First, the base price for this reinvented subcompact sedan, the 2012 Kia Rio: $13,795. For that, you get a 138-horsepower engine, six airbags, power windows, (heated) side mirrors and door locks, lighted vanity mirrors, a four-speaker, MP3-capable, AM/FM/CD sound system with USB port and 15-inch steel wheels.
Yes, you’ll find a Ford Fiesta starting at $12,999, a Nissan Versa starting at $11,788 and a Hyundai Accent with a base price of $13,199, but Kia Canada product planning supervisor Kyle Buller argues that his Rio has more stuff for the money and that really shows up in the so-called Volume model, the LX+ with automatic transmission at $16,505.
Three key differences: the Kia has four-wheel disc brakes, heated seats and Bluetooth technology – and among comparably equipped and priced rivals, only the Chevrolet Sonic LS (A/T or automatic transmission) at $15,795 for the sedan has Bluetooth and only the Accent GL (A/T at $16,599) has four-wheel discs – and the Rio, he reminds me, has other equipment and performance advantages.
Horsepower is one of them. The Rio and its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Accent, share the same powertrain (engine/transmission) and it’s a good one, a modern, smooth four-banger with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing. At 6.8 litres/100 km city and 4.9 highway, the Rio is thriftier than the Ford Fiesta (120 hp), Sonic (135 hp), Toyota Yaris (106 hp) and Nissan Versa (109 hp). The Rio is also better than the 138-hp Accent in the city, but just a little behind on the highway.
From behind the wheel, the Rio is quick enough and the six-speed manual gearbox manages gear changes with direct throws and a light-ish clutch. The electric power steering is weighted for a good balance between city and highway driving. This car is not sluggish, nor does is lack for power.
The design, the exterior, is not as racy as the Kia Optima sedan and perhaps it’s not even as daring as the Accent. I’m surprised by this, given Kia is a so-called youth brand. The car is not likely to be a total head-turner. That sounds like damning with faint praise and perhaps it’s not fair to do so. The Rio is pretty but fairly anonymous looking.
The cabin is neat and tidy and well-conceived. The cloth seats in my tester were stuffed with a dense foam that provided very good support – surprisingly good. The steering wheel is thick and meaty and feels good in your hands. No complaints about the instrument cluster, either, and I was particularly pleased with the big knobs to adjust the climate control. And the cabin is roomy enough for four, too, with a trunk large enough to hold a large set of golf clubs and two big suitcases.
Kia is going to sell truckloads of Rios. This subcompact looks good, seems to have very good build quality and comes very well equipped, with a strong engine and good fuel economy. This car will be a real challenge for Kia’s competitors – especially those lagging on the performance side of things. Buyers are going to like that sort of competition.