A true compact suv, the Premier Rio has just been given a new BSIV emissions norms-compliant diesel engine that will allow the company to sell it in metro cities alongside the petrol version that was introduced earlier this year. The car’s existing diesel engine is only BSIII compliant, and hence can’t be sold in the metros. The new engine is the very popular 1.3-litre Fiat Multijet, which also does duty in cars such as the Fiat Punto, Maruti Swift and Tata Indica Vista, among others.
However, adapting this engine to the Rio threw up some unusual challenges. While the other cars are front-wheel drive, the Rio is rear-wheel drive. This also means the engine has to sit lengthwise in the engine compartment, rather than transversely, and there was the added issue of adapting the car’s existing gearbox to work with the new motor. As you can imagine, this is quite a considerable engineering task, and so it’s impressive how successfully Premier has pulled it off.
The Rio now feels much better to drive and is much more refined as well, but it is still not the most polished version of this engine we have seen. This Rio accelerates much quicker than the one powered by the old diesel engine, but it’s still far from the quickest SUV around – 0-100kph takes a yawning 20.26 seconds. The gearbox does a good job of keeping the engine spinning at the right speeds, where maximum pulling power is available. Changes have also been made to the gearbox, and the shift action is more precise now, but there is a tendency for the shifter to jump out of its gear slot. The heavy clutch doesn’t make life any easier either. The good news is that the new engine has made the Rio more efficient, and it's now capable of returning 13.8kpl in the city and 17kpl on the highway. These figures are not as good as the small cars with which the Rio competes, but are impressive nonetheless.
Premier has also taken the opportunity to make the suspension a bit softer; the ride at low speeds has improved and the Rio just glides over potholes, although the tall tyres also help here. The handling isn’t the best, though – the car leans into corners and the steering is just too light to inspire confidence. It also gets ruffled by strong crosswinds and its stability at high speeds is average at best. It also pulls to one side under hard braking and, although ABS is available, it’s best not to push it to the limits.
The Rio was given a styling makeover earlier in the year (alongside the introduction of the petrol engine), and it looks like a proper SUV. But the quality of the plastics remains below par and ergonomic gaffes like the poorly positioned power window switches remain. It’s not the most spacious of cars, and the rear seat is best for two passengers and it is not very comfortable either. You sit knees-up and getting in and out is not easy thanks to the high floor. The front seats are better, although since the car is narrow, the driver sits very close to the front passenger. The driving position itself is quite high and thanks to the narrow pillars the visibility is good too. At Rs 7.30 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) it is expensive, especially when you consider the sub-par quality and lack of room. It remains no more than an offbeat choice if a regular hatch doesn’t cut it for you.
Engine size 1.3 (D)
Price from Rs 7.30 lakh*
Top speed 143kph
20-80kph in 3rd 14.78sec
* EX-SHOWROOM, DELHI