Kia's latest version of the Rio will compete with some benchmark cars, such as the Ford Fiesta and the Renault Clio. Our motoring editor, Donal Byrne, was one of the first to drive it and find out how it stacks up against the competition.

Taking on the likes of the Fiesta - the benchmark car in the super mini class - is an uphill climb. The Fiesta, and indeed the Renault Clio, have been around a long time and they command a lot of well-deserved loyalty from their owners.

However, Kia is determined to chime in with determination in the super mini segment because cars in this class sell extremely well and they make a lot of money for car manufacturers.

Ford Fiesta 2018

Next year's Ford Fiesta    
The entry-level model will be the 1.2 litre LX petrol model at €15,950.  And Kia has about a year to make any inroads on the current Fiesta, as the new one is due here in 2018. 

Interestingly, Kia is now pushing its small petrol engines and expects to reverse the current trend towards diesel, which has been causing problems for people driving low mileage and paying a premium for the diesel privilege.

Kia sees a big opportunity here and it's right to lead the charge in as much as it can. However, it is ironic that the 1.2 petrol engine will cost more than the peppy 1.0 litre, which is aided by a turbo.

Kia's logic is that the 1.0-litre petrol will do everything that a 1.4 diesel previously did. And besides, you will pay between €1,700 and €1,800 extra for the new diesel Rio.

I, for one, don't see the sense in even looking at it.

Low mileage in cities and occasional forays outside them pretty much determine the life cycle of a super-mini, so why get stuck with a premium price for a diesel model and likely problems with the diesel particulate filter?

Kia Rio rear

I liked the Rio for its fun-about-town-appeal and sharp styling, which is not exactly exciting but it does the job in terms of refreshing the Rio's appeal.

In the hyperbolic environment of the car manufacturers' world, I was invited to notice the "tiger nose grille", which was a concept lost on me.

All I saw was a slightly narrower grille than the last Rio had. At least I did notice the rear was a lot smarter and added to the car's presence on the road.

Overall though, the new Rio has much greater presence than the outgoing model and its lines are well accentuated. However, you could say the same for other cars in the class, especially the Renault Clio, which is one of the best cars Renault has made in years. 

I noticed the Kia people were keen to point out that the Rio has class-leading cabin space but it is worth pointing out that a tall driver or front seat passenger with the seat back as far as required will eat up the rear leg space available. Shoulder and headroom are not as tight in the back. So, let's call a supermini a two-adult and maybe two-child car and allow the Rio to compete competently on that basis.

I liked the 1.0-litre turbo petrol better than the 1.2 but both engines are limited. This really is a city car and is at its best in that environment.

Hills and motorways quickly reveal its limitations, in much the same way as with other small cars, including the Fiesta. The five-speed gearbox underlines those limitations yet the Rio's handling and ride quality were surprisingly assured.

The interior has been improved, although on the standard version you can have any colour you like as long as its grey or black. The rest of the cabin layout and finish is fine but it does not have much to distinguish it from the average supermini.  

A nice touch that helped the Rio to stand out was the red artificial leather trim on the black upholstery in one car I drove but for this you would have to pay extra. You will also have to pay extra for the bigger function display screen. The entry level model gets a standard display.

As with other manufacturers, Kia's pricing structure is a bit complicated and you will have to move up about another €2,000 on the entry price to get things like 16" alloys and cruise control.

OK, neither are of much use in the city but sometimes we require more from our small cars than drivers in other countries.

The average age of a Rio buyer is 50 but Kia is now hoping to attract younger buyers with connectivity options - yet you will have to pay for a higher grade Rio to get the benefit of a 7" screen.

The Rio has certainly moved up a grade but it is not quite up there with the Fiesta or the Clio for character and refinement. With these cars it is all about the price and what you get in terms of standard equipment, so expect a rearguard action from Ford as it begins to ditch the current Fiesta stock.  

The Rio is built on the same platform as the Hyundai i20, so you will need to compare like with like. The Fiesta has a quality feel to it and the Clio has real flair. Neither can be said for the Rio but a value for money price and a seven-year warranty are big pluses. 

The Kia Rio goes on sale on March 1st, 2017 and final prices will be confirmed soon.