March 3, 2011
Kia debuted an all-new Rio at the Geneva Auto Show on Wednesday, bringing its corporate design language – and a host of other changes – to its smallest U.S. model. More power, refreshed styling, and even a new bodystyle marked the debut of the Rio, one of three newly-announced Kias shown in Geneva.
The most noticeable change to the third-generation Rio is its heavily revised exterior styling, which now mirrors the look of many of its Kia stablemates. Sculpted by former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, the Rio features an aggressive front end, strong contour lines down both sides, and Kia’s distinctive new corporate grille. Combined with an upgraded interior, each stylistic element helps the compact Kia shed its budget-grade reputation.
In addition to updated interior and exterior styling, a major change to the 2012 Rio is the addition of a three-door hatchback bodystyle. Formerly available as just a four-door sedan or five-door hatch, the Rio’s new three-door bodystyle will be especially popular in Europe, where hatchbacks account for a vast majority of compact car sales. However, Kia says that not all variants will be available in all markets, meaning some versions may not make it stateside when the Rio debuts later this year.
Under the hood, the U.S. Rio will continue to use a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, although power will jump from a meager 110 horses to around 140. That figure compares favorably to rivals like the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit, which feature 120 and and 117 horsepower respectively.
Despite the model’s major changes, the Rio wasn’t Kia’s only big news at the Geneva show. Kia also showed off its new Picanto, a tiny hatchback making its debut outside Korea. While deemed too small for the U.S. market, the Picanto is an important car for Kia in Europe, where the Rio – considered a compact by American standards – is considered a midsize hatchback.
“In Europe and around the world, the small and compact car markets account for a huge percentage of global sales,” said Hyoung-Keun Lee, Kia’s vice chairman, who added that “the introduction of the new Picanto and Rio is immensely significant for Kia in what I am sure will be a ‘landmark year’ for our brand.”
The Geneva Auto Show also marked the European debut of Kia’s Optima Hybrid following its world premiere at the Los Angeles Auto Show last year. Kia says the Optima Hybrid will begin production for all markets in the first half of 2011.
JEFFREY ARCHER is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.