Not so long ago, while you could get a compact car for an attractive price, it often lacked style, conveniences, luxury and gadgets. Things have been different for several years now and certain manufacturers – like Kia, for example – have forced the market to adjust. The new Rio proves that these days, you don’t need to suffer while driving a more affordable car. Not only is the Rio well executed, it features a list of factory standard equipment that would put many a luxury car to shame.
Last year, Kia introduced the new five-door Rio wagon, and a four-door sedan has been available for a while now. Although the five-door versions are generally a little sexier, the South Korean manufacturer has managed to make a very nice sedan. Its design is courtesy of Peter Schreyer, who has radically transformed Kia’s models. He’s responsible for the magnificent Optima, definitely one of the manufacturer’s most beautiful works. In the case of the Rio sedan, there are only a few of the Optima’s style elements, such as the front grille. The backward plunging roofline imitates the lines of a coupe, minimizing the more severe design that we normally find with sedans. Basically, the car features a dynamic and elegant look, and that goes double for the SX that features things like very nice 17-inch alloy rims.
Among the most powerful
The Rio shares its mechanical components with the Hyundai Accent, thus it has a very modern 1.6-litre four-cylinder under the hood that integrates the latest technology, including direct fuel injection: it’s a long way from Kia’s old engines. In fact, this 1.6-litre is one of the most powerful in its category with its 138 horses and 123 lbs-ft of torque. That’s more power than practically all of the Rio’s rivals, especially the Mazda2 (100 horses) and Toyota Yaris (106 horses). Only the Nissan Versa has more torque. Power is transmitted to the front wheels by a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional six-speed automatic. To maximize fuel economy, note that there’s a Stop and Go system available that shuts off the engine when the vehicle is stopped, which is a something that’s often offered on more expensive vehicles.
The passenger compartment is meticulous and the quality of the assembly is much better than with the previous model. The ergonomics and vision are excellent and it feels like a roomy car that’s more imposing than a compact. You’ll quickly feel at ease and the numerous adjustments for the seat and steering wheel facilitate the search for a good driving position.
Competitive price to equipment ratio
Where Kia sets itself apart is with its equipment. For several years, the manufacturer made its mark by offering good quality products and, in the case of the new Rio, they push the envelope. After a week of driving the SX sedan, the most luxurious of the lot at a tad more than $20,000, we wonder what more one could want in a car. Our car came with fully equipped, including leather trim, heated seats and steering wheel, cooled glove compartment, automatic climate control and a navigation system. Those things are often optional on many luxury cars. Even the Rio base version comes well equipped factory standard and the safety features are not optional.
The Rio is a nice compact at an affordable price that is jam packed with equipment. But how does it handle itself on the road? It would have been a dream car if the Rio had as exciting a ride as a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, but, of course, that isn’t the case. Kia hasn’t yet managed to accomplish this feat. However, with its 138 horses, the engine is reasonably powerful, and the Rio is far from under-powered. Press down on the accelerator and it jumps forward with a very invasive engine sound. You can tell it’s working hard.
As is the case with many Kia models, the Rio’s steering is very heavy at first, but it’s a lot less noticeable at higher speed. With its new platform, the Rio is armed with an independent front suspension and a rear torsion bar suspension. While Hyundai emphasizes comfort, Kia is all about handling and sportiness. Sure, it’s no race car, but we like its ride and especially the rigidity of the body.
Basically, this new generation transports the Rio from the rear to the head of the pack and makes it one of the most attractive vehicles in the segment, especially when you consider its excellent 5 year/100,000 km warranty, which is another significant advantage over the competition. The Rio is proof positive that nowadays, affordable cars and fun can go together.
|Test model||2012 Kia Rio/Rio5|
|Trim level||Sedan SX|
|Price range||$13,795 - $20,795|
|Price as tested||$18,750|
|Warranty (basic)||5 years / 100,000 km|
|Warranty (powertrain)||5 years / 100,000 km|
|Competitive models||Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Mazda2, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris|
|Value for price|