Kia is no more a regional player. With an annual turnover of more than $45 billion and market capitalisation of $12.6 billion, it’s one of the major players in the global automotive market today. And the Rio hatchback is the Korean manufacturer’s second bestselling model worldwide, accounting for 15 per cent of its total annual sales last year. It’s interesting to note that this sales success was achieved by the model that’s been around for more than five years now. Aiming to build on this feat, Kia has thoroughly redesigned and reengineered the fourth generation of this B-segment hatch. It’s yet to go on sale here, but we’ve already driven one.

While the previous model had a playful charm about it, the new version has a much more serious, grown-up look. It clearly follows the ‘simplicity of the straight line’ design philosophy that we saw the automaker introduce with last year’s Cadenza. The styling is restrained, almost devoid of emotions, and verging on coldness. In fact, if you replace the Kia logo with that of a European brand, that badge will not look out of place in this car. While some may lament the loss of the impish liveliness in its appearance, I think the new design suits the brand’s new more mature image better.

It’s also reasonably fun to drive, and feels tauter and more poised than the previous model.

Up front, the Rio gets a thinner, wider version of the signature ‘tiger-nose’ grille with gloss black mesh and surround. The headlights are also less rounded than before in keeping with the overall styling theme, and feature LED daytime running lights. It looks more compact than its predecessor, but actually at 4,065mm, it’s 15mm longer and at 2,580mm, it’s got a 10mm longer wheelbase than before. At 1,450mm in height, it’s also 5mm lower, adding to the sportier stance. Even around the back, gone is the curved windscreen, replaced here by an upright one, while the taillights are substantially revised with the new arrow-shaped LED graphic lending it more presence and visibility at night.

The roomier cabin gets a cleaner layout, which looks even better with the optional Red Pack

The simplicity of design and the straight line theme carry over to the cabin too, with the lateral lines of the dashboard adding to the sense of space inside. In fact, thanks to the increase in overall dimensions, the new Rio has a larger cabin than before, with legroom growing to 1,070mm in the front and 850mm in the rear along with increased shoulder room as well. Interestingly, despite the lower height, the head room appears to have been unaffected. Overall visibility is excellent, the seats are comfortable and the steering is easily adjustable for rake and reach. It’s also got impressive cargo capacity at 325 litres. There are two engine options. While our tester came with a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre engine that’s good for 123bhp and 151Nm of torque, a smaller 1.4-litre four-pot is also available with 100bhp and 133Nm of torque. My advice would be to pick the larger engine, as even that does not do complete justice to the car’s looks. Mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, it’s relatively smooth and easy in and around the city. However, it struggles a bit when sudden overtaking manoeuvres are needed.

At 325 litres, the boot has pretty good capacity for a car in this segment

The 1.6-litre does everything right when driven normally, but ask anything more, and it will complain

Ride quality is remarkably good for a car in this segment and the engineers have done a decent sound deadening job. It’s also reasonably fun to drive, and feels tauter and more poised than the previous model. This has been achieved with a new front suspension with more rigid struts and cross member, and tweaked mounting position of the rear shocks.

Kia also claims the new Rio is one of the safest cars in its class, highlighting the fact that up to 51 per cent of the body has been constructed using high-strength steel whereas this was 33 per cent in the third-generation model. Add to this, multiple airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters, side door impact beams, child locks, impact sensing door unlocking feature, optional ABS and electronic stability control, safety seems to have been given due importance here.

The 2018 Rio represents a significant shift in Kia’s market positioning. More serious, more practical, dynamically better, and priced right, it serves up some serious competition to its rivals. And if it were to be offered with a more powerful, turbocharged engine, it would be hard to beat.