Prepare to be amazed.... by an engine.

Not the first thing you expect to be impressed by when looking for a new car.

Normally it is dazzling design or a smart interior. Well this time it is an engine – and a tiny one at that.

The beating heart of the new Kia Rio is a one-litre, three-cylinder petrol.

What you get is good economy, low emissions and absolutely sparkling performance. I have driven some belting three-cylinder engines in the last 12 months, but this tops the lot.

You know there is something special in store from the first stab on the accelerator.

This eager little beaver is so responsive, thanks to a nudge from a turbocharger, and never gives in. You ask, it gives.

There are two power outputs – 99 or 118bhp – and the engine I am talking about is the lower-powered version.

The extra horse power is reserved for the range-topping first edition model but I would stick with the 99 and save twelve hundred quid – even though you are sacrificing a bit of extra kit.

Yet Kia expects most buyers to settle for the non-turbo-charged 83bhp 1.25 litre petrol, which kicks off the range at £11,995.

That was not available to drive at the Rio launch, so I can’t tell you if it is any good but I suspect it will do the job.

Even though Rio is Kia’s global best seller, it is the least known model in the UK dwarfed by the big guns, aka Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Volkswagen Polo to name but a few.

But this fourth-generation Rio has the best chance of making an impact in the toughest sector in the market and will play a bigger part in pushing Kia sales through the 90,000 barrier. It is a neat package, well priced and ‘well-specced’ – and it has the crowd-pleasing seven-year warranty.

The design team has played safe on styling the Rio. Attractive, yes; head turning, no. It looks at its best head-on, thanks to some restyling and the signature ‘tiger’ grille. That, at least, does catch the eye.

Although the dimensions are roughly the same as before, a little more space has been found for passengers; rear legroom is impressive, while the 325 litres of boot space is brilliant for a car of this size and there is still room for a full-sized spare tyre.

Like the body styling, the designers have batted straight down the middle with cabin layout. Dashboard design is just the way I like it – a mix of conventional and modern.

From grade two, the Rio gets a floating five-inch colour screen for the radio and reversing camera, but the heating controls sit below, perfectly positioned with clearly marked, good-size knobs.

We are going through a period where some car companies are going for futuristic layouts – all in the name of progress – and they deserve praise, but spending time with touchscreen menus can be a distraction for the driver. Kia, though, has the balance just right here.

Move to grade three – an extra £1,750 – and the screen grows to seven inches for the navigation system.

Most buyers are expected to home in on level two (£13,745), which picks up DAB radio, all-round electric windows, parking sensors, cruise control with speed limiter, autonomous emergency braking and front and rear USB charging ports. Useful touch that.

As with most Kias, the ride is on the firm side, an interesting contrast with the new Citroen C3, and while Rio doesn’t have the French car’s overall comfort, potholes and other road blemishes are nicely absorbed.

Should you need to press on, Rio is up to the challenge, so no worries on that score.

Apart from the 1.4 litre automatic, all petrol Rios qualify for £30 or £20 road tax, provided it is on the road before April 1, while the 76bhp 1.4 diesel is exempt because of its 93g/km emissions.

On this showing, we will see a lot more Rios on our roads.