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It has taken three bites at the cherry but with this third generation Rio, Kia has finally got the formula right.

Handsomely styled and with an impressive fit and finish, the latest Rio is bigger and smarter than its predecessor and this keenly-priced 107bhp 1.4 is sure to prove popular.

Perseverance is certainly something Kia isn’t short of. Most car manufacturers would have retreated, licked its wounds and renamed the subsequent car after the critical mauling meted out to the first generation Rio, which arrived in 2001. That car was big and cheap but woeful to drive and had an interior that looked a generation out of date. Undeterred, Kia launched a second generation vehicle in 2006 that while better looking and of manifestly better quality, didn’t drive as well as its key rivals. The third Rio was unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Show and it’s clear that the Korean company has been listening diligently to customer feedback.

With styling that belies its modest price point and an improved chassis, the Rio no longer looks out of place in a Kia line up that many industry observers agree is probably the most progressive of any mainstream car manufacturer. There’s never been a sporty version of the Rio offered to British buyers and the latest model follows a familiar theme of teaming modest power outputs with sheer ease of use. Buyers in this sector don’t require outright speed, instead valuing more prosaic attributes such as ease of parking, low steering effort, excellent all round visibility and the Rio excels in these areas. What has changed is the focus of the chassis’ dynamics. Significantly, Kia has sought to dial out the understeer inherent in the old car, the new model’s Coupled Torsion Beam Axle rear suspension being more subtly tuneable than the old suspension. The ride is firmer but body control has been improved with less roll through corners. No small car can make significant headway without at least one super-efficient engine and the Rio gets a very impressive three-cylinder diesel unit. The big seller, though, is likely to be the 1.4 which is powered by a 107bhp four-cylinder petrol unit. Teamed with a six-speed manual gearbox, it’s a painlessly nippy performer. The 0-62mph of 11.1s looks respectable and cruising at motorway speeds and a little more relaxed than it is in the oil-burner. Customer expectations of new Kias have risen extremely quickly and the design of the latest Rio is unlikely to disappoint.

The sculpted flanks, intricately finished lights, ‘tiger nose’ grille and bold wheelarches give it a genuinely premium look that sets it apart from the mainstream norm. If you remember Kia for lowest common denominator motoring, the Rio is going toNew Car Road Test | Kia Rio 1.4 come as a rather pleasant shock.

The interior build quality also looks extremely good, although it’s clear that some compromises have needed to be made to keep costs in check. Fortunately Kia has chosen them wisely and the interior styling is up to scratch with some harder plastics evident only on the lower dash. There’s a good deal more room than in the old car, with the tape showing a 20mm increase in length. The wheelbase has also been extended by 70mm resulting in an increase in space for all passengers.

Four tall adults can sit comfortably for long journeys. Boot space has also risen to 288 litres which is a useful seven per cent improvement. Cabin storage includes a larger, 15-litre, glove box, a centre console with three litres of extra capacity and pockets to hold a 1.5-litre bottle in the front doors and a 500ml bottle in the rear doors.

Kia might be positioning the Rio affordably in the supermini sector but it hasn’t stinted on kit. In the UK, standard safety equipment includes electronic stability control, six airbags and ‘active’ front seat head restraints, to protect against whiplash injury in a rear impact. A system called Emergency Stop Signal alerts following drivers that the car is slowing rapidly.

Sensors detect when the driver is braking suddenly and hard, and then automatically flash the brake lights three times. This level of safety provision presents a challenge that will have many big name manufacturers revisiting their plans. As well as the usual accoutrements, Kia is offering some very attractive (and attractively-priced) options. These include smart-key entry system, RDS radio CD player with MP3 compatibility plus AUX, iPod and USB connections, Bluetooth hands free (with voice recognition available from December 2011), climate-control air-conditioning, heated front seats and LED daytime running lights.

The 1.4-litre petrol Rio returns 51.4mpg and emits 128g/km, which is about par for the class, if not in the same league as the three-pot diesel’s stunning 80.7mpg. If you feel that this is shamefully profligate, you can opt for the optional fuel- stretching ISG technologies (automatic stop-start, advanced alternator control, upgraded starter motor and low-rolling resistance tyres) which will extract a still more remarkable 88.3mpg from the diesel engine. Carbon emissions drop from 94 to 85g/km as a result.

The Rio’s potential residual values look extremely promising, hitting that rare sweet spot of low price coupled with a certain inherent desirability, backed up with a strong warranty.

The Kia Rio has come of age. No longer is it a vehicle that you recommend largely because of its modest asking price. Now it can compete head-on with its mainstream rivals and it betters many of them. Park this next to a Nissan Micra and Kia’s superior interior finish and styling flair are immediately apparent. Larger than its predecessor but with a sharper driving experience and hugely improved engine efficiency, the Rio offers more than the elegant pen strokes of former Audi design chief designer Peter Schreyer. Packing in a massive amount of safety equipment doesn’t hurt its prospects either. Kia has methodically addressed every aspect of the small car buying decision with this Rio. The opposition should be extremely concerned.

l For a test drive or more information contact Draycotts on 01623 510777 – your local Kia dealer.