We first saw the Premier Rio almost three years ago. Since then, the Pune-based company has been burning the midnight oil to refine the formula and now the Rio is very close to being the perfect little mini SUV
I’m about to drive out of my building’s parking lot, when I notice an attractive woman looking in my direction, and smiling. Just as I exit the gate, she walks up to the driver’s side door to talk to me. And just when I start to let my imagination stray, it all comes crashing down as I realise all she’s interested in is knowing about the car I’m driving – the Premier Rio. Well, I shouldn’t be too disappointed considering that the Rio is an extremely attractive little car. The compact SUV segment, where once the Maruti Suzuki Gypsy ruled supreme, has all but disappeared these days, but if there was ever the perfect candidate to revive it, the Premier Rio has got the formula nailed just right; dimensions no larger than a regular hatchback, good ground clearance to tackle the worst of Indian roads, looks that should appeal to absolutely everyone, and now a sweet little Fiat-sourced Multijet diesel motor to power it along.
Speaking about the looks, thanks to the 2012 model year update, the Rio now looks absolutely fantastic. All the little bits such as the side cladding, the bash plate up front, the roof rails and the overall proportions make it look like a scaled down version of a big, butch SUV and that adds oodles of appeal to anyone casting a glance in its direction. Even little details such as the spare wheel mounted on the tailgate give the Rio that typical ‘little-big’ SUV feel. The same however can’t be said about the insides. While not really lacking in features or creature comforts, the overall quality of the plastics and a design theme straight from the 90s does leave a little to be desired. Interior space is at a slight premium, but that is to be expected in a car of this size. That being said, it’s not exactly what you might call uncomfortable and some nifty features such as the 50-50 split folding rear seats do add a massive chunk of practicality. And even the boot space will put a lot of our premium hatchbacks to shame.
With regards to the way it drives, this is an area that still needs a bit of work. While ride quality is decent on normal to slightly bumpy roads, the car does tend to tramline over really undulating surfaces. This, of course, has more to do with the Kenda tyres that Premier sources from China than anything else, and a switch to either MRF, Apollo or Goodyear rubber should sort out the issue in a jiffy. The tall design of the body with a fairly narrow track is not the best combination when it comes to handling, but as long as you don’t decide to get too aggressive with the steering in tight corners, it’s not really an issue. And thanks to brakes equipped with ABS, stopping power is fairly good as well, though there is an overall lack of brake feel.
The real gem of this new Rio, however, is the 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine which has been sourced from Premier’s once collaborators, Fiat. With 72PS of power and 183Nm of torque on tap, it’s not the quickest of cars on the market by any means, making the sprint from zero to 100km/h in 20 plus seconds. But this engine’s strengths lie in its tractability and smooth power delivery. The 5-speed manual gearbox has a fairly positive throw on the shifts and combined with the Multijet powerplant, pulls well in each gear.
On the whole, the proposition of the Premier Rio has been made significantly sweeter with the addition of this brilliant engine. And at a price of Rs 6.70 lakh (ex-showroom Pune), it’s not too bad a deal either, considering what you’ll end up with is a reasonably capable, extremely good looking car that will set you apart from the average motorist. However, there are still some loose ends that Premier needs to tie up first, and most of these relate to the tyres, suspension ratings and the quality of the interior plastics. But Premier is a company that has been very receptive to the feedback it has been receiving about its product, and is in the process of ironing out these little bugs, which when done, should make the Rio the stonking great product it was meant to be.