2012 Kia Rio 5-Door

Review: 2012 Kia Rio

Five doors, no waiting: We drive the 2012 Kia Rio hatchback.

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: November 22nd, 2011

Subcompacts have long been the refuge of the poor, or so the stereotype goes. Want a small car? Want fuel efficiency? Well, that’s fine, but since you aren’t ponying up the big bucks, you must sacrifice on content. Not to mention fun-to-drive factor.

So the old stereotype goes, anyway. Well, every automaker that has launched a new or redesigned subcompact in the past few years has been trying to make small cars cool again.

Enter the redesigned Kia Rio. With so many new options in the class, and with Kia in the middle of a brand transformation, Kia’s small car needs to compete with the likes of the Ford Fiesta, the Chevy Sonic, the Honda Fit, and the Hyundai Accent, which shares the same platform and powerplant.

The good news is that Kia has a good start here. Gone is the boring old Rio with a car that has updated looks and more power, thanks to a 138-horsepower direct-injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder. There are two body style choices—five-door hatch and four-door sedan—and three trims: Entry level LX, mid-level EX, and sport-themed SX. We tested an EX five-door.

  • Features & Prices

    Our EX came standard with a six-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is only available on LX models), 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, ABS, traction control, stability control, cruise control, Bluetooth, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, keyless entry, split-folding rear seats, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, a USB port, an auxiliary jack, satellite radio, and a cargo cover. An optional Convenience Package added $1,000 to the $16 ,500 base price, and brings features like alloy wheels, power folding outside mirrors, fog lamps, turn signals on the exterior mirrors, Kia’s UVO infotainment system, a rearview camera, a soft-touch dashboard, and more. Carpeted floor mats added another $95, and the $750 destination fee took the overall total to $18,345.

  • Performance

    What that gets you is a sporty-feeling subcompact that offers 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. While the Rio doesn’t have the couture threads of the Accent—it looks a lot more plain—it still has the new Kia family grille, and it looks far less awkward than before. Perhaps more importantly, it drives with a gusto that gives it urban runabout cred. Nearly 140 ponies in a car this size makes for quick if not stunning acceleration, and the steering provides appropriately sporty responses, as does the car itself—the Rio feels nimble and sprightly in urban settings. However, our early experiences on the car’s launch in Texas remind us that its tires do give up the ghost too early when pushed—although that won’t be an issue for all but perhaps one percent (yeah, we went there) of Rio buyers.

  • Interior

    A little bit of excess noise trickles in at highway speeds, and there is a bit of stiffness to the ride, although it’s not unpleasant. The cockpit is a nice place to do business, and there’s enough cargo room for luggage, as long as you pack light (at least if traveling in a group).

    The switchgear functions as advertised, with the aircraft-like HVAC toggle switches adding a nice touch, and the rearview camera is appreciated. Leg and headroom upfront is fine even for drivers on the tall side.

  • Conclusion

    What Kia has cooked up here is a competent car with more than a little personality. It doesn’t have the looks of the Accent, but it’s more fun to drive than its counterpart, and offers nice value for the money. We’d like it if the Rio could turn more heads—and be more willing to dance when the road starts to turn—but for urban and suburban commuters searching for an above-average hatch, the formerly forgotten Rio is now worth a very long look.

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• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2012 Kia Rio, click here: 2012 Kia Rio.