Completely redesigned for 2012, the Kia Rio comes ready to pick a fight with anyone in the subcompact segment, armed not only with good numbers in terms of power, fuel economy, warranty and price, but also with a degree of style and, dare we say, refinement not often found in inexpensive cars.
The 2012 Rio four-door sedan and Rio 5-door hatchback versions share styling influences but not all details; with different grilles, tails and side scallops they look more like siblings than twins. Compared with other subcompacts, the Rio models are wider, have a longer wheelbase, shorter overall length and lower roofline; only Nissan's Versa is considerably bigger outside.
Cabins are nicely put together, easy to live with and not overwrought with gimmicky styling. What conveniences aren't standard are usually available and anyone can quickly master the controls. Both models offer useful space. We favor the hatch merely for added load flexibility and maneuverability. Interior room stacks up well against competitors; the Rio is best in terms of front legroom but offers the least rear legroom.
The 2012 Kia Rio mechanicals go a step better than econocar basic. Its 1.6-liter engine uses direct injection to aid power and fuel economy, resulting in the best horsepower in the segment and fuel economy highway ratings in the 40-mpg range. An optional Idle Stop and Go system, typically reserved for more expensive cars, automatically turns the engine off and on at long stops, saving more fuel for urban drivers and reducing emissions.
Rio's 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions and all-disc brakes are uncommon in this bracket, as are its available 17-inch wheels. Suspension is conventional in design, delivering a ride suitable for long commutes and behavior suitable for the class.
Kia's reputation for value is carried on by standard features such as air conditioning and power heated mirrors. Mid-line Rio models have Bluetooth as standard. Upgrades include navigation, UVO infotainment by Microsoft, rear camera, leather upholstery and heated front seats. Like a Mini you can get big-car features in a small car; unlike a Mini you don't pay through the nose for it.
The 2012 Kia Rio is classed as a subcompact and competes against the Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris. Kia says they used the European Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 207 as comparative targets, a good neighborhood to aim for and one our initial impressions say they are competitive with.
The 2012 Kia Rio is offered as a five-door hatchback and a four-door sedan. All Rio models come with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine.
Rio LX ($13,400) and Rio 5-door LX ($13,600) are equipped with a 6-speed manual gearbox or optional 6-speed automatic ($1,100). LX models come with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, wind-up windows and manual door locks, heated power mirrors, tilt steering, variable intermittent wipers, six-way manual driver seat, split folding rear seat, AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX/USB stereo with steering wheel controls and 15-inch steel wheels. Rio 5-door hatchbacks include rear wipe/wash. The only options on LX models are floor mats and a cargo tray. LX automatics offer an optional power window/door lock package.
Rio EX ($16,300) and Rio 5-door EX ($16,500) come with the 6-speed automatic. Rio EX models upgrade with power windows and locks, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, sliding center console armrest, front tweeters, metallic cabin trim with faux leather door panels, power-folding mirrors, cruise control, and chrome trim. Optional on EX are Idle Stop and Go ($400) and a Convenience package ($1,000) of alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel, mirror signal; repeaters, upgraded audio system with UVO-by-Microsoft and rear camera.
Rio SX ($17,500) and Rio 5-door SX ($17,700) are automatic only and build on EX with leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, dual exhaust outlets, sports suspension calibration, 205/45R17 tires on alloy wheels, larger front brakes, projector headlamps, LED tail and front running lamps, fog lamps, painted center dash, alloy pedal covers, and UVO entertainment with rear camera. A premium package ($2,200) adds moonroof, UVO navigation, leather seat surfaces, heated front seats, pushbutton start/smart key, and LED map lights.
Safety features, all standard, include front airbags, front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, electronic stability control and hill-start assist.