Kia Rio: 'It's everything you'd expect a modern supermini to be'Kia's supermini is comfortable and functional
I never knew there could be 40 shades of black but now I suspect there are even more.
Many years ago, someone told me to be clever and only buy 'black' socks. That way, they reckoned, I'd never have the hassle of matching them up after they emerged from the wash. One job lot, if you like: any two would do.
But I didn't count on the slight, myriad differences in design, length, softness (as well as loss of colour, and the curling and shrinking that follows washing). It's a nightmare.
The upshot is that I now have accumulated a fair-sized bag of single, unmatchable black socks.
Not for the life of me - and I spent a good hour at them last Thursday - could I find a partner for many. I spread them out on the duvet but despite contriving one or two dubious matches, I had to give up. These are lost socks.
On the positive side, of course, I do have loads and loads of pairs that match and are paired awaiting the call of duty (I hope so - I'm nearly afraid to look too closely at some of them now).
Some cars remind me of black socks. Many, on first glance, appear to be much the same - especially the smaller ones these days.
This is often due to the huge advances in technology and computer-assisted pre-design and testing which have, among other things, levelled the field.
It is no longer a matter of finding major differences between cars; it is a matter of finding grey areas (50 shades?) of differentiation.
The car reviewed this week is a good case in point. You may not have heard that much about the Kia Rio, though its predecessor was a Car of the Year winner some time back.
The new one is everything you'd expect a modern supermini to be (its rivals read like a list of household names stretching from the Ford Fiesta to the Volkswagen Polo) without having you enthusiastically extolling its virtues.
It is chunky, pert, roomy, and designed to look smart without being flashy. In other words, a typical small car for younger drivers - they believe they can get a lot more women to buy one - and second family motors.
It was nice and comfortable, easy to drive and - like a good black sock - unobtrusively functional, taking the twists and turns of getting around nicely in its stride.
To be fair, the model I was driving was a step above most in terms of safety. To meet testing requirements now, carmakers are including an ADAS (advanced driving assistance system) version in their line-up so people have the choice.
In this case, it includes Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB - the car can detect you are not going to brake, or brake sufficiently, and intervenes) as well as adaptive cruise control.
I could see how the emergency braking would work because we all tend to drive too closely to cars in front and we don't pay enough attention to other road users. We certainly don't pay enough attention at the wheel - we're on the phone so much.
I believe the level of safety, particularly systems that assist drivers, is increasingly going to become a key area of differentiation between cars.
The thing is that safety systems cost money. And to rub salt into the wound, we pay VRT and VAT on top of that. So we end up taxing safety. That angers me when you consider how much mouth service we, as a nation, pay to road safety.
Anyway, the Rio itself felt and drove solidly and I thought it coped well with the judder-inducing trenches on roads that have mushroomed around Dublin city centre in the past few months.
I've been less than rapturous about the 1.25-litre petrol engine before. That's because I know they have a sweet little 1-litre coming down the line. For now, though, the 1.25 soldiers on and, to be fair, worked quite well. I think the car will be all the more appealing (if more expensive), however, when the 1-litre gets here.
The cabin is, to borrow a black-sock analogy, a decent, comfortable fit. There are no outstanding, major distinguishing elements; it has a typical dash combo that adorns so many modern rivals.
If that all sounds a bit like damning with faint praise, it is not the intention. It is more a reflection of the degree of commonality - like black socks - that runs through so many of the Rio's ilk these days.
To put it another way, it is well capable of matching up to most other rivals on several fronts. It is not the liveliest driver compared with the Ford Fiesta, and it doesn't have the out-and-out looks of the surprising new Nissan Micra. But I was quite happy with it on several other fronts. And there's a good boot; it was a joy to park and reassuring to drive. Like a good, easy-to-match sock, it is a good all-rounder.
Facts & figures
Kia Rio, EX ADAS, 1.25-litre petrol, (85hp, 109g/km, €190 road tax).
Price: €19,450. Range starts: €15,950 for 1.25-litre petrol-entry level.
Equipment on this specially equipped ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) car includes: automatic cruise control, lane departure warning system, Autonomous Emergency Braking (only on this model) auto-folding door mirrors (heated, electric), daytime running lights (LED) with auto-light control, front/rear fogs, sliding seats, parking assist system (rear sensors), rear-view camera, idle stop and go, manual air con.
All Kia cars have a seven-year warranty.