Kia makes Rio appealing beyond its class
Kia hit its stride some time ago, and even began the move upmarket, but it’s with the 2012 Rio that the company exemplifies what it’s about. Vastly improved from the hideous and underpowered little econobox it used to be; Rio has matured and grown stronger, and settled down with a nice grille.
My Autonet test car is a top-of-the-line SX automatic with navigation system and no other options – not that it needs any. A delightful and inclusive collection of styled wheels, well-appointed interior and technological inclusions that are usually the hallmarks of more expensive cars targeted to more upscale buyers; this one is fighting above its class and winning.
For one thing, it sports a price of barely over 21K (and even with freight and taxes applied, it sits at $23,450) and brings the full suite of Kia creature comforts. Keyless start and smart-key entry is one of my favourite features on any car, and it usually comes at a higher price, or as an option that has to be ordered.
Not so with my SX; and, it’s the same with the Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats and power sunroof – all part of the trim.
I think this is the first time I’ve seen a subcompact, entry-level car with even the availability of a backup camera, or heated steering wheel (!) a feature that will spoil you for life if you drive a car in our Canadian winters.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve both the sedan I’m using now and the hatchback version of the car, and the hatch is the one I would take if I were buying it – because I have very few friends, but lots of need for cargo space and accessibility – but the four-door sedan provides a reasonable amount of trunk space for the overall size of the car.
The interior of my tester is brown-on-black, with reasonably approximated leather-like substance for upholstery; and fitted with a comfortable driver’s seat. The layout of dash and console puts everything in a straightforward and easy-to-use array that is easy to get used to and figure out.
Driving it is genuinely fun, within the limits of economy-car definition of fun. The steering feels good, with the wheel-feel tuned to leave a little weight in it and provide decent feedback. With the SX you get four-wheel disc brakes (with ABS) more than capable of bringing the little vehicle to controlled stops under hard-braking conditions; and the car’s engine is much better than adequate for the small frame.
The gasoline direct-injection powerplant hauls the Rio well, bringing 138 horses and 123 lb.-ft. of torque; coming on with little to no hesitation thanks to a responsive gas pedal. Kia’s vehicle stability management and ESC are standard, of course, and handling is controlled.
Cap the whole package with the fact that I am getting very frugal fuel economy out of my SX tester, and you have an economical and fun everyman-car that doesn’t punish an entry-level buyer with compromised looks.
Sitting on 17-inch alloy wheels with stylish sheetmetal (and check headlights in the photos!) and fog lamps that peer from under the beaver-teeth grille, this is an abnormally handsome car.
The truth is, I have very little to dislike about the 2012 Rio, except perhaps the interior room. It’s inherent in anything in the class, of course, and you’ll find similar drawbacks in Rio’s competitors, but it’s tight across the beam, if you put adult passengers in the car. There is a set of climate-control switches across the lower part of the center stack that rub against my leg, and I keep activating the windshield air-blower with my knee.
That’s about it for drawbacks, though; and an extended test drive in the SX trim of the Rio line-up may be the only one potential buyers need to cement their choice.
2012 Kia Rio
Trim level: SX
Price as tested (before taxes): $21,695
Options on test vehicle: Navigation pkg. ($1,200).
Configuration: front engine/ front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 1.6L 4-cyl/ 6-spd auto. with sequential shift
Power/torque: 138 hp/ 123 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): Regular (43L)
Fuel economy ratings: 6.8 L/100km city; 4.9 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 6.7 L/100km over 358 km
Warranties: 5 years/100,000 km (comprehensive)
Competitors: Chevrolet Sonic; Ford Fiesta; Mazda2; Nissan Versa; Toyota Yaris.
Strengths: a wealth of technology and standards; low price; great economy
Weaknesses: tight interior