2012 Kia Rio Review | Toronto Star

2012 Kia Rio Review
2012 Kia Rio
By John Leblanc, Toronto Star
FALL CITY, WA.- Small cars aren’t so “small” anymore.
Witness the third-generation 2012 Kia Rio5, where along with being longer and wider than its predecessor, you’ll find a heated steering wheel on its options list – a feature usually reserved for $100,000 German luxobarges.
You shouldn’t be too shocked, though.
The new Rio is only the latest in a slew of new “subcompacts” that are popping up in Canadian new car showrooms this year that – for all intents and purposes – offer the size, features and performance of what you would expect from a larger car, but with the promise of using less fuel.
Replacing its predecessor, that has been on sale since 2006, the new 2012 Rio continues to share its mechanical bones with Hyundai’s also-new-for-2012 Accent.
The “5” in the Rio’s badge indicates it’s the four-door hatchback version, the first of a new family that will go on sale in early October, followed by a four-door sedan by the end of the year.
(A two-door Rio hatch was unveiled at this year’s Frankfurt auto show. But Kia Canada hasn’t committed to bringing that car here yet.)
Like the difference in the past between General Motor’s Chevrolet and Pontiac brands, to distinguish from the mechanically similar Hyundai Accent (the two Korean automakers share major engineering resources) Kia Canada’s Maria Soklis wants you to think of the new Rio5 as the “sportier, younger, more fun” choice.
New 2012 Rio5 prices range between the base $14,095 LX to the topline $20,795 EX Luxury, placing it right in the middle of this burgeoning class – a little pricier than the Accent, but less than a Ford Fiesta.
No offence to Canadians. But you can tell the Rio5 was designed to compete in Europe, where small cars like the Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Renault Clio dominate the sales charts. Unveiled at this year’s Geneva Auto Show, the Rio5 is blessed with an aggressive stance and clean lines that belie its econobox pricing.
However you feel about the Rio’s exterior looks, it’s harder to find fault with its excellent interior design.
From the driver’s seat, all the Rio’s instrumentation and controls are easy to see and use, segregated in a logical arrangement.
Most of the hardware, plastics and finishes are of the same quality found in Kia’s top-line Optima sedan. Features like heated leather seats, two-tone interior layouts, and the above-mentioned class-exclusive heated steering wheel give Rio customers the customizability and luxury features that have made BMW’s premium-priced Mini a success.
And, unlike the Accent, the Rio even offers a touchscreen nav system.
For those new car buyers who care more about how their vehicle drives than how easy it is to connect their iPhone to, the new Rio won’t disappoint.
The lone powerplant is a new, direct-injected 1.6-litre, also found in the refreshed 2012 Kia Soul.
In the Rio5, it delivers generous forward motivation, plus frugality at the pumps.
With gains of 28 and 16 lb./ft. in the horsepower and torque departments compared to the last Rio, the 1.6 makes 138 hp and 123 lb./ft. – more than a Fiesta, Honda Fit, or Mazda2.
Rated at 6.6 L/100 km in the city and 4.9L/100 km on the highway with the new six-speed manual, the Kia also beats these rivals when it comes time to filling up.
Even choosing the new six-speed automatic doesn’t hurt fuel economy that much.
The new autobox is combined with Kia’s new Active Eco System: A driver selectable fuel-economy mode that essentially softens the throttle response. It scores the same highway rating, but a near-identical 6.8L city number.
Along with the new Soul, later in the year a 2012 Rio Eco model will offer Kia’s Idle Stop and Go (ISG) technology that turns the engine off when the vehicle comes to a stop.
I spent most of my drive time behind the wheel of an $18,795 Rio5 EX with Kia’s UVO hands-free infotainment system (with a rear backup camera display).
Impressively, the littlest Kia drives eerily like the biggest Kia: The Optima.
At highway speeds (right up to the 143 km/h I attained until being nabbed by a Washington State Highway Patrol speed trap), the Rio5 feels well-planted, with the type of refinement and composure usually found in better-driving, one-size-up compacts like the Mazda3 Sport or Volkswagen Golf.
And – like all Kias – there’s plenty of safety kit standard, including a vehicle stability management system that “coordinates” the car’s electronic stability control and anti-lock braking systems to help the driver stay in control of the hatch.
Admittedly, from an enthusiast’s standpoint, the Rio5 EX is not as flickable or alert at turn-in as the class-leading Mazda2.
For the true European hot hatch fan, Kia has left room in the lineup for a Rio GT, which I would spec with turbocharged version of the 1.6 and more aggressive seating and suspension.
Even if that ├╝ber-Rio never arrives, though, the majority of small car shoppers should be satisfied with the latest Kia.
Compared to its less-than-stellar predecessor, the 2012 Rio5 is an improvement in every measurable way. It’s safer, there’s more room, power, and “big car” features, but with better fuel economy and a more refined interior and driving characteristics.
Just remember: Don’t call it a “small” car.
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