Thursday, February 9

Classic Tales: Premier Rio. India’s first compact SUV?

It is hard to forget the car brand Premier, it was one of the first car manufacturers in India. We know the car bought the Padmini that was the re-badged version of Fiat 1100 here. Thereafter the brand manufactured a couple of more cars, one was ‘Rio’.

One might or might now have heard about the car but yes it is there and yes it didn’t do well in the Indian market.  Premier Rio was the first entrant into compact SUV category before it became a hot-selling segment.


Premier Automobiles had exited the industry back in early-2000s. However, the company bounced back with the Rio in 2009. Rio was basically the Zoyte Nomad which was a rebadged version of Daihatsu Terios. PAL was importing CKD kits and assembling them at its Pune facility. Priced at around ₹ 5.1lakh, Rio was one of the cheapest SUVs here back then.

Zoyte Nomad

To be frank, Rio was one of the worst vehicles sold in our country at that time. Being a car of Chinese origin, overall fit and finish was very poor as compared to hatchbacks in that price band. For non-car guys, this felt like a well-packed compact SUV with numerous nifty features. It was surely a value for money product for those who didn’t care about build quality, fit and finish, service network, etc.

The earliest version of Rio came fitted with a 1.5-litre Peugeot TUD5 diesel motor which generated a peak power of 65bhp at 4000rpm and a maximum torque of 152Nm at 2250rpm. This TUD5 engine earlier occurred in 309, Zen, Esteem and Accent. Being a tried and tested old gen engine, there were no mechanical niggles in Rio.

Later, Premier had plonked a 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine into Rio back in 2012. This engine was capable enough to develop 70bhp at 4000rpm and 183Nm at 2400rpm. A 1.2-litre MPFI petrol engine also was offered alongside the 1.3 MJD. The Rio was still horribly built, had a depressing interior, was noisy and suffered awful highway manners.

What we feel hit the Rio hard, was the overall Premier commitment to provide after sales support and regular service. Had it been Maruti Suzuki rather than PAL that had collaborated with the Chinese company and marketed this model in India, it would have sold in good numbers. For the price of a diesel Rio and a little more, it was possible to get a Bolero or Sumo were far better than this.

The sad part is this is what started the compact SUV segment in the country and as its production ended in 2012, in 2013 the Ford launched their offering in the same segment. The funny part is that the very next year Ford EcoSport took the market like a plague and sold a lot of numbers of the car. This might be because of many factors which include the design, features, built quality and the most important after-sales services.

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