Rio Grande

Disappointment takes many forms. Today it looks something like this – the 2017 Kia Rio.

2017 Kia Rio. Image: Autocar
New but not necessarily improved. 2017 Kia Rio. Image: Autocar

Having shown us a stylist’s render of the forthcoming Kia Rio about a week ago, the Korean car giant’s PR machine has released the first photos of its new supermini contender. The new Rio is more ‘grown up’ and of course, ‘sportier’, which is another way of saying it’s wider, lower and longer both in overall length and in wheelbase. Autocar described it thus; “the 2017 car will evolve the design of its predecessor with an aggressive nose and more muscular and vertically angled rear”, which sounds like a straight lift from the press pack if you ask me.

Naturally, the interior is more luxurious and (that word again) premium than before, and equally predictably, is available in multiple shades of anthracite and piano black. Following the herd even further down the rabbit hole, Kia has joined the queue of car companies ditching a three-door option. Five-doors only from now on I’m afraid. Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth in some quarters.

So what do we have? Well there are shades of Mercedes’ A-Class in the side profile, mercifully without that car’s eye-watering body graphics. The rear-end has more of a VW feeling – in fact the whole car screams Wolfsburg rectitude, but without the clarity of line. I find it very disappointing, especially since its predecessor was such an attractive looking car from just about any angle. In my view this is a hugely retrograde move on Kia’s part. Far from appearing sportier, the new Rio seems more appliance-like, losing the Latinate style flourishes and excellent proportions that set its predecessor apart.

The outgoing model, lest you've forgotten. Image: carsintrend
This was much better – the outgoing Rio, yesterday. Image: carsintrend

It seems peculiar that Kia are so keen to ditch the Schreyer-influenced styling of the outgoing generation and revert to the kind of ill-defined anonymity that was once synonymous with the brand. Some might describe it as maturity, I’m minded to see it more as a loss of faith.

But is it? Perhaps the sort of people who routinely purchase Kia’s don’t particularly worry about styling beyond surface-level aesthetics. They will focus more upon the extra space, better finish and up to the minute gadgetry. That might sound patronising to Kia buyers, but looking at it another way, it’s more about pandering to them. Kia’s aren’t necessarily cars bought on emotional grounds and the new Rio has probably been focus-grouped to within an inch of its short life. It will undoubtedly fulfil its brief to the letter before being consigned to oblivion in roughly four year’s time.

Clever or cowardly? Maybe it simply doesn’t matter.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

19 thoughts on “Rio Grande”

  1. Bad move, Kia. On an iPhone the Polo resemblance is marked. Further, designing cars for people who don’t care too much won’t change the minds of leader-consumers. Those who like VW probably won’t be convinced to spend at a Kia dealer. One could argue that all Kia want to do is be more VWish than the other brands, offering a similar style for less moolah. Really though that is not ambitious and is short-termist. I greatly admired the way Kia had created a distinct style for their cars. I notice them and not Renault, Peugeot or Fiat. That moderated distinctiveness is now gone.

    Small point: the very tiny upkick at the back end of the window baseline. Isn’t that now as much of a clichee these days as blacked-out c-pillars?

  2. Actually I’ll wait until I see it in the metal to pass judgement. While it might look disappointing in picture, it could turn out to be a really solid contender in its class, and not just for aping the VW Polo.

    1. Alternatively, it could be one of those cars that looks right when you first see it and then grows on you and still looks good 15 years on. Only time will tell.

  3. Our good colleagues at Autocar called the car “more striking” in their press release. That’s absurd. Whetever this is, it’s not striking. It’s neat, orderly, reserved and “cool” (as in not warm): “five door gets more striking design” they wrote without quote marks. Kia wrote in their press release “striking design the result of. collaboration between European, Korean and American design centres”. Right.

    1. At least they didn’t call it ‘radical’, a term they have used for, amongst (plenty of) others, the current Clio.

  4. In 2010 i caught myself to find a korean car very beautiful almost sexy – for the first time. My neighbour bought a Rio in brown and it looked and still looks just great.
    The new one looks …ah..like the predecessor of the 2010 Rio.

    Is Kia now already in the position that they don´t have to dare something? This new car looks conservative in every semse.

    1. Absolutely. The last one balanced being its own and not scaring people. That’s a tough brief. Now they are back to blending existing shapes. It’s a curious thing. Maybe people in this bit of the market really want safe and predictable and familiar.

    2. It’s consistent in that every new Kia since the latest Optima has been less attractive than its predecessor. Better to drive for sure, but not better looking. Perhaps their customer data is telling them styling doesn’t matter so much and they have focused on what their customers actually want.

      I saw a current Rio in traffic today and it’s a really nice looking car, any Italian carrozzeria would have been happy to have it on their portfolio. Surely the obvious thing to have done was to have left the styling virtually unchanged, as the prestige German marques do. They could have done this but chose not to. This suggests the style was an issue somewhere. So now we have Optima, Sportage and Rio – all less attractive than their predecessors. Change for changes sake? I don’t think so.

    3. I actually find the new Sportage a very neat evolution of what was a very tidy car. Each to their own of course, but I think Kia is maturing rather well as a brand.

      Back to the new Rio, there’s also a hint of 1st generation BMW 1-series on the side view which I find interesting.

  5. Sam: you’re not wrong about the Sportage. It’s rather good and good-looking. I am glad you reminded me of it. I can’t see any BMW in the car and if it was there it’d make it even more derivative than it is.
    At this point defense of the Rio seems as wilful as defense of the Astra F with the qualification that the F was original and good. I spoke to an owner of a ’96 saloon today and rather than expressing indifference he was rather heartfelt about his car. He was also aware of the other saloon Astras on the street. I didn’t expect that – that he would care so much about other examples of the car. It’s nice to see people can view them as more than inexpensive transport.

    1. I was thinking about the 1s gen 1-series in relation to the shoulder line above the rear wheel and the shape of the door handles, but there are also some hints to be found in the rear DLO and bootlid sculpting:

  6. It’s certainly a step backwards from the previous model on its own terms, and much less distinctive to boot. At a glance it could be confused with a current-generation Yaris. This is not a compliment. It must also be said that the car in the photo is not helped by a set of particularly unpleasant alloys, though doubtless the Ford stylist that penned them for the Sierra disagrees.

  7. I’m with Eóin, the latest generation Kias are a significant step backwards compared to what went before – and, to my eyes, that includes the latest Sportage.

    There’s a definite attempt to make the designs more rational and correct (as Richard puts it) at the expense of more characterful, rounded and arc- like forms. In summary, the line between Hyundai and Kia is more blurred – this new Rio is very like the i20, stupid c-pillar treatment aside. What a pity – the previous Optima, Sportage and Rio were amongst the best looking in their respective classes. It does not bode well for whatever might replace the Venga – for a long time one of my favourite designs around!

    1. I have driven both previous and latest generation versions of the Sportage. Styling apart, the most striking difference between them – (both cars were dealership demonstrators) – was the marked improvement in drivetrain refinement and body control in the latest version. The latest car drives as well as anything in its class – something one wouldn’t necessarily say about its predecessor. However – (and I say this knowing such things are subjective) – stylingwise, the older car looked so much nicer. The latest Sportage is perfectly fine from the A-pillar aft, but the nose section appears grafted on from an altogether different car. This isn’t necessarily apparent in photos but really jumped out at me in the metal. As a consumer durable however, it’s really quite difficult to fault.

  8. The Rio has come a long way since the 2000 first generation, which was a first, and scarcely successful attempt to escape from cheap, lowest common denominator, rental yard bucketdom. IDEA Institute’s work apparently – perhaps they gave the job to one of the less talented inmates.

    The worst criticism I can make of the outgoing Rio is its hopeless rear visibility. DLO to glazing disconnect yet again. The current Clio is a damn sight worse, like a Morris Minor MM, Standard 8, or Austin A30, whose manufacturers at least addressed the deficiency as the models evolved.

  9. Here is the very new but not very new-looking Hyundai I30:

    Hyundai/Kia must be convinced, buyers of a car with a 5/7 years warranty are afraid of new design.

    1. Thanks for showing that so I don’t. Ironically Hyundai says customers liked the design (forvit was distinctive). Now it is not. I was very pleased with Kia and Hyundai’s output and now its vastly less appealing. It’ll be orderly and professional but not worth looking at for too long.

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