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2012 Kia Rio Review- Video
Transformed Rio has much to offer and makes sure you take notice
By Richard Cazeau, Photography by Kia, May. 31, 2012

In its twelfth year as a nameplate, the third generation Kia Rio brings new flair to a car often overlooked in the past. Perhaps tough enough to go up against some compact cars, the Rio starts at just $13,600 and features increased horsepower, impressive fuel economy and quiet comfort.

FAST FACTS

1. The 2013 Rio gets a best-in-class 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway fuel economy rating

2. With 138 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque it’s one of the most powerful sub-compacts available

3. High-grade options include leather, a back-up camera, heated seats, a heated steering wheel and navigation

FUEL ECONOMY OVER HORSEPOWER

New to the Rio is an upgraded engine that makes more horsepower going from its previous 110 to an attractive 138 along with 123 pound-feet of torque. Zero to sixty takes 9.5 seconds but who’s really looking to charge through bumper to bumper rush hour traffic?

Also found in the Hyundai Accent, the 1.6-liter engine with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission (with manual-shift capability) is a little sluggish, especially when looking for raw power at a moment’s notice for performance. When making lane changes, passing other cars or even climbing hills, power isn’t completely unavailable but more is desired.

The electric-assist steering is light yet reactive. In addition, the EX and SX models have been outfitted with sport-tuned suspension setups. Cornering still feels shaky though, specifically in the rear, due to the rudimentary torsion beam design –common in the sub-compact set. Again, keep in mind, “A to B” and not Formula One.

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Along with the entry price, fuel economy is the main reason consumers buy smaller vehicles over stylized gas-thirsty barons and the Rio affords great savings at the pump coasting in at 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

Exclusive to the automatic transmission and standard on all models is the driver-activated Active ECO System, which optimizes engine and transmission settings to keep the car in a higher gear and thereby maximize fuel economy.

Furthermore, Kia will be offering an extra fuel efficiency feature on automatic transmission models called Idle Stop and Go (ISG). Shutting the engine off at a stop, Kia claims ISG can cut gas consumption and emissions by up to a considerable 15%. Not equipped on our test car, ISG won’t be available until the 2013 model year vehicles arrive this fall.

2012 Kia Rio Sedan Profile Shot

GAME-CHANGING THREADS

Mirroring the size of the Hyundai Accent the Kia is more angular and masculine yet still round, the work of German designer Peter Schreyer who’s mostly known for his creation of the original Audi TT. Now longer, lower and wider, the newest edition is on the road to make a statement. The aerodynamics of the latest body even reduces drag while cutting sound in the cabin. One look earns the Rio respect.

SIT BACK AND CHILLAX

Despite the petite yet stocky shell of this A to B ride, the interior is spacious and comfortable for passengers of all sizes. There’s plenty of head, shoulder, hip and legroom, while cargo space in the trunk is expansive with 13.7 cu-ft.

Standard trim and amenities are thoughtful, while top-level models like our tester are almost luxurious. On the most basic LX model, drivers can expect air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel with radio controls, a split folding rear seat, heated power mirrors and a digital-media player connection with USB port, just to name a few. On premium models like EX and SX, the cloth and leather interior materials are high-grade and euro-inspired in either black monotone or chocolate and beige two-tone, mirroring European small cars.

2012 Kia Rio Sedan Center Console

TURN ON, TUNE IN, DRIVE OUT

For more comfort and convenience than the base LX, the premium model EX and the energetic SX offer cruise control, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry and Bluetooth. Buyers will especially appreciate the optional Smart Key access and Push Button Ignition, eliminating the search for keys and letting you get underway in less time. Another added feature is a Cooling Glove Box that refrigerates cold drinks, desserts or even take-out sushi.

For drivers looking for cheekiness in a small car, the SX model is tuned-up with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a solid quality rearview camera, heated power-folding mirrors with turn signals, Microsoft's UVO infotainment system and automatic headlights. The UVO infotainment and navigation, which is the equivalent of the SYNC system found in Ford vehicles is easy to use, though the GPS component is lacking with dated graphics and a turn-by-turn voice navigation that is painfully robotic with a pesky direction prompt audio signal that is the same tonality used by airlines reminding passengers to ‘fasten their seatbelts’.

THE VERDICT

While some may say that growth and change can hinder a brand, in the case of South Korean automaker Kia and its new Rio, getting bigger, bolder and older just gets better every year. Priced at $13,600 for the 4-cylinder EX, $16,500 for the LX and $17,700 for the SX the new Rio joins the lineup of Kia makeovers that offer solid overall value.

Refreshing and impressive, it is a strong contender in a category where, for the last decade, only fuel economy mattered. If you’re shopping for a new sub-compact cruiser, the Rio is, for the first time, a car we can say is worth enquiring about. In fact, it’s hard to ignore.

2012 Kia Rio Sedan Front

LOVE IT
  • Best-in-class fuel economy
  • Exterior redesign adds style, uniqueness
  • Interior comfort and near-luxury amenities available
LEAVE IT
  • SX so nice you won’t want anything else
  • Loud powertrain when pushed
  • Handling could be better