Kia isn't an unfamiliar name to taxi-operators. The Kia Pride taxi was a familiar sight along Metro Manila roads in the 90's. It was simple, fuel efficient, and robust. And when things actually broke, they were ridiculously cheap to replace. Back in the day, that carbureted 1.2 liter engine was more than sufficient to get the Pride sedan around town. The Rio that finally replaced it was a different animal. And the new Rio is better still.
For one thing, the all-new Rio is much prettier than any previous bargain-basement Kia. The low stance and wide shoulders give it a very attractive and muscular demeanor. For another, interior space is a quantum leap over the previous Rio. Amongst taxi-segment options, only the new Accent can match the Rio for space, though the Accent’s softer suspension limits its carrying capacity. While one might question whether a mere 1.2 liter engine is enough for a fully-laden sedan, an airport pick-up for three passengers and a trunk-and-a-half worth of airline luggage on the Skyway at a leisurely 120 km/h cruise suggests it is.
Less is More
See, Kia's 1.2L engine is a new-age DOHC design with good down-low torque and a free-revving nature. In this case, it's attached to a short-geared five-speed transmission that's perfectly suited to its power output. You only really notice the lack of power when stuck in second gear at 40 km/h… at any other time, it's easy to find the right gear for the job. Unfortunately, as it lacks a 6th gear, the engine turns at a buzzy 3,000 rpm at 100 km/h.
Thanks to the low final drive, fuel economy is a relatively disappointing 14.5 km/l on the highway. In mixed use, though, it's pretty fuel efficient at 11.5 km/l. But not quite as impressive as you'd hope. Then again, it rained every single day I had the car, and flooded on the last one, so that might have affected economy a bit.
Other than the lack of central locking and cheap, nappy, seat fabric, it's hard to find any fault with the Rio. The cabin is huge and covered in durable, waterproof plastics. There are electric front windows and mirrors, and a serviceable two-speaker radio. There are twin 12V outlets, the better to power GPS nav-units, phone chargers, and other accessories that taxi operators might need.
And that trunk. It's not quite as tall as the Honda City’s, but it’s just as large. Even with a full-sized spare tire under the compartment, we managed to cram in three full-sized hard case strollers and various soft-bags on our airport run. And there was enough leg-room in the rear to fit another medium-sized stroller bag on the floor between the rear passengers.
Driven to Excel
The Rio drives much as you'd expect a modern Kia to drive. Refinement is good, the suspension is stable and supple, and the brakes are strong and easy to modulate. The overly-light electric steering is nothing special, but the nimble nature granted by the lightweight front end and the joyfully quick gearshift make the Rio delightful to drive… much like its predecessor.
Along with the low running costs, this makes it a good choice not just for the taxi market, but for student drivers who might feel unsafe driving a smaller vehicle. At P598,000, the Rio sets a new benchmark for the most metal for the money, and might just be the sedan bargain of the year. Granted, it’s too heavy to be anywhere near as economical as its hatchback competitors, but none of them offer anything near as much space as this. The Rio might just be the next big thing in taxis.
Or it would be, if it came in diesel. Come on Kia. Make it happen!