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Kia Rio: The Price Is Right

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Link: http://wardsauto.com/ar/auto_price_right/index.htm

The Price Is Right

By Steve Finlay

WardsAuto.com, Sep 6 2005

The Kia Rio isn’t the sexiest car in the U.S., nor the fastest. But you can’t beat the price.

I'm in the Rio, which bills itself as exotic and steamy with a 24-hour party atmosphere featuring high-energy fun.

Wait a minute. I am fantasizing about the glitzy Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. What I’m actually doing is driving a subcompact Kia Rio, the lowest-price new car in the U.S.

OK, it’s not glitzy, exotic or high energy. But for the money, it is a well-mannered, well-built car that comes with a 10-year/100,000 mile (160,000 km) powertrain warranty and six airbags.

And yes, it is fun to drive, although you won’t set speed records in the all-new ’06 Rio sedan and Rio5 5-door wagon.

There are sexier cars and vehicle segments, but with annual sales of 2-million units, the small-car segment is important. Its subcompact sub-segment accounts for 200,000 units in annual sales.

While the overall segment has been flat of late, subcompact sales are expected to grow 27% by 2007, as competition intensifies and fuel prices increase, says Fred Aikins, a Kia Motors America Inc. product strategy manager.

That is why the Rio, which debuted in 2000, is significant for Kia, even though it is as entry-level as it gets.

The base model 4-door sedan (which, almost quaintly, includes crank-down windows and manually adjusted side mirrors) starts at $10,570. That is a $400 increase over the ’05 model, but Kia executives say buyers are getting much more car for the money. The only thing less expensive is a used car.

Moving on up, a Rio LX model starts at $12,445 and the Rio5 SX begins at $13,500.

“Consumers in the subcompact segment don’t look at small cars like some other people do,” says Aikins. “They look at it and see cars they can afford. We wanted the new Rio to go head-to-head with any vehicle in the segment.”

Competitors include the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cobalt and Scion xA. Kia expects to sell more than 30,000 Rios in the U.S. It could sell more.

“We’re requesting as many as we can get, but we are capacity constrained,” says KMA President and CEO Peter Butterfield. “Globally, the demand for small cars exceeds our capacity.”

The new vehicle is wider and roomier, with 92.2 cubic feet (28.1 cm) of occupant space, largest in the subcompact class.

It has a sense of style, “something that has been notably lacking in this segment,” says Aikins. Focus group participants describe the exterior – featuring black body side moldings, an aggressively styled mesh grille and wedge-shaped sides – as youthful and sporty looking, he says.

The ’06 version features more engine power, producing 110 hp at 6,000 rpm and 107 lb.-ft. (145 Nm) of torque at 4,500 rpm. The suspension is tighter than the previous Rio. Aiding crisp handling are a front stabilizer bar, rack-and-pinion steering and engine-speed-sensitive power assist.

“It is tuned for North American roads, climates and weather conditions,” says Gordon Dickie, KMA’s director of product quality. “That’s a major shift.”

The more taut suspension is apparent on the LX, driving along twisty roads north of Seattle. The ride is confidently firm without being uncomfortably hard.

The 1.6L DOHC engine is not overwhelming, but is capable of decent acceleration, particularly in models with the 5-speed manual transmission. Getting up to 38 mpg (6.18 L/100km), the Rio goes more than 450 miles (720 km) on a tank of fuel.

Once an insignificant auto maker from South Korea, Kia Motors Corp. has been expanding its market share and lineup since entering the U.S. market 11 years ago. It is now the nation’s fifth largest automotive importer and sold 270,055 units last year with a 9-vehicle lineup.

Butterfield predicts that in another four years, Kia’s lineup will resemble Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.’s.

He says one of the auto maker’s greatest improvements has been in quality, not only when it comes to its vehicles, but its U.S. dealership network, as well.

Four years ago, there were 40 exclusive retailers doing 20% of Kia’s business. Now, of 650 stores, 400 are Kia-exclusive, representing 75% of retail sales.

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I'll have to drive one to see if they are any better.. I drove one in 03....it wasn't bad, but the engine really sucks...an 87 cavalier had better pickup than that... :lol: But for those looking for a commuter car, it's not a bad idea though I haven't seen one in person yet..

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I've gotta say: "The Price is Right" has to be the best tagline written about any Kia, ever. It just kinda sums everything up in four, simple words. Thanks, Steve Finlay, for making me chuckle.

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