Motoring enthusiasts love rear wheel driven cars. It doesn’t matter whether you can hold a powerslide endlessly; the thought that a car can lash its tail out of line on demand is of immense pleasure to any dyed-in-the-wool motoring enthusiast. The Rio is rear-wheel driven and we drove it rather a lot in the dirt. Verdict? It is a lot of fun to drive! But wait, there’s more to this car than some silly young motoring scribe’s fascination for donuts. Why, when we’ve already driven the Rio before, are we driving it again? Because this one has a petrol motor under the hood.
Introducing a petrol motor to an SUV in times of such incredulous fuel price hikes is sheer blasphemy, right? Well, Premier’s move is more ‘here and now’ than reeking of foresight. It’s simple. The TUD5 that has so far powered the Rio is a BS3 diesel, which cannot be sold in metros. Which means the Rio remained inaccessible to a large number of Premier’s target audience, the urban commuter with a fondness for regularly venturing into the rough. And the BS4 1.2 petrol motor has an important role to play here.
BUT IT LOOKS THE SAME...
It does, and to be fair, it’s no bad looker. The front end is completely unambitious but in profile, it’s quite ‘scaled down Safari’ and that rear windshield and tail-lamp combo reminds one of those retro-cool bubble visors. Being in a segment of its own, it’ll stand out in a crowd, that’s for sure. A neat addition to the proceedings are the roof rails that certainly add some smartness to the Rio’s stance. Apart from that, the top-end variant gets painted body cladding (in grey) as opposed to the dark plastic stuff (which we like more) on the others. There is the all-important ABS badge on the tailgate and most importantly, the Rio now has a tasty set of alloys that resemble the five-spoke wheels on the Accent from many years ago.
ON THE INSIDE...
...life is quite alright, really. Beige upholstery does make the interior a lot more appealing while the dashboard is a sea of grey plastic; nothing fancy, but decently finished although for someone paying Swift/Jazz money, a little contemporariness wouldn’t hurt. There isn’t much to play around with, so you have just the air con controls, power windows for the front row (negative points for ergonomics – they’re positioned on the door panels instead of on an armrest, which means they face inwards and...) and our car had an MP3 player with aux-in – always a good thing.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Good, if you’re a fuel efficient driver and drive in a Zen (not the little Suzuki!) like state of mind. Go easy, and you won’t notice the cable-actuated gearshift’s arrogance, or that there isn’t really a whole load of power available for entertainment purposes. The Rio is, and Premier could well market this mildness, for people who aren’t in a hurry when behind the wheel. If you want to take in the scenery and don’t miss sweeping tarmac when on holiday, you’ll be quite at home in the Rio. The 1173cc four cylinder petrol engine produces 75.5 bhp@5800 rpm which, although it sounds healthy, somehow doesn’t deliver quite as you’d expect. Even as you expect the 10.5 kgm of torque (set against the 1,080 kg kerb weight) to bring about perky mannerisms, it doesn’t actually happen. Instead, the Rio stays calm, taking its own sweet time to gather steam, clocking 100 kph in 21.52 seconds, eventually maxing out at 137.5 kph. Unfortunately, we couldn’t assess the fuel-efficiency of the petrol, but we’ll tell you once we get our hands on the Rio for a longer duration.
Importantly, the Rio feels comfortable cruising at 80-90 kph – more important than the top speed, which in our country has no utility beyond academic purposes. In conjunction to that is the handling, which again was quite stable at three-digit speeds and the suspension was just about right – soft, but never wallowy. Also, while we expected the high centre of gravity to spoil the agility of the Rio, it didn’t, actually. Crucial to the Rio’s SUV scheme of business is actual off-road ability, which, fortunately, it does possess to an elementary level. The monocoque construction paired with the McPherson strut and coil sprung front (five-rod setup at the rear) means you can venture into no-roads (not slush/snow – for purely traction purposes) without a worry. Over potholes and other such urban fixtures, the Rio did filter a substantial bit through, but really, it wasn’t too bad. A lot of credit certainly goes to the 205/70 R15 tubeless tyres, which, apart from looking good in the spec sheet, actually lend the Rio some braking/off-roading cred.
SHOULD YOU BUY IT?
One of the things the powers-that-be at Premier highlighted was market’s receptiveness to the Rio as a second car. Can it play the role of your only car, though? Well, certainly yes if you’re coping well with petrol prices and if you find the current lot of hatchbacks a bit white good-ish. Yes, Premier has a long way to go before they have anywhere close to a credible service network, and apart from sentiments there isn’t much going for the Premier badge either.
But here’s the catch, the basic, no-frills Rio petrol is priced at Rs 4.95 lakh whereas the top-spec GLX wears a Rs 5.86 lakh (all prices ex-showroom, Mumbai) sticker. That’s a decent ‘SUV’ (inverted commas intended) for hatchback money – not bad, eh? The only reason I can think of to not buy one is something called the Kawasaki Ninja 650R...