It’s official. Kia’s first car for India will be a Creta-sized compact-SUV wearing clothes very similar to the SP2 concept shown at the Auto Expo. It’s a sweet spot to be in. The Creta clocks nearly 10,000 units a month, demand for SUVs is only going up and it’s the perfect segment to showcase what brand Kia represents (more style overlaid on ever improving Korean technology). But what next? That’s the big question at Kia’s newly setup Indian operations and this might be it.
Err, what is it?
The 2019 Kia Rio X-Line is based on the Rio which itself is the sister car to the Hyundai Verna that is badged the Solaris in Russia. It’s a very interesting design, this 5-door Rio. To give it an Indian perspective this is a cross-hatch based on the Verna with the rear quarters of the traditional 3-box replaced by a more swoopy estate body style. Actually it doesn’t look much like an estate, more like a cross between a largish hatchback and an SUV, considering that the Rio X-Line also runs higher ground clearance, black plastic cladding on the sides as well as bottom half of bumpers for an SUV-like stance, roof rails, and silver-finish bash plates for the front and rear bumpers.
Does it work?
It’s not a stretch to label the Rio X-Line as very stylish. It looks like nothing else in this segment. For perspective it is like the Volvo S60 Cross Country but of course that’s at a completely different price and position. And if you thought the current range of Hyundais are stylish wait till you see what Kia’s designers are doing with their crayons. The large swept-back headlamps and trademark Kia grille, give the Rio a striking front end while the rear with the full-width taillamps and even more chunky bumper really does stand out. It does remind you more of an SUV than an estate. If I had to criticise one aspect it would be the wheels that retain the same 16-inch size as the sedan but because the ride height is up and there is more cladding, it results in the Rio X-Line looking undertyred.
Inside, the X-Line remains unchanged from the Rio sedan and there’s similar space and a largish boot – neither are best in class as we’ve already experienced in the Verna but neither are they far from the benchmarks either. Rio’s interior has more flair than the Verna; it is a little more youthful in keeping with the brand positioning.
Russia is a big market for Kia where the Rio sedan is the best-selling car. The X-Line has only recently been introduced and it is priced at a 5 per cent premium to the sedan and already accounts for nearly 50 per cent of Rio volumes. Both are built at the same Saint Petersburg facility where the Verna is also assembled – after all Hyundai and Kia cars are different only in the (exterior and interior) styling.
Will it make sense for Kia to bring this car to India? I think so. As of now at least there really is nothing like it, with the exception of the S-Cross – a sedan/estate crossover at this price bracket – and it could go a long way in establishing the Kia brand as something unique and out of the box. There is of course the danger that the Rio X-Line will be perceived as a hatchback, an Elite i20 rival, and with the pricing being marginally higher than the Verna (this is not under four metres in length and so doesn’t qualify for small car excise duty breaks) that will be a problem.
Worse will be if the Rio X-Line is viewed as an estate – India (weirdly) just doesn’t like estates. But marketed properly, with the right communication and positioning, the Rio X-Line has the potential to be a disruptor and that might be good reason for Kia to take the plunge.
Main: Kia’s designers are some of the most innovative in the business and it shows in the rear end of the Rio X-Line that tends more towards an SUV rather than an estate. Below: Bash-plates under the bumpers are ornamental but look great.