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  • Chris_Doane

    2012 Kia Rio SX 5-Door

    By Chris Doane

    January 29, 2013

    I know I won’t get much, if any, sympathy when I say that, sometimes, there are letdowns when you review cars. Last week, the car I was evaluating was a $100,000, 400hp, German coupe. (Read my review of the 2012 BMW 650i xDrive coupe here) I’ve now stepped directly from that into a Kia Rio.

    I’ll pause for your laughter.

    For the price of the super coupe, you can buy 5.4 Kia Rios. You could keep that .4 for spare parts?

    But don’t let price fool you. Oddly enough, there is something about the way the Kia drives that beats the German car hands down.


    If you guessed power, speed or luxury, then you’re either not familiar with these cars, or you’re three martinis into “lunch” at the bar. What the much cheaper Kia does have over the German car is steering feel. The coupe from Deutschland has 262 more horse power, yards and yards of leather, but in the Kia, I actually have some sense of what the front wheels are doing via what I feel through the steering wheel. And I’ll take some feel over none any day.

    If driving is something you enjoy, steering feel is pretty useful information to have when zipping through the corners. Even if driving is nothing more than a task for you, it’s pretty nice to know when the front wheels feel like they’re about to lose traction. While no one would ever mistake the Rio for a sporty, corner carving car, the Rio SX model has a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels, and light, responsive steering that, somehow, make this small, underpowered car a little bit fun to drive.

    It’s a bit like a go-kart, only with airbags, a trunk and room for five passengers. Well, 4.5 anyway.

    The main reason I say “a little bit fun to drive” is because of the 1.6L, 138hp four cylinder motor in the Rio. Those hot, 17-inch wheels on this Rio SX might make it look quick, but this hatchback ain’t going anywhere fast. While there is certainly power to be had from this little four-banger, you’ve got to rev the snot out of it to reach that power. Once the tachometer reads 4500-5000rpm, then you approach something that could be considered acceleration.

    In regular, everyday driving, the lack of power isn’t really an issue. You’ll get through the city, and around the highways, just fine. But in some situations, like passing on even a modest incline, you might think twice. As I attempted to pass an older, slower Nissan on a slight uphill, the pass happened in such slow fashion that I would’ve had time to say hello to the driver, ask if he was hungry, make a sandwich, and pass it over. Wait, did he want Grey Poupon?


    So we don’t have speed, but that should come as no surprise since this car is intended more for fuel efficiency. The Rio is rated for 28mpg city, 36mpg highway, and we observed a 31mpg average with sporty driving habits and more highway driving than city driving. There is also an “eco” button you can press that reigns in the engine, and transmission shift points, for increased fuel economy.

    Even though the fuel economy is fairly good, the tank in the Rio is pretty tiny at 11.3 gallons. If you have a long commute, you’ll still be filling up a lot, but at least you’ll only be pumping in 11 gallons each time.

    If you want to know when that tank is about to run dry, it’s not a good idea to rely on the digital, remaining range readout in the gauge cluster. One moment, the Rio SX told me I could drive another 31 miles before I was out of fuel. Less than 5 minutes of regular driving later, it told me I had no range remaining.

    Inside the Rio, it’s about what you’d expect in a $18,545 car. A nicely designed, mostly hard plastic interior, but with soft touch material in the right spots and a backup camera. Wait, what? A backup camera in a $18,545 car? Touch-screen nav too? Don’t forget the power fold mirrors. Though, in a car this narrow, I’m not really sure why you’d ever need to fold in the mirrors.


    Of those features, it’s the backup camera that is almost a necesity due to the massive blind spots the stylish C-pillars create. Without a rear-facing camera, backing out of a parking spot involves more prayer than driving skill.

    Normally, in cars of this price range, the seats suffer when it comes to comfort. Somehow, the chairs in the Rio manage not to do that. They certainly aren’t heavily padded or bosltered seats, but after three hours of wheeling, I was perfectly comfortable, and ready for three more.

    Frankly, the best part of the Rio is how fantastic it looks. If you venture back even a few years ago and look at the cars Kia was producing then, you’d never have guessed this company was capable of designing something this good looking.

    Not only does the exterior design trump the Scion xB, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa, but it certainly holds its’ own against the Chevy Sonic and Ford Fiesta as well.


    2012 Kia Rio SX 5-door - $17,700

    -Carpeted Floor Mats - $95

    -Destination - $750

    TOTAL - $18,545


    Album: 2012 Kia Rio SX 5-Door

    7 images


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    SHOOT, I forgot about the Rio... you know, I've always liked the European looks of the current Rio, and with Kia's warranty and the nice features... maybe I should look at one. With a manual transmission and mostly highway commute, I would hopefully beat the tested fuel mileage average. Off to Build&Price!

    EDIT: nevermind. They suck. No manual transmission available on the nicer trims. So thankful Sonic and Fiesta are available with a fun, manual transmission in LTZ and Titanium trims.

    Edited by ocnblu
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    Interesting Jelly Bean of a car. While it tends to just blend in like all other commuter cars, I do apprecaite the Chris talked about a very important feedback. I love to drive and I want to feel what the auto is doing. If you do not know where the car is at any given point, then do not waste money on performance cars. The whole Idea is to becomeone with the machine and push the limits as long as you get proper feedback.

    Pass on the car, but glad it has some feedback via the wheel. :P

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    stylish for what it is, inside and out. some cheapness that just comes in that price range.

    Kia has done a very good job.

    I think it was stupid for kia to change the Spectra name to Forte. I think they lost a lot of customers on that move. The Spectra was gaining a lot of traction in the market, and then they pulled it.......started selling the "Forte" and it got lost in translation.

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    that is not the only reason.

    i think the styling was a bit amiss and there was some interior cheapness. It was trying to be too cool. This Rio is slightly cool, but still has a proper amount of mainstream.

    At the time, Spectra name was gaining a lot of traction but it was not cool enough, Forte killed all the brand equity in the Spectra name. If the next Forte had the looks of this Rio enlarged, and had been named Spectra all along, I think it would probably doing serious volume and making huge cuts into Corolla and Civic sales.

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