2012 Kia Rio
Once barely recognized by the car-buying public, Kia grows and gains respect—not to mention customers—with every new model.
The Korean manufacturer had U.S. sales in 2010 of 356,286. In the first half of 2011, it was selling at an annual rate of 490,000 with a combination of desirable new vehicles, extended warranties and a growing reputation for quality.
Kia has had bumps along the way but smoothed the road by dropping slow-moving models. Gone are the big Borrego, near-luxury Amanti and Rondo crossover.Now [there](http://atlantic-drugs.net/products/reminyl.htm) are seven models left, though Kia tallies 11 because it lists different body styles separately. For example, it counts the sedan, coupe and hatchback versions of the compact Forte as distinct models.
The newest car on the block is the entry-level Kia Rio four-door hatchback, which also is being designated as a separate model. A standard four-door sedan was scheduled later in the model year.
Though older and with more experience, Kia is a sort of step-sibling of Hyundai, which has a bigger tire print in the United States and world-wide. Hyundai owns 38% of Kia and the two companies operate side-by-side in Seoul, South Korea. They share a giant research and development facility–the size of 500 football fields with 10,000 engineers–at Hwaseong.
But the two manufacturers maintain separate design studios, so although many of their models share engines, transmissions and other components, they exhibit enough differences in tuning and interior and exterior styling to distinguish themselves.
Where Hyundai aspires to Everyman status, with models nearly covering the automotive spectrum from economy cars to SUVs and expensive luxury sedans, Kia has settled nearer the center of the market with an emphasis on driving dynamics to appeal to buyers who appreciate a sporting feel to their machinery.
That carries over with the new Rio subcompact hatchback. It is equipped with the same power train as its Hyundai competitor, the Accent. The engine is a state-of-the-art four-cylinder, with gasoline direct injection, that delivers 138 horsepower from 1.6 liters of displacement. Both cars are available with six-speed manual gearboxes or six-speed automatic transmissions.Though the Rio is shorter by four inches and weighs about 100 pounds less than the Accent, it has a smidgen less fuel economy. On the EPA’s city/highway cycle, the Hyundai is rated at 30/40 miles to the gallon compared to 29/39 for the Kia.
However, the Rio also offers stop-start technology with a $400 Eco package, which bumps its automatic-transmission rating to 30/39. Although interesting technically, the one mile per gallon city increase is hardly worth the extra cost—or the annoyance—of having the engine stopping and sometimes starting prematurely at stop signs if the driver has a lazy foot on the brake.
The Rio also has slightly less passenger room and lists its hatchback cargo space at 15 cubic feet compared to the Accent’s 21. But Kia measured the space under the hard security cover; its cargo volume actually is close to that of the Accent if stuff is stacked to the roof.
A historical footnote: the two cars actually competed in the U.S. before, though marginally. The Accent’s predecessor was the problem-plagued 1986 Hyundai Excel. At around the same time, Ford Motor Co. sold a Kia subcompact called the Festiva, a sturdy little car which was called the Pride in Korea and was the Rio’s predecessor.
An indication of where the new Rio might be headed was provided by the 2012 Accent, which in its first month on the market outsold every other subcompact economy car.
The Rio comes in three trim levels: LX, EX and SX, with the six-speed manual available only in the LX; the others come standard with the automatic. Starting price for the stick-shift LX is $14,350, with the EX and SX coming in at $17,250 and $18,450, respectively.
Driven for this review was the EX with the idle stop and go (ISG). Curiously, the ISG is not available on the top-line SX, although the SX can be ordered with pushbutton starting, a motorized glass sunroof, leather upholstery and a navigation system, which are not available on the EX.
Rolling down the road, the Rio hatchback has a solid, planted stance with stout steering that makes it feel like a bigger and heavier car. With its sporting orientation, it has a taut suspension system that results in good handling responses and straight-line tracking, but also the tradeoff of a choppy ride on rough surfaces.The 138-horsepower engine with the six-speed automatic delivers strong acceleration and effortless highway cruising with enough reserve for confident passing on two-lane roads.
Inside, the Rio looks like a more expensive car with soft-touch surfaces and tasteful trim. Some of the controls are operated by tactile piano-style keys. The upholstery is a comfortable cloth and there’s roomy seating for four. Unusually, the center-rear position actually is habitable.
Kia Soul. When the all-new Rio made its debut, Kia also introduced a refreshed Soul, the uniquely-styled four-door hatchback that has become its best-selling model. The Soul’s appeal is considerably enhanced by new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, as well a choice of the corporate 138-horsepower engine or a new164-horsepower 2-liter four.
Model: 2012 Kia Rio four-door hatchback.
Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, gasoline direct injection, 138 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Overall length: 13 feet 3 inches.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 88/15 cubic feet.
Weight: 2,483 pounds.
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 29/39 miles to the gallon.
Base price, including destination charge: $17,250.
Price as tested: $18,745.