By William Maley
Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com
May 28, 2013
We all have that story of that one person we know that underwent a massive transformation. It starts off with the person who dumpy, bit nerdy, either really skinny or fat, or a number of items. Then maybe a few years on, you run into that same person and almost don’t recognize them. They’re dressed up in some nice clothing, loss some weight, built up some strength, and a few other things here and there.
The same is true for vehicles. When the first-generation Kia Rio was introduced back in 2000, it became the cheapest vehicle you could buy in the U.S. It also earned the dubious honor of the ‘cheap and cheerful’ label since everything else about the vehicle wasn’t that good. The second-generation Rio brought forth a more aggressive look, but it was a vehicle you would recommend only to your worst enemy. The third-generation Rio, introduced back in 2012, surprised everyone. Here was a vehicle that had sexy styling, a very impressive interior, and some clever tricks. But underneath of that skin, has Kia made a subcompact vehicle that can put its past life to rest? I had a 2013 Kia Rio SX sedan for a week to try and answer this question.
There is a golden rule concerning subcompact designs: Most of time, the hatchback is better looking than the sedan. In the case of the Rio sedan, it’s just as good or slightly better looking than the hatchback. Design elements of Kia’s design chief, Peter Schreyer are very evident in the Rio’s design. Starting up front, a smaller version of Kia’s tiger mouth grille makes an appearance and is flanked by a set of swept-up headlights. From the side, the doors feature two distinct character lines; one running along the bottom edge to the rear wheel well and the other running through the door handles to the trunk. There is also a set of seventeen-inch machine-finished alloy wheels that really help finish off the Rio.
The Rio’s interior is a nice place to sit. The design is very handsome and puts the controls within easy reach of the driver and passenger. Surprisingly, Kia put a good amount of soft touch materials on the dashboard and door sills which give it an aire of luxury. As for space, the Rio is surprisingly roomy. You can fit four passengers in comfort, if they are all under six-feet. Seats are very supportive for both front and rear passengers.
Also helping helping with the luxury aura is the amount of standard equipment. You get a trip computer, Kia’s UVO infotainment system, USB and aux jacks, Bluetooth, side curtain airbags, heated and folding sideview mirrors, and a backup camera. You can increase the luxuries in the Rio by adding the Premium package which includes navigation, leather seats with heat, a proximity key with push-button start, and a sunroof. With a pricetag of $2,350 for the package, I highly recommend it.
Powering the Rio is a 1.6L GDI four-cylinder engine with 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. That is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Power in the Rio SX sedan is adequate. It does take a moment or so for the engine to build up some steam. Plus when you’re trying to make a pass, you’re wishing just for a little bit more power. But once the engine is up to speed, it displays a surprising amount of refinement. However, the 1.6L GDI excels at fuel economy. The EPA rates the 2013 Kia Rio SX Sedan 28 City/36 Highway/31 Combined. During my week, I averaged 31.0 MPG.
The Rio SX differs from other Rios by coming equipped with sport-tuned suspension and it's a mostly fun car to drive. The part that lets the Rio SX down is its steering. While it has a surprising amount of feel, those who are expected a bit of weight will be disappointed since it's pretty light.
Where the steering falls in one area, it exceeds in another area. In this case it's the urban environment and parking lots. The Rio’s steering shines here as its ability to dart around traffic is excellent and can fit into tight parking spots with no problem. As for the sport-tuned suspension, it's firm but not to the point where you’ll be crying uncle.
There is one area I wish Kia would address in the refresh or the next Rio; road noise. Driving on the highway, I would have the radio cranked up to try and drown out the excessive road noise in the cabin. I know that most Rio buyers will drive the vehicle in town or out in the burbs, but be prepared for the amount of road noise coming inside if you decide to venture out onto the highway.
Kia has a real winner on their hands with the 2013 Rio SX sedan. It raises the bar on what a subcompact vehicle could be in terms of design, features, and powertrain. Kia still needs to work on keeping road noise out and trying to find a balance with the steering weight. For many buyers though, the Rio offers the right combination.
From a vehicle that wore the ‘cheap and cheerful’ tag to something that is in contention for being best in class; that's quite the transformation.
Disclaimer: Kia provided the Rio SX Sedan, Insurance, and one tank of gas.
Year - 2013
Make – Kia
Model – Rio Sedan
Trim – SX
Engine – 1.6L GDI Four-Cylinder
Driveline – Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM – 138 @ 6,300 RPM
Torque @ RPM – 123 @ 4,850 RPM
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 28/36/31
Curb Weight – 2,483 lbs
Location of Manufacture – Gwangmyeong, South Korea
Base Price - $17,700.00
As Tested Price - $21,340.00* (Includes $750.00 destination charge)
Premium Package - $2,350
EC Mirror w/ Compass & Homelink - $350.00
Carpeted Floor Mats - $115.00
Rear Bumper Applique - $75.00