score.

Important tech missing includes auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist and blind-spot warning.

If you want these safety aids you’ll need to head up a grade to the $22,490 Rio Sport.


The Rio S is an enjoyable drive. Its small 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine teams well with a six-speed auto transmission, which makes the most of the modest 74kW and 133Nm on offer.

It can feel a little underpowered on the open road and the engine sounds coarse under heavy acceleration. There is also a slight delay when you put your foot to the floor as the auto takes a moment to think.

It is more at home on short city commutes, where it feels nimble and zippy in traffic.

The suspension is well sorted, soaking up most bumps, although road and engine noise can be intrusive.

Fuel use is good, if not groundbreaking, at a claimed 5.4L/100km.


The Rio S is a cheap and practical small car, but lacks important safety kit. The more expensive Rio Sport is the sweet spot in the range.


Mazda2 Pure auto, $23,990 drive-away

Entertaining drive and packed with safety tech, although cramped in the rear.

Toyota Yaris Ascent Sport, from about $25,500 drive-away

All-new small hatch that is expensive but packed with standard safety.

MG3 Excite, $18,690 drive-away

Cheap Chinese-built small car rocketing up the sales chart.


Price: $20,490 drive-away

Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder, 74kW/133Nm

Warranty/servicing: 7 yrs, unl’td km/$2896 over 7 yrs

Safety: six airbags, reversing camera, parking sensors

Fuel use: 6.0L/100km

Boot: 325L

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