A couple of years back, when touch screen phones became the coolest gadgets to possess, this poor bloke here had to do with a very basic Nokia. Suddenly, Chinese look-alikes of some upmarket devices stormed into the market. These offerings from the neighbours had all the features of the aforementioned touch devices but retailed at a fraction of their cost. I was one of the many to opt for these new devices, enabling myself to do more for less. No, Motoroids hasn’t started reporting about gadgets yet. Case in point here is the Premier Rio that is imported from China and comes with a lot of equipment at a very competitive price.
However, it is a little known fact that the car has some Japanese connection to it. A few days back, we tried digging out the true identity of the Premier Rio. It may be noted that back in 2009, Indian auto manufacturer Premier began sourcing CKD kits of a compact SUV from China through a tie up with Zoyte group. Hence, the Zoyte 2008 became the Rio and Premier started importing the car via CKD route. The car is assembled at their former partner Fiat’s Pune plant. At the heart of the Chinese car can be seen a 1498cc turbo diesel engine based on Peugeot technology. This year, the car got a 1.2 litre petrol engine. Come April and Fiat’s popular 1.3-liter Multijet diesel motor will find its way under the car’s bonnet. This makes Rio a car that is being sourced from China and is being powered by European powerplants. This case of confused nationality gets further…well…confusing if we take into account the fact that Premier Rio aka Zoyte 2008 is very similar to the Daihatsu Terios/Toyota Cami. How? The Zoyte 2008 is allegedly inspired from the first gen Daihatsu Terios. However, it is hard to say how accurate these assumptions are as the presses for the body panels and associated parts were purchased from Daihatsu Motor Co. Ltd. itself.
We spent half a day testing this rather unique player in its segment in various environments. Let’s see how well this concoction of technologies and parts from various countries fares in our review.
There is no hiding from the fact that the Premier Rio shares a lot with the old Dahitsu, with the rear being almost identical. Talking about the front, the new Rio recently got a dosage of botox to inject some freshness into the aging design. The front fascia now looks more upmarket and less dated when compared with the previous version. Premier has decided to continue selling the old version alongside the facelifted sibling. The new version is christened as the Rio+ and has quite a few changes over the standard Rio.
The new front end is courtesy the Zoyte group and they have done a surprisingly good job for a relatively small player. The new headlamps now cut into the bumper and are a bit bigger than the ones on the standard Rio. The grille too integrates with the bumper and the skid plate like chin spoiler lends the car a sophisticated look. These changes ensured that the car had to get a set of new front fenders as well, and if the claim of the manufacturer is to be believed, all these alterations together help in lowering the coefficient of drag. In side profile, the Rio+ can be seen with body coloured side cladding and has an aura of ruggedness about it. The Rio+, in keeping with current trends, gets blinkers on its outside rear view mirrors. The 15 inch alloy wheels look trendy and lend a sporty character to the car. Coming to the rear, the portion that remains significantly unchanged, the car continues to look sporty and rugged and the new bumper has only enhanced this appeal. This car stands out in a crowd of hatchbacks on the road. I would prefer my Rio in a shade of silver or red please.
Rio has two rows of seating with split folding bench at the rear. A neat touch is the storage compartment built into the floor of the boot. The interiors are draped in a shade of beige and can easily seat 5 in quite some comfort. The dashboard has a design that dates back to the 90s and comes with faux silver garnishing on the centre console. The legroom at front can be best described as average and is easily bettered by the entry level sedans on sale in the country. Worth mentioning here is the fact that the transmission tunnel intrudes a fair bit into the front passenger leg space. Talking about the rear, the leg space here again is pretty average with the passenger sitting comfortably only if the front seats are pulled ahead. However, on setting the front seats all the way back, the leg space gets so bad that any taller than average passenger might see his knees hitting the jaw. The dashboard compartment up front has enough space to hold the necessary documents. However, no sunglasses holder built into the lid of this SUV. The car also doesn’t have a bottle holder upfront and I wonder what kind of book will fit into that fairly narrow magazine holder. Frankly, I am a bit disappointed as the space inside the mini SUV here is more of a mini than being a SUV.
Rio comes with 15 inch wheels that are shod with 205/70 cross section tires. The car has 200mm of ground clearance and employs McPherson struts at front and 5 rods system at the rear. The ride quality of the Rio is surprisingly good and can put to shame some of our hatchbacks. The car can absorb most of the average sized craters quite well and thanks to the excellent ground clearance, does not scrape its underbelly on those devastating speed breakers that our roads are famous for. Simply speaking, the car easily deals with most of the rough roads out there. While the suspension absorbs most of the irregularities out there, it does makes the passengers know about the kind of hard work it is putting up to. No magic carpet rides here.
Talking about handling, let me clearly mention that my expectations with a ‘SUV-ish’ car and one that comes from China were never really high. And as expected, the car did not turn out to be a winner in this department. While the Rio comes with a reasonably grippy set of tires, the steering feels disconnected with wheels and the feedback is not all that great. The body rolls a fair bit even in moderate speed corners and overall, it fails to inspire much confidence. This is one rear wheel drive car that I never wanted to go drifting in. And I didn’t.
As mentioned earlier, the Rio recently got a 1.2 litre petrol motor and the engine is BS IV compliant. The engine is designed by AVL and unlike the 1.5 litre diesel that is assembled in India, the gasoline motor comes from China. The engine is longitudinally mounted and pumps out of 76.6 PS @ 5800 RPM and churns out a peak pulling pulling power of 103.9 Nm between 3500 and 4250 RPM. The engine is smooth in nature and the high amount of insulation ensures that the NVH levels remain under check. However, the performance of this car is not quite at par with some of the other modern 1.2 liter cars we have in the country. The only way to know that you are piloting a 75 odd bhp car is to keep the revs high. This engine can surely do with some fine tuning. Another reason for the lacklustre performance is the higher efficiency losses in a rear wheel drive car. There came a couple of moments when the engine greeted me with a wide yawn on flooring the throttle. The tall gear lever falls easily to hand and is light in action but the notchy feel and a very light clutch blemishes the driving pleasure somewhat. Out on expressway, a speedo indicated 140 kmph may give an appearance but let us not talk about the time you need to reach there.
Coming to the 1.5 liter diesel, the motor is only BS III compliant and unlike what we see these days, makes do with the very dated Indirect injection tech. The Premier Rio has to be among the last of the cars to use the Peugeot TUD5 engine technology. The TUD5 has also been seen in the past in the now defunct Maruti Suzuki Zen and Esteem along with a short stint under the hood of Hyundai Accent. The engine is known for its reliability and easy maintenance. However, even on importing the block and cylinder head from France, Premier has reduced the number of cubic centimetres by 30cc to 1489cc. The grandpa engine pumps out a reasonable power of 65bhp and is mated to a Zotye gearbox. Premier has done a remarkable job of reducing the diesel clatter from this engine and NVH levels on the Rio+ are good enough to isolate the passengers from the sound of the motor makes once the windows are rolled up and the air con is running. On the move, the Rio+ makes good use of the torque to quickly gain momentum and makes quite a case for itself as long as you keep the car at city speeds. Once past the 2500 RPM, the car quickly starts running out of steam and anything above 100 km/h is a fair bit of struggle.
The car might look sporty and rugged from a distance but one of the first things you will notice when getting inside it is how light the doors feel. Expecting the doors to shut with a thud is like hoping for Indian football team to win the world cup. Once inside, you are greeted by shiny, beige and hard plastics all around you. The dash board’s shiny plastic reflects on the windscreen. While the seat fabric feels of good quality, the plastics feel like they have been borrowed from my 1997 Maruti 800. The panel gaps around the dashboard and in several other places within the cabin are quite pronounced, and not quite acceptable by today’s standards and norms. The only good thing here is that nothing is really prone to fall off and the plastics feel like they will stick together for a while.
Now this is where the Rio+ scores. The top of the line car boats of many creature comforts, representing good value. The Rio+ has everything from HVAC and power steering to powered windows upfront, central locking with remote built into the key, a 4 speaker MP3 CD player/FM radio with reasonable sound quality, electric ORVMs, rear wash wipe and ABS. That list surely makes up somewhat for the lost points by offering some good features.
The Premier Rio+ looks and feels rugged and little issues apart; the car can make for a reasonable regular car. The Rio+ targets the premium hatchback or entry-level sedan buyer. Also, this has to be the best way to stand apart in a crowd of hatches on our roads. The new 1.2 litre petrol does not really satisfy the performance junkie in me but it should get the job done. Till the time the 1.3 litre multijet comes to this car, the best thing about it remains to be its price. The considerably loaded base model of Rio+ petrol goes for about Rs. 5.70 lakhs and the top end version with all the bells and whistles like the CD Player and electric mirrors can be yours for Rs.6.2 lakhs. The base model of 1.5 litre diesel comes with a price tag of Rs. 6.7 lakhs with the top end going for about another 50k. (All prices ex showroom Mumbai).
If you like the Premier Rio, and would like to drive one home, we would suggest you wait for a little longer for the 1.3 turbojet diesel to feature beneath its hood. The car will come across as a much stronger package when that happens. Also, we hope the price doesn’t change by much when that happens.