They say you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but that’s exactly what Kia has done with the all-new 2012 Rio. The eye-catching design, impressive fuel economy, up-to-date technology and fun-to-drive performance make Rio a slick competitor in the subcompact class.
Kia Motors has undergone a transformation as part of the automaker’s design-led strategy for continued gains in U.S. market share. The 2012 Rio 5-door hatchback and Rio sedan are the latest to join Kia’s dynamically styled lineup.
The new Rio models look nothing like their predecessors. Now, the new 2012 sedan and hatchback have their own interpretations of Kia’s athletic profiles that mimic the aggressive lines found on other recently launched Kia vehicles, such as the Optima and Sportage.
Using unibody construction, the front-wheel-drive Rio has a rather ordinary suspension system. With MacPherson struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front and a torsion beam axle suspension in the rear, ride and handling are, none the less, smooth, responsive and comfortable in a variety of driving situations.
The electric power steering provides the right amount of assistance while improving fuel economy. A sport-tuned suspension on SX trims offers enhanced handling characteristics, but its low-profile tires lessen ride comfort.
Rio is available in three trims, LX, EX and SX. Base price for the sedan is $13,400 and the 5-door starts at $13,600. It’s going to be a real challenge to find a better value than these prices.
A 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder engine, rated at 138 horsepower, powers all Rio models. Kia’s GDI — Gasoline Direct Injection — is an important technology that enables very small engines to deliver impressive performance and fuel economy. Coupled to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission either powertrain provides a more than adequate combination of power and fuel efficiency with a highway rating of 40 miles per gallon, and 30 mpg in the city. The operation of the automatic transmission is so smooth that shifting from gear to gear is barely noticeable.
Rio also uses ISG technology, a strategy that improves fuel economy by turning the engine off when the vehicle is not moving, such as at a stop light or in traffic. It automatically restarts when the driver releases the brake pedal. At first, it’s a little unnerving to sense that the engine has stopped, but we found it doesn’t take long to get accustomed to it.
While not exactly spacious, the inside of the 2012 Rio has a feeling of roomy comfort. Cargo space is an impressive 13.7 cubic feet for the sedan and 15.0 cu.-ft. for the hatchback.
Standard on the LX trim is a six-way adjustable driver’s seat, tilt steering column, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, trip computer, electric power steering and 60/40 split folding rear seats.
The EX trim package adds a few comfort/convenience features, and the SX gets an athletic look with metal pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, map lights, illuminated vanity mirrors and a voice-activated infotainment system with rear camera display. Many popular technology features are standard on all trims, including an AM/FM/CD/MP3/SAT audio system.
The 2012 Rio is well equipped with standard safety features, including six airbags, height-adjustable front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters, and three-point seatbelts for all seating positions. Also standard on all Rio trims are Electronic Stability Control, a four-wheel Anti-lock Brake System, Hill-start Assist Control and Vehicle Stability Management that coordinates the car’s ESC and ABS. — Dave Van Sickle, Motor Matters
Manufacturer photo: For 2012, Kia equips the all-new Rio with a state-of-the-art 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder Gamma powerplant, which is one of Ward’s “10 Best Engines.” The editors of WardsAuto recognized the engine’s combination of performance and fuel efficiency with a class-leading 138 horsepower while maintaining class-leading fuel economy of 30/40 mpg.
2012 KIA RIO LX
VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD subcompact sedan
BASE PRICE___________________ $13,400 (as tested: $14,150)
MOTOR TYPE___________________ 16-valve 4-cylinder w/GDI
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 138 at 6300 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 123 at 4850 rpm
TRANSMISSION_________________ 6-speed manual
WHEELBASE____________________ 101.2 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 171.9 in.
TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) 33.5 ft.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 11.4 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2012