The Ray is not what you would describe as "nippy", "fizzy", or "grunty" like other small, low-powered cars. This naturally aspirated 1.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is found in the entry-level UK-spec Picanto (although in a different state of tune), and even that vehicle is among the slowest on the market today. The Ray, which weighs approximately 70kg more than the Picanto and has a faintly agricultural automatic gearbox, clearly performs best in an environment where it is rarely required to exceed 30mph.
However, the engine is not unrefined. It starts up quietly and is commendably eager to pull away. The Ray can keep pace with the army of saloons and sports cars that dominate Seoul's centre, and it stops short of being deafening when under high load, despite the under-ratioed gearbox rarely having another cog to offer on kickdown. Nevertheless, the Ray is not particularly fuel-efficient, with Kia quoting a downtown consumption figure of 28.7mpg, making it thirstier than any similarly sized car with a blown triple.
Kia does not provide an official 0-62mph time for the Ray, which is probably the clearest indication of its positioning. This is a car that is ideally suited for low-speed manoeuvring and short-distance comfort. If you owned one in London, it could effectively be restricted from ever leaving the bounds of the M25.
Apart from its efficiency and performance shortcomings, the biggest frustration with the Ray is that it shows how much is possible in such a small footprint. The Ray has been carefully designed to make the most of every last square inch of floorpan and glasshouse, just like Japan's kei cars that have long sought to offer big-car practicality in bubble-car footprints. It is remarkable that a car that occupies not much more road than the Citroën Ami can comfortably convey four adults through one of the world's most congested cities.
The Ray's ride is agreeably composed, the steering is tight and predictable (although almost completely numb), the seats are comfortable, and the in-car tech and build quality are more than adequate for the price. Additionally, because it looks so innocent and friendly, it is difficult to incite road rage from fellow road users, even with the most blinding of metropolitan motoring gaffes. The right-hand-side rear door slides, making entry and egress easier and allowing drivers to park closer to other cars, walls, lamp-posts, and the like.
The frustration lies in the fact that such cleverly designed urban mobility solutions as the Ray are few and far between in the UK, where they are needed more than ever before. The cheapest new car available in the UK is 500mm longer than the Ray but scarcely more roomy and practical. Furthermore, the cost of producing electric cars currently means that we are unlikely to see an EV that is remotely as compact or affordable as the Ray for some time.
Kia is unlikely to export the petrol Ray, and converting the EV variant to right-hand drive and shipping it would be a loss-making endeavour for the Korean manufacturer. It is understandable that Kia would prefer to continue launching more profitable, full-sized EVs and selling them in astronomical numbers worldwide.
In conclusion, we would do well to lament the Ray's absence from the UK market just as much as we do the absence of sporting heroes like the Toyota GR Corolla and Subaru WRX. There is no journey within the city walls that this boxy supermini could not handle admirably, except perhaps the occasional airport run.