Kia Rio5 – creating exclamation (points)

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

There are things we take for granted in the 21st century such as changing channels with a remote control, heating up the leftover pizza in the microwave oven and enjoying a telephone in every room.

We don’t miss stuff we take for granted — until it isn’t there.

Then we wonder how we ever got by without it. Getting up to change the channel? Egad, what a revolting thought. Running through the house to find a ringing phone, forget it. Having nothing with which to instantly turn a can of cold ravioli into something eatable? Simply out of the question!

Really, what did we do without the cell phone, copiers, scanners, faxes, computers and the digital world? Probably fewer heart attacks!

In the trickle down world we can say the same thing about power door locks on a car. After-all power door locks have been around for eons and by now one would think that all cars have power door locks. We now know first-hand that assuming is still a dangerous place to go.

A few weeks ago, we forgot how we have taken this little device for granted. There’s probably a couple generations of drivers who think cars have always come with power door locks. More accurately, they probably don’t even think about power door locks. They’ve never been without them.

We forgot how much we depend on the keyfob button or that little switch on the front door that locks all the doors.

We spent a week in a car without either. If we carried passengers, we had to remember to walk around the car to lock the doors and then insert the key in the rear hatch to return it to a locked position. Unbelievable!

The car also forced us to use a bit of muscle to roll down the windows. We can live without power windows, an inconvenience, yes, but not a life changer. Well then again…

Way back in the dark ages, locking the doors from the driver’s seat meant a long reach to the rear and across the seat. It could be done without getting up. But the locks were positioned on top of the doors and reachable. Many of the new cars today can’t be hand locked that way because the locks are on the side of the door near the door handle. And so it was with our Kia Rio5 test car. The rear doors had to be locked by walking around the car, opening the door, and reaching in for the lock. More aggravation!

The all-new 2006 Rio has a lot going for it including a bargain-basement price. But if you can afford the Rio, you can afford the $600 option price for the power package which includes not only power door locks, but power windows and mirrors and remote keyless entry. Don’t leave the dealership without it. It is money well spent – because living without that stuff is a real pain.

The Kia Rio entered the American market in 2001 as the least expensive car sold here, starting at $9,390. That was bare bones transportation, a very basic car for people wanting something new, but on a very restricted budget.

For 2006, the Rio has been redesigned and re-engineered and now rides on the Hyundai Accent platform. It can still be purchased at a bargain-basement price, starting at $11,110 in base form.

Forget that car and that price.

Power windows and door locks are not the only things missing from the features list. Air conditioning, a stereo system and power steering are also absent and not available on the base model.

Move up to the LX sedan with a 5-speed manual transmission for $12,985 and you’ve got inexpensive transportation you can enjoy. Standard features including air, stereo with CD player and four speakers, power steering, front disc brakes, intermittent wipers and rear defogger.

The 4-speed automatic version comes in at $13,835.

Also available is a four-door hatchback called the Rio5. It comes with a manual transmission ($14,040) or automatic ($14,890).

Our test car was the Rio5 with manual transmission. There are only three options on the Kia list, two of which were included on our test car. We would order all three if we decided to buy the little hatchback. They are the aforementioned power package at $600, antilock brakes at $400 and carpeted floor mats at $70. The antilock brake option also brings disc brakes at all four corners. That would bring the price up to $15,110. And that’s before any bargaining takes place.

You do get some very attractive things on all Rio models regardless of price. They include: the best airbag package in the universe on a car in this price range. Front and side-impact airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags are standard equipment; some of the best gas mileage ratings in the country. The manual transmission Rio5 is rated at 32 miles per gallon in city driving and 35 highway. The automatic is rated at 29 city and 38 highway; one of the best warranties in the business including a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, a 5-year, 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance for five years regardless of mileage. This equates to real value.

The Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter inline 4 with variable valve timing. Horsepower is an energetic 110 and torque is measured at 107 pound-feet.

We found the engine up to the task of moving the car in acceptable fashion when mated to the 5-speed manual. Perhaps the nice off-line push and acceptable mid-range performance can be attributed to the car’s feather-like weight of only 2,438 pounds. The power to weight ratio is extraordinary. Published time for 0 to 60 is 9 seconds.

In a more recent test of a Rio sedan – quite fashionable with its inset black slash trim and with an automatic transmission its performance did suffer just a bit but in reality not enough to put you off the car. Most wouldn’t know the difference and enthusiasts wouldn’t be lining up to buy the Rio in any case. The little sedan also came with all three available extras and truthfully it is a quite adequate and pleasant car that would be easy to live with.

While the car is relatively quiet for the segment, the engine has a harsh, thrashy sound when pushed hard.

We found the 5-speed shifts accurately, but has a rubbery feel. And engaging reverse was not always successful. When we didn’t get the gear quite seated, we got a loud mechanical whine that reminded us to try again. The automatic performed well with little shift shock.

The interior is well done with materials that are pleasing to look at. The center console is artfully canted toward the driver. Gauges are easy to read and switchgear is handy.

We found the front seats a bit hard, but we didn’t take the Kia on an extended journey, so we can’t report on long-distance comfort.

The Rio5 rear seats fold forward in a 60-40 configuration. When folded, the hatchback has a useable 50 cubic feet of storage space. And we made use of all of it on an afternoon of costly but absolutely necessary shopping foray and a couple of trips to one home store or another.

The exterior has very pleasing lines. The hatchback is more attractive than the sedan to our eyes. A black mesh grille surrounded by angular headlights gives the front a modern appearance. The roof flows neatly back into the hatch. Bulging fender flares add a hint of aggressiveness and 15-inch alloy wheels nicely compliment the entire package.

We had seven days of fun with the little Rio5. But those seven days would have been even more enjoyable with a power-locking keyfob and power windows as we had in the sedan.

The biggest problem for the new Rio is the growth of the competitive segment. Already out there are good entries from the Chevrolet Aveo and the Suzuki Aerio. Toyota, Honda and Nissan will soon introduce new sub-compacts to the U.S. called, respectively, the Yaris, Fit and Versa. Each will make its own mark, but overall the segment should do well and Rio has a nice head start.

The Rio is certainly worth a test drive for people who need to watch their dollars, except for spending that extra $600 that keeps you up to date – in any city.