Kia Rio hatchback — An amiable companion

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We tested the 2012 Kia Rio hatchback during the hectic holiday season and we soon realized it was just the right vehicle; something to jump into and out of without a second thought. The Rio was always ready to negotiate the traffic snarls of holiday suburbia, running here and there.
An extra trip to the supermarket and then a five-minute trek to the cleaners; and on and on until you wanted to scream. These uneconomical fits and starts a couple days before the big holiday would be gruesome in a heavy-duty pickup or a cool sports car, neither meant for crowded parking lots. So by the end of the week the Rio had become our old friend, and an amiable companion.
To culminate the holiday our Kia was transformed from an errand runner into a motorized sleigh comfortably carrying four adults and a half dozen gifts to their destination 40 miles away over a couple of two-lane highways, a 10-mile stretch of interstate and about two miles of city streets.
And then our dependable friend was gone, and truthfully we were sorry to see it go.
Stylish inside and out, comfortable behind the wheel, easy to drive, enough performance to handle all merges and passing maneuvers without drama, and equipped with enough amenities — including a backup camera and satellite radio — to satisfy even old, jaded auto journalists. 
The Rio is almost a180-degree turn from the first two generations of the car. As serious an upgrade as you will see in any vehicle from one generation to the next. Indeed, the Rio is stand-up ready to do battle in the suddenly robust subcompact market that is brimming with excellent new offerings including the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Mazda2, Chevrolet Sonic, and Kia’s cousin, the Hyundai Accent.
All Rios are equipped with a direct-injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder gas engine generating 138 horsepower and mated to ether a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. That's a fairly healthy engine for the segment and rather impressive figuring it returns top-of-the-segment fuel economy of 40 mpg city, and 30 mpg highway. We recently tested a competitor's offering with equal gas mileage, but with 29 less horsepower.
By the numbers, the little Kia can climb from 0 to 60 in 9.5 seconds and complete a quarter mile run in 17.2 seconds at 81 mph. What this tells us is that you really need not be concerned over a lack of power. And then there's the numbers on paper and how the car feels in real-world driving. Let's say our test Kia felt better in most situations than even these good numbers would indicate.
The downside — and this is a downside with most small four-cylinder engines — is that the four bangers can be rather noisy under hard acceleration. But that shouldn't be often and if you have the satellite radio cranked up, you may never notice.
One of the neat features of the drivetrain setup will be Kia's so-called Idle-Stop-Go (ISG) which helps to improve fuel economy by turning the engine off when the vehicle is not in motion — such as at a stop light or in traffic— and automatically restarting when the driver releases the brake pedal. The Rio, so says Kia, is the first car outside of the hybrid and luxury segments to use the technology.
ISG is expected to add one mile per gallon to the city cycle. Interesting to note the ISG will come with a kill switch so that the air conditioning can remain on in hot weather. Creature comfort in this case tops fuel economy.
Pricing for the all-new 2012 Rio 5-door subcompact hatchback begins at $14,350 while the Rio 5-door with an automatic starts at $15,450 — both prices are lower than the previous generation. Rio is also available as a sedan.
The mid-level EX starts at $17,250 and the SX starts at $18,450. The top-of-the-line, SX trim including the Premium package tops the line-up at $20,650 and includes navigation with SiriusXM Traffic that replaces UVO in-vehicle infotainment system, a rear camera, and push-button start with Smart Key, leather seat trim, heated front seats and a power sunroof with tilt. Pricing for the sedan begins at $14,150 and works up to $18,250 for the SX trim. All prices include destination charges.
Our test car was the hatchback with mid-level EX trim, nicely appointed for $17,250 including destination charge. A convenience package and floor mats pushed the total to $18,345.
The Rio exhibits Kia’s strong California design language from the signature grille to the highly sculpted shoulder lines. Both the hatch and sedan are hunkered down and athletic with bold wedge-shapes; the sedan a bit less so than the more dynamic hatchback. 
The interior of the Rio is spacious and comfortable with ample space for passengers both in front and rear. The cabin should be a serious focus of all car designers because it's what owners see the most, and in the case of the Rio it is a job well done. Build and material quality are first rate, fit and finish is excellent and even though there are a lot of hard plastics (to be expected in a so-called economy car) they are nicely grained and do not detract from the overall appearance.
Our two rear-seat adult passengers had no issues with legroom with the front seats at what we consider normal driving and passenger positions. While there is not a lot of storage space behind the second row (15 cubic feet) the hatchback can hold up to 49.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
The sedan has a nice-sized-for-the-segment trunk of 13.7 cubic feet. And the rear seat backs fold for extra storage capability.
If on a tight budget and feel you must opt for the base vehicle, fret not. It comes with considerable standard equipment including air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, a four-speaker sound system with CD player and satellite radio, a full array of airbags, antilock brakes and traction and stability control. If you want to step up just a bit opt for the power package, which at $1,000 appears to be a bargain; it brings power windows, power doorlocks and keyless remote.
Kia is on the move and in fact was the fastest growing car company (by percentage) in 2011. The new Rio is an excellent example of Kia's success. 
Base price: $14,350; as driven, $18,345
Engine: 1.6-liter direct injection 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 138 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 123 pound-feet @ 4,850 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 101.2
Length: 159.3
Curb weight: 2,483
Turning circle: 34.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 15 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 49.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 11.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 40 mpg highway, 30 mpg city
0-60: 9.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa
The Good:
• Stylish both inside and out
• Excellent feature content for price
• 40 mpg highway mileage
The Bad:
• Rear visibility hampered by design
The Ugly:
• Noisy engine under hard acceleration