The first Kia Rio was dropped on these shores back in 2000 as the Korean automaker’s entry-level car. Short on refinement with forgettable looks and little more to brag about than a cheap price, the Rio had little going for it. The Rio has finally grown up and is fully prepared to take on all comers. Now in its third generation, the 2012 Rio is a complete redesign, and just from looking at the pic above, the Rio is no wallflower. But it takes more than good looks to stand out in this competitive market. Read on to see if the Rio is a true, well-rounded car.
The first thing you notice are the striking looks of the Rio. If the Rio has a European accent, that is not by accident, as a former Audi designer heads up Kia’s design department. But it works, and the Rio has a fresh, contemporary, upscale look that belies its low starting price. Our test car was the SX model which added smartly styled 17″ alloys, twin chrome exhaust tips, fog lights and LED lighting front and rear. Our Rio looked decidedly upmarket, and far classier than any other car at this price point.
Inside, the Rio is also a car that confirms the days of economy car cabins as dreary penalty boxes are behind us. And again, the cabin carries the theme of the exterior-smart, clean, and classy. Yes, there are hard plastics to be found, but the general look and feel of the interior does not shout bargain basement. I appreciated thoughtful touches like the chrome ringed gauges, metallic trim and aluminum pedals, which added some brightness and personality to our test car’s all black interior. The seats were comfortable, and overall the interior offered plenty of room. The trunk offered enough room that should suit any small family.
The Rio is offered with one engine, a 1.6L direct injected four developing 138hp. A six-speed manual transmission is offered only in the base LX model, while other trim levels come standard with a six-speed automatic. I find it a little odd that our SX test car is the considered the ‘sporty’ Rio, yet the buyer has no choice but to get an automatic. Not that I had any complaints about it, as our car banged off smooth, crisp shifts. Our Rio zipped through local traffic easily. While not at all harsh, Kia has not quite yet reached the level of refinement seen in Honda and Toyota four cylinders. Especially admirable are the Rio’s EPA fuel economy rating of 30/40 MPG city/highway. Our Rio has a tightly buttoned down, firm ride, which I appreciated. Our SX had a sport-tuned suspension, so lesser Rio’s will no doubt has a softer ride.
From the start, the Rio has always been offered in both four door sedan and hatchback body styles. A base Rio LX sedan with a manual transmission starts at $13,600USD, with EX and SX trims filling out the line. Our test car was the top-spec SX sedan. All Rios come well equipped, but in addition the features already mentioned, our SX came standard with Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth, UVO in-vehicle infotainment center with a rear view camera, steering wheel controls, and power folding heated exterior mirrors. Our test car included the Premium Package, which added GPS Navigation with Sirius Traffic, power sunroof, push button start with smart key, leather seats, and heated front seats. Including destination charges, our Rio had an MSRP of $20,545. For that price, that is quite reasonable for a car packed with premium features that were once the domain of luxury marques with prices triple that of our little Rio.
For 2012 Kia has reinvented the Rio from a forgettable als0-ran to a top-flight contender. With the choice of sedan or hatchback, basic transportation to a car packed with the latest in technology features, Kia has the field covered, while doing so at a very reasonable price, regardless of your preference. My sole fault was with its dashing, sporty good looks that the SX cannot be had with a manual transmission. Add that and you’ll look and feel like you’re driving a smaller sized Euro sport sedan. To sum, Kia has knocked this one out of the ballpark. This once forgettable car now stands at the head of its class, and is a must-see for anyone in the market for a small four door car that gives up nothing for style and features while delivering the value and economy buyers demand.