Smart tech Kia Rio ISG a top buy

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 12:57 18/07/2012
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JONATHAN CAMERON

KIA RIO LX ISG

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Draw to a halt at an intersection, put the manual transmission into neutral, take your foot off the clutch - and the engine will stop.

Depress the clutch again, and the engine will re-start. Just like that. All in less time that it takes to select first gear, which means that it's easy to head off in an entirely normal way.

That's Kia's version of new-age stop-start technology, which the Korean vehicle manufacturer calls Idle Stop & Go. It's being progressively introduced to its various models as a means of lowering fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.

So far in New Zealand, we have seen the ISG in the manual versions of the little Picanto hatchback, and now it has been installed in the manual Rio hatchbacks in both diesel and petrol forms. In the future, the technology will extend to automatic transmissions, too.

Intelligent engine stop-start is progressively becoming more and more common, and various car manufacturers have different ways for it to operate.

In the case of Kia, it uses a "smart" starter motor which is linked to a vehicle's on-board computer (ECU) which is constantly monitoring the status of the car anyway.

So, when the driver comes to a stop (or is even rolling forward at a speed below 4 kmh), the ECU uses information from various other control systems in the car to decide if it is appropriate to switch the engine off.

The big inputs are that the transmission is in neutral and the clutch released. But there are other inputs, too - such as that available battery power needs to be above 75 per cent of maximum, and the engine is warmed up enough, and that the energy- sapping air-conditioning system can't be running full-bore.

But if everything is normal, the engine will stop. And that, says Kia, means that during normal operation of one of its ISG vehicles it can cut fuel consumption and emissions by up to 15 per cent.

The latest Kia to get the ISG is its 1.4-litre petrol-powered Rio LX, which the company says has reduced its average fuel economy from 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres in the standard model to just 5.3 L/100 km. That's sufficient to give the car a range of more than 800 kilometres on a tank of fuel, which is better than a return trip from New Plymouth to Wellington.

Apart from the fact that you can feel a wee bit embarrassed when you come to a stop in heavy traffic at an intersection and fear that those around you may think you've just stalled your car, operating the Rio ISG is an entirely normal process.

That's because you don't have to do anything - apart, perhaps, from reminding yourself that you don't need to visit the local service station quite so often.

And the ISG Rio is certainly better than the automatic version. That's because its manual transmission is a six-speeder, which can be used to get the best out of this compact car, while the automatic model is a four-speeder with too few cogs and needs to be operated manually tiptronic-style for optimum performance out on the open road.

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Another thing about the manual version is that it has a little arrow that lights up in the dashboard to advise you when the ECU thinks it is time for you to change up a gear.

This Rio retails for $22,990, which makes it the least expensive of the range despite its stop-go technology, and for the money it offers a lot of car.

Standard items include hill-start assist control to momentarily prevent the car from rolling back when you take your foot off the brake, electronic stability control, daytime running lamps, reverse warning sensors, Bluetooth compatibility, audio controls on the steering wheel, air conditioning, and remote central locking.

It also goes well. I remember when the non-ISG car was first launched in New Zealand last year, the Kia people pointed out that although it is 1.4 litres instead of being a 1.6 like the old model, its power-to-weight ratio remains exactly the same because 36kg has been shaved off the vehicle's weight.

It is also an attractive hatch. It boasts the longest wheelbase in its class and it has quite an athletic look, the latter emphasised by a belt line down the Rio's flanks.

The interior is excellent - steering wheel is adjustable for both rake and reach, the driver's seat has height adjustment, and minor controls are easy to operate. The boot has 288 litres of storage space with all seats in use, which is about even-par when compared to the opposition, and this increases to 923 litres when the rear seats are folded down.

The engine, from Kia's well- proven Gamma family, is an all- alloy 16-valve unit with continuously variable valve timing and multi-point fuel injection, and it develops 80 kW and 137 Nm.

It drives well, too.

Its suspension is based on European specifications, with an emphasis on sporting handling and an assured ride, and it is very suited to the New Zealand motoring environment.

But the same can be said of several other vehicles of this size, including Suzuki Swift, Holden Barina and Ford Fiesta. The difference with this model, however, is that it can automatically stop and start itself - and that's an appealing point of difference.

KIA RIO LX ISG

POWER PLANT: 1.4-litre DOHC CVVT petrol engine, 80 kW at 6300 rpm, 137 Nm at 4200 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Six-speed manual transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, coupled torsion beam rear axle. Disc brakes all round with ABS, stability control.

HOW BIG: Length 4045mm, width 1720mm, height 1455mm, wheelbase 2570mm. HOW MUCH: $22,990.

WHAT'S GOOD: Very good technology and specification for the price.

WHAT'S NOT: Manual transmission operation is quite vague.

OUR VERDICT: Rio ISG has to rate as one of the best buys at present.

- Taranaki Daily News

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