Kia Rio First Edition: a compact car with a big tech attitude

I’ll never be able to afford the Jaguar F-Type SVR. Hell, even the Ford Mustang is going to be a stretch for me as a budding internet journalist. It means I’ve resigned myself to a life of dull car ownership, bereft of the tricks and tech I crave in my automobile. At least, that’s what I thought.

Then the folks at Kia got in touch and asked if I wanted to check out the new Rio, a compact car with a surprisingly large amount of tech stuffed inside. Intrigued, I said yes.

I’ve been wary of Kia in the past, dismissing it like the supermarket TVs you see from brands that sound like they’ve been dreamed up by a think-tank of five year olds. 

We drove

Kia Rio First Edition Eco
: 1.0 T-GDi
Power output: 118bhp
Top speed: 118mph
0-60mph: 9.8 seconds
Fuel efficiency: 60.1mpg
Price: £17,585

It may not be a household name, and that can be off-putting when you're looking to spend a sizable amount of cash, but Kia is now a dependable name in the auto world.

I’ve noticed more and more of the South Korean firm’s vehicles on the road in recent years, with affordable price tags and a 7 year (100,000 mile) warranty as standard a big draw for economical shoppers.

What's even better though is the amount of tech on offer. Usually a reserve for the premium models, we're finally seeing the gadgets filter down to super minis - the kind of cars you see teens hooning around the ring road at 2am.

They're also the cars of choice for young families, looking for a cheap, safe ride with enough seats, doors and boot space to keep up with their busy lives. Both of these demographics have a couple of things in common - technology, and shallow pockets.

Their mobile phones are a vital part of life, and being able to access them easily - and safely - while driving is a big draw. Recent TV adverts from the likes of Vauxhall, Renault and Ford have highlighted such in-car phone capabilities and with the Rio, Kia has gone all-in.

And at £17,585 on the road the Kia Rio First Edition certainly falls into (admittedly top end of) the affordable bracket – and thus my price range.

Tech, tech and more tech

The top-of-the-range Rio First Edition comes fully kitted out. There's Android Auto and Apple Carplay built into the touchscreen infotainment system, Lane Departure Warning system, reversing camera and sensors, multiple USB ports and a six speaker audio system.

To say I was giddy with excitement to PRESS ALL OF THE BUTTONS would be an understatement. Seriously, I love buttons. Give me one, I'll press it. Go on, I dare you.

*Ahem* Sorry about that. Where was I?

Android Auto and Apple Carplay are also available on the 'Rio 3' spec level that starts at £16,435 - but the more entry level options (Rio 1 and Rio 2) only offer Bluetooth phone connectivity.

This was my first experience of Android Auto in an actual moving car, and I was a little disappointed to find that I still had to connect my phone via a USB cable to get it to work. In a world where Bluetooth and WiFi Direct exist it seems a little counter intuitive. 

The issue here lies with Google though, not Kia - let's get this sorted out soon, yeah? Thanks.

(Actually, it turns out Google's Android Auto is going to implement wireless connectivity... it's just taking a damn long time to filter through).

Android Auto is a nice addition, but it's still limited

Android Auto is a nice addition, but it's still limited

Once you're up and running the service is still rather limited. Calls, texts and WhatsApp notifications display on screen and you get access to Spotify (and Play Music) and Google Maps for navigation.

The latter here is the most useful, as I find Google Maps superior to any built-in sat nav offering - which the Kia also offers if you don't fancy hooking your phone up.

The Spotify integration in Android Auto is also useful, but it lacks the complete set of features of the phone app and thus still feels a little restrictive.

There are, however, plenty of buttons on the steering wheel (OH YES), allowing you to jump through menus, skip tracks and increase the volume to levels beyond any possible tolerance from your neighbors.

The Spotify app is handy and can be controlled from the steering wheel

The Spotify app is handy and can be controlled from the steering wheel

Whatever system you're using, be it Android, Apple or Kia's own software, the 7-inch touchscreen is slick and responsive. 

Sliding the Rio into reverse presented me with a clear image of any obstructions behind us on the display thanks to the rear mounted parking camera - complete with guide lines to show you if you can really squeeze into particularly narrow spaces.

Is it cold? Nah, it's just nippy

Nippy* is a great way to describe the driving experience of the Kia Rio. It may only have a 1.0 liter engine, but it packs a fantastic little punch which gets you away from junctions swiftly.

The handling in sharp, and it's fun to drive on winding country roads, chucking it into corners and accelerating away from them.

It also cruises happily at 70mph, making it a solid option for long journeys with comfortable seats and a light, airy cabin.

It's the tech that's the real winner here though, proving you don't have to pay a lot to get a number of useful gadgets in your car.

The Kia Rio isn't the only affordable supermini offering a wealth of tech spec, but it's put it together in a clean, tidy way. It's not overwhelming, and with a comfortable ride and punchy little engine it's a fun car to drive.

  • John McCann is getting behind the wheel to give you an alternative look at the wealth of cars - and the tech inside them - available today. From superfast sports cars to tech-packed hatchbacks, he'll take you through a range of makes, models, power and price tags in his regular TR Drives column.

* That's 'fast' for any of you non-Brits out there. 

John McCann
Global Managing Editor

John joined TechRadar over a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs from some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site.