2012 Kia Rio SX
DAMASCUS, Md. (MarketWatch) -- Most people are looking for more bang for the buck during these days of slow economic recovery, and Kia's Rio sedan is loaded with it.
Such goodies as a navigation system, backup camera, great audio system, electronic stability control, sunroof and heated leather seats weren't even offered in this class of car just a few years ago. But they are in the top-of-the-line Kia (000270) Rio SX, and many are standard equipment.
And that's a lot of stuff considering that even with a $2,200 "Premium Package" the test vehicle would roll off the dealer's lot for $20,545. An impressive interior that looks like it belongs in a more expensive car rounds out an initial favorable impression.
That's important, since the Rio faces stiff competition in the subcompact category from the Honda Fit (HMC) , Ford Fiesta (F) , Chevrolet Sonic (GM) and Kia's Korean stablemate, the Hyundai Accent(005380) .
Congratulations to Kia for coming up with such easy-to-use controls. Key switches to adjust audio and ventilation are a very short reach away for the driver and don't require a trip to the owner's manual to figure out.
The front seats have more than ample room for a 6-foot-tall driver and passenger. In a pinch two, similar-sized adults can be accommodated in the rear seats for short trips. Don't scoff at that. There are some cars that cost much more than can't seat two adults in back.
On the highway, the standard 1.6-liter four cranked out 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque, but more is needed. While the six-speed automatic transmission was quick to downshift two gears when pushed, drivers should think carefully about any quick passing maneuvers. Interstate merging is OK for this class of car, whose acceleration iws in line with its competitors. With an all-out, pedal to the floor push, 0-60 comes up in the upper 9-second range. I longed for a standard transmission and small turbo. It would transform this car.
The EPA rates the test Rio at 30 mpg around the city and 40 mpg on the highway, for a combined 33 mpg. On mostly country roads and errand running, the Rio returned 38 mpg during a weeklong test.
Out on those country roads, the Kia showed off its sport-tuned suspension, which was set a bit to the firm side for this type of car. The payoff, of course, is improved handling and by using the shift-it yourself feature, the Rio was kind of fun on some back roads. On the interstates, the occasionally raucous four would settle in rather quietly, but downshifts of a gear or two were the norm up steeper grades. It was fun to scoot around town in the Rio doing daily tasks we all face, plus it was a no-brainer to park.
The seats were all-day comfy; the audio system was one of the best I have heard in this class of car; and road and wind noise were well in line with the competitors. Bluetooth along with USB and auxiliary input jacks were standard equipment.
The Rio comes with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile overall warranty and roadside assistance for that same period.
The bottom line? With its impeccable build quality, impressive standard equipment and affordable options, comfy interior and better than average handling, the Rio serves notice that it is more than ready to take on its subcompact rivals. The 2013 Rio, now in dealers' showrooms, is virtually identical to the 2012 model except for minor trim changes.
Vehicles tested for this column are on loan from the auto companies through local distributors.