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William Maley

2012 Kia Rio SX 5-Door

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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.

gallery_10485_562_116142.jpg

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?

gallery_10485_562_63409.jpg

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.

gallery_10485_562_191278.jpg

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.

gallery_10485_562_255414.jpg

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

-Carpeted Floor Mats - $95

-Destination - $750

TOTAL - $18,545

tn_gallery_10485_562_255414.jpg

Album: 2012 Kia Rio SX 5-Door

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Oh just drive the Chevy Cruze with it's 138 hp and 3,100 lbs. Makes the RIO with 2,675 feel like a pocket rocket.

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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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So reginald, you're thinking the name of the car is holding down the Forte? :scratchchin:

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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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    • By William Maley
      I need to get something out of the way before diving into the review of the 2018 Toyota C-HR. Originally the C-HR was to join Scion’s lineup, but the C-HR would become a Toyota as the Scion brand would shut its doors in late 2016. With this change of brands, does this leave the C-HR with an identity crisis?
      The C-HR is short for ‘Coupe High Roof’ and the design makes that very clear. Proportions are very similar to a coupe with a long front and stubby back. Other coupe details to be aware of are a set of wider fenders, a sloping roofline, and a rear spoiler. It makes for a very polarizing design that many will agree catches your eye for better or worse
      Toyota’s designers must have been infatuated with diamonds as you’ll notice this shape throughout the C-HR. Key examples include the pattern on the cloth seats and arrangement of buttons on the steering wheel. The center stack is slightly angled towards the driver to emphasize a sporty nature. Material quality is about average with a mix of soft-touch plastics on the dash, and hard plastics for the door panels and center console. The C-HR’s ergonomics are excellent as controls are laid out logically and easy to use.
      I found the front seats are lacking in lower-body support. I’m 5’9” and after driving the C-HR for an hour, I found my thighs and legs started to ache. This comes down to a short bottom cushion. Shorter drivers will likely not run into this issue. ‘Claustrophobic’ is the word to describe the C-HR’s back seat as the small rear windows make it feel small. Not helping is the limited amount of legroom as I found my knees touching the backside of the front seat. CH-R’s cargo space is in the middle of the class when the rear seats are up at 19 cubic feet. To give some perspective, the Mazda CX-3 is the smallest at 12.4 cubic feet, while the Honda HR-V has the largest at 24.3. Fold the rear seats and the C-HR is at the bottom of the class with 36.4 cubic feet. The Mazda CX-3 has 9.1 cubic feet more space when its rear seats are folded.
      All C-HRs come equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen radio with the basics; AM/FM, Bluetooth, and inputs for USB and aux cords. While I found the system to be intuitive to use with a simple menu structure and decent performance, I did find myself wishing Toyota had included Apple CarPlay and Android Auto or the option of a larger system with navigation.
      Powering the C-HR is a 2.0L four-cylinder with 144 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a CVT and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is nowhere to be found despite the C-HR offering it in markets outside the U.S. Driving in town, the C-HR feels lively thanks to a responsive throttle. But above these speeds, the C-HR reveals a major weakness; put your foot down and the engine takes its sweet time to get up to speed - taking over 11 seconds to hit 60 mph. This makes certain tasks such as passing a slower vehicle treacherous. Under hard acceleration, the CVT is quite loud. Toyota does offer other engines for the C-HR elsewhere, including a hybrid. Reading through various test drives, the hybrid is slightly quicker; recording a 0-60 time of 11 seconds.
      Fuel economy figures for the 2018 C-HR are 27 City/31 Highway/29 Combined. My average for the week landed at 28.1 mpg.
      Like most new and redesigned Toyota models, the C-HR rides on the modular TGNA platform. I have praised this platform on both the Prius and Prius Prime as it makes them feel playful on a winding road. This extends to the C-HR. Despite a higher ride height, body motions are kept in check when cornering. Steering feels precise and has ample weight when turning. Ride quality is on the firm side, but it will not beat up passengers. A fair amount of tire and wind noise comes inside when driving on the expressway.
      The Toyota C-HR is quite expensive for a subcompact crossovers. The base XLE begins at $22,500. My XLE Premium tester begins at $24,350 and with some added accessories, the final price was $25,633. That’s without leather seats, navigation, or a sunroof. Toyota is quick to point out that the C-HR does come equipped with a number of active safety features such as adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist as standard. That only helps the base XLE when it comes to arguing value. The XLE Premium has a tougher time since you can get into a well equipped Hyundai Kona Limited FWD with a sunroof, leather seats, a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration; and 18-inch alloy wheels for only $53 more. You do miss out on the active safety features since as you can only get those on the top-line Ultimate, but the Kona presents a better value than the C-HR when you compare features bit by bit.
      The Toyota C-HR left me very frustrated as the week came to a close. The crossover has some charm with sharp driving dynamics and a very willing chassis. But it is clear that the C-HR feels more like a Scion than a Toyota as it was built to be cost-effective as it doesn’t offer any options. What you see is what you get. The problem is that competitors offer more equipment for similar money. The C-HR also trails competitors in terms of cargo capacity and performance. I do believe there is a crossover that can stand out from the growing field of subcompact models, but Toyota needs to think of the C-HR as one of their own models, not as a Scion.
      Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the C-HR, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
      Year: 2018
      Make: Toyota
      Model: C-HR
      Trim: XLE Premium
      Engine: 2.0L DOHC, 16-Valve Four-Cylinder with Valvematic
      Driveline: CVT, Front-Wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 144 @ 6,100
      Torque @ RPM: 139 @ 3,900
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 27/31/29
      Curb Weight: 3,300 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Arifiye, Sakarya, Turkey
      Base Price: $24,350
      As Tested Price: $25,633 (Includes $960.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Carpeted Floormats and Cargo Mat - $194.00
      Mudguards - $129.00

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