By on October 18, 2011

In his novel Excession, sci-fi writer Iain M. Banks introduced the concept of the “Outside Context Problem”. It’s described like so:

The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever… you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.

The current players in the subcompact game have defined their roles pretty well. Yaris: cheap and crappy. Versa: metal for money. Fit: Magic Seat and Honda markup. Fiesta: sporty, but pricey and slow. Sonic: Second-tier Korean car made by UAW labor. Putting aside the Accent (which we’ll get to in a bit), those were your choices. This situation has worked out pretty well for all involved, because with the exception of Nissan nobody was looking for volume anyway and the rest of it amounted to eco-friendly window dressing, lip service to the media loudmouths who talk about small cars and then catch a limo ride home to Park Avenue. It’s a happy little society.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, however, there’s an Outside Context Problem arriving at Kia showrooms. The 2012 Rio is good. It is cheap. Compared to its competitors, it’s even fast. If you’re swimming in this segment, you’re about to see blood in the water.

TTAC readers know that Kia is on a bit of a roll lately. During the media presentation which accompanied our Rio test drive, the company’s PR people hammered all the relevant numbers directly into our brains. ALG residuals for their products have soared from the outhouse (37% for the Amanti) to the penthouse (55% or above for many current models). Their median buyer age is below the industry average, while their median education level is up. Some of that change is due to savvy marketing, but a lot of the gains have come the old-fashioned way of simply building a better mousetrap.

The 2012 Rio is handsome enough to these eyes, sporting the new Kia brand-identity face in front and bearing a considerable resemblance to the old SEAT Leon in the back. On the road, it looks more European than Korean, and perhaps more importantly it takes its proportional cues from the next class up. There’s no Fiesta/Fit/Yaris tall-car/toy-car vibe here. Kia was unashamed about the fact that a few interior dimensions have been reduced from the outgoing model, particularly for the rear passengers. Unlike the competition, Kia has two entrants in this segment — Rio and Soul — and therefore it doesn’t need to provide a high roof. If you want to wear a homburg while you drive, or if you want to carry a double bass, buy a Soul.

Behold, the premium sixteen-thousand-dollar car. While the interior shot comes from the completely-loaded $19,900 SX model, the fundamentals are there from $13,600 and up. The steering wheel would be an upgrade to any number of vehicles including the Corvette ZR-1, while the interior materials are rather disturbingly reminiscent of the Infiniti G25. I had to grab my test car in a bit of a hurry during the event and spent two hours behind the wheel thinking “This is a really solid interior for nineteen grand.” It wasn’t until I reached the end of the drive and looked at the exterior badging that I realized I’d been driving the $16,000 mid-level model. This is the class-leading interior without a doubt, and by some clear distance. Visibility is excellent all-around, helped not a bit by the silly triangle windows in the A-pillar, and the gauges are easy to read. The metal-finish center console offers some nifty “aircraft toggles” for the defroster, A/C compressor, and a few other things. They are satisfying to operate, even if the driver will never be fooled into believing that he is flying an aircraft. The available feature set is extremely complete, including the expected (Bluetooth), the useful (heated seats) and the positively premium (keyless start).

My test car had the “Powered by Microsoft” UVO system for iPod integration. It works about the same way that SYNC does, and is likely about the same as SYNC under the skin. UVO had no issue passing my personal voice recognition test (“Play… Artist Vladimir Ashkenazy”) and it indexed 118GB of music from my iPod Classic in about ten minutes. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news stops; the audio quality was severely disappointing, so much so that I stopped the car so I could roam around the cabin and make sure all the speakers were working. If there is anything on the Rio which connects it to the Hyundai and Kia small cars of a decade ago, it’s this stereo. Not only is it low-fi, it’s underpowered. A few other autojournos told me they’d turned it all the way to “Max” volume just to hear the music over the road noise.

Which leads us to the Rio’s primary over-the-road fault. The mechanical noises are very well-damped, so much so that it’s tough to tell if the engine is running at stoplights, but once underway it’s simply loud in the cabin. The top-end SX model, with its 17″ wheels and sport-tuned suspension, is likely even worse. On the positive side, the Rio is the only car in its class to have power folding mirrors, as seen in the photo above. All I can say is that the young woman driving that white Rio kept her mirrors folded for the entire trip. No, wait. I can also say that she was stunning-looking.

The rest of the Rio’s dynamic package is very satistfying. The engine is surprisingly strong, twisting 138 horsepower out of 1.6 liters thanks to direct injection. According to Kia, the manual-transmission “take rate” of the Rio is slightly under five percent, so they’ve made the autobox mandatory for all but the cheapest model. This is a genuine shame, because the conventional torque-converter six-speed slusher really does blunt the 1.6’s verve. The Rio is very far from being a “hot hatch” but in my hands it romped up to 105mph with no difficulty whatsoever and there appeared to be plenty more left.

Handling with the non-sport suspension was on the pleasant side of perfectly adequate. The Rio feels nimble, although it doesn’t have the Fiesta’s reflexes, and the steering feel is well-damped and perfectly communicative. Kia’s press launch was held north of Austin, TX, which significantly limited the opportunities to test handling and braking. Most of the gentle curves in the Texas two-lanes were easily swallowed at eighty-five or ninety miles per hour, and the descents were rare enough that the brakes never got taxed. All Rio models do have four-wheel discs, which will surprise and delight Honda conquests.

So, let’s review. Looks nice on the outside. Looks nice on the inside. Top-notch interior, comprehensive feature set. Reasonably spacious but not tall-roofed or supermini-proportioned. A choice of six-speed transmissions and 138 horsepower. One thing I didn’t mention: the Rio hits the mandatory 40mpg mark with both transmissions, and there will be an extra 1mpg in the city from an optional stop-start system coming in 2012 proper. None of this sounds terribly revolutionary.

Except. This is a subcompact. It’s a subcompact that sells for less money than the competition. It’s a real car for less than the price of a high-roofed runabout. The base car is perhaps the best value in the market, while the loaded model offers an ES350’s worth of equipment for half the price. It doesn’t punish its owner for saving money and it doesn’t scandalize the neighbors by announcing your poverty. Compared to its Accent sibling, it has all of that car’s virtues plus a two-fisted helping of style and upscale appeal.

With this new model, the Rio has jumped from being off-the-radar credit-criminal transportation to the class-leading entry. It’s become my default answer to “what new car should I buy?” If you have less than twenty grand, expect to hear a Rio recommendation. (If you have more than twenty grand, I suggest the Veyron Sang Noir.) The only thing that stops me from being a complete Rio evangelist is the fact that the company has explicitly not stated any plans to build the car in the United States. Perhaps the weak dollar will eventually change that. In the meantime, the Rio is the best small car money can buy for almost nearly everyone. Drivers who need slightly more space and/or a little extra utility will have to look elsewhere, but as we will see later on in this week, they’ll be looking in the same dealership.

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160 Comments on “Review: 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door...”


  • avatar
    Caraholica

    Ok, someone is posting car reviews under Jack Baruths name.

    All this Lovin’ on a 138 hp, $16k non-Panther, non-Porsche Korean subcompact?

    Who are you really and what have you done with the real Jack Baruth?

  • avatar
    Frownsworth

    How is this compared to the cousin edition, Hyundai Accent ? I like the interior in this Kia a lot more than the Accent. Is the stereo in the Accent just as weak or is it better ?

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Interesting comment about the stereo in the Rio considering that the Veloster has gotten rave reviews for its stereo system which is an in-house system.

      Plus, the Optima’s stereo is also regarded as a pretty top notch system within its price-range so this is a bit surprising.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Kia is crushing it right now.
    Also, Iain M. Banks is awesome.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      Hiring Banks will absolutely go down in history as one of their best decisions in decades. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to believe this is the company that once produced the Spectra. Too bad the engineers who’ve done as transformational a work get no by-name credit, too. It’d be well-earned.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    What difference would it make if they built the car in the United States?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      For those of us in the United States, it would keep about a billion (with a “b”: 100,000 sales a year x $9,000 average production cost ) dollars’ worth of economic benefit in this country. It would provide an ecological benefit, mining raw materials and creating finished products closer to their final point of use/consumption. It would reduce the foreign trade deficit. It would make millions of dollars’ worth of tax benefits available to American schools and American students.

      While you may be either the resident of another country or a member of the so-called global financial elite, I am neither and I recognize the benefit of putting Americans to work.

      • 0 avatar
        bryanska

        I think what he had meant was, what difference would it make in the car’s qualities. In other words, how would the review change.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        I wrote, “The only thing that stops me from being a complete Rio evangelist is the fact that the company has explicitly not stated any plans to build the car in the United States.”

        In other words, I would be more fervent in recommending the Rio if the car were built locally, for the reasons above.

      • 0 avatar
        SherbornSean

        OK, so how is the Sonic a second tier Korean car? Built in the US by an American company.

        I am not going to argue the second tier comment, but would point out that it has received solid reviews. Certainly ahead of the Versa and Yaris.

      • 0 avatar
        turbosaab

        Not a foreign resident or member of the global financial elite, just a working class American with an interest in economics. Genuinely puzzled by the predominant “buy American” and “buy local” perspectives on trade, which typically rely on fallacious protectionist economic theory. Appreciate you explaining your thought process, though, and I share your goal of American prosperity, even if we disagree on the mechanics.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        @Baruth:

        To Kia’s credit, the Optima and Sorento are made here.

      • 0 avatar
        Silvy_nonsense

        “Genuinely puzzled by the predominant “buy American” and “buy local” perspectives on trade, which typically rely on fallacious protectionist economic theory.”

        Jack didn’t say anything directly or even suggestively about tariffs, import bans, quotas or any other protectionist measures. I think a lawyer would say that you introduced facts not in evidence.

        Jack’s statements are a great example of winning by supporting, encouraging and nurturing the home team and that is fundamentally different from trying not to lose by handicapping the foreign competition.

      • 0 avatar
        turbosaab

        Silvy, fortunately this is TTAC not court. However, if you read again, I never claimed that was Jack’s position, I simply stated that the predominant arguments for “buy American” and “buy local” are often based on flawed, protectionist thinking.

        Of course, if in fact Jack does not support protectionist laws, and rarely (if ever?) spends his own money on US built vehicles, it’s hard to take this criticism very seriously :)

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        JB: “I recognize the benefit of putting Americans to work.”

        I recognize the benefit of putting Americans to work too, provided that they have earned it, not through bailout.

      • 0 avatar
        probert

        @wsn

        gee, before even getting into questions of a living wage or anything related to double digit unemployment you believe that workers have to prove they deserve a job. Who are you – where are you from, please return to you planet and tell your leaders we mean you no harm.

      • 0 avatar
        moorewr

        Nicely done, Probert.

      • 0 avatar
        Hank

        +1 Jack

  • avatar
    bryanska

    Not until I got our new Tucson home did I notice the horrible road noise. The dealer must have been instructed to turn up the radio and keep talking, because during the test drive I didn’t notice it.

    Most of the new Hyundais are way too loud. I rented the Sonata on several business trips, and have driven my friend’s Elantra and my brother’s Elantra Touring. All were louder than my 2007 Honda Fit.

    Maybe we just don’t care anymore. Maybe the Bluetoth noise cancellation is so good, nobody on the other end can tell.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Eh, many Honda models are regarded as having worse road noise (Accord > Sonata).

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Rule #1 on a test drive: turn the stereo OFF. You can always add amps and speakers later if the factory audio sounds poor. You can also do some extra sound proofing, but its expensive and time consuming work since you have to strip out most of the interior trim.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        ^This.

        When I went on my last test drive the fuse wasn’t even installed for the stereo. I think the dealer does this so they can deal with it all during PDI.

        That being said, how hard is it to just upgrade the factory set-up without going all out on a new head-unit and the “required” subs in the trunk? I’ve had subs and didn’t like them much. I want to do this in my car, but want to keep it looking stock.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        I agree with leaving the stereo off during test drives so that it doesn’t distract from anything about the driving experience. Stereo testing can be done in the dealer lot. But I’ll add that a quiet cabin and a good-sounding stereo tend to go hand-in-hand, as they share the same acoustic enclosure. If the stereo sounds terrible because the sheet metal is thin and the interior plastics are thin and hard, upgrading the stereo isn’t going to improve the main problem without a lot of sound-deadening and enclosure work.

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      Funny, I drove a Honda Fit and found it too loud. The Hyundai Velostar was HORRIBLE. The 2012 Kia Soul was by far, the quietest. Kia added sound insulation this year.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Those of us still pining for little Festivas are not surprised at all. Kia knew how to make cars, they just needed to learn how to make their cars. Over the past twenty years, Kia has figured it out. Hyundai has given Kia the environment needed to really hit their potential.

    Ford has got to be kicking themselves over this. They had Kia and saw this potential a generation ago. Oh well, Ford needed the money didn’t they?

    What difference would it make if they built the car in the United States? Wow – what a completely clueless question. The difference would be between you having a job in a robust manufacturing economy – or not. Maybe you think money grows on trees, but at least grow a brain.

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      Of course, you are assuming that the poster is USA based and gives a rat’s ass about the US economy. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t but you know what ASSuming makes you.

      For the record I am an ex-pat Brit now living in Canada and I DO care about the US economy but only to the degree that it affects me and my current country.

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      > at least grow a brain.

      If there’s two things we could use in the US these days, one of them is more jobs and the other is more civility.

  • avatar
    Boff

    I’m not feelin’ this car, with the lack of availability of the stick on uplevel models. If the goodness is based largely on feature content, and having those features mandates the autotragic transmission, what’s the point? You can row your own and get the top model in a Fiesta, Sonic, or Fit (*EDIT…and the new Hyundai Accent!*) all of which are at least on par with the Rio in most metrics.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Loaded manual-transmission subcompacts are nearly as rare as unicorns. You may want to shift for yourself, but the market does not, and the market buys cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Secret Hi5

        Which makes one wonder why
        GM thinks it’s a good idea launching the Sonic turbo with only the manual tran.

      • 0 avatar
        Boff

        I’d like to see some data on that (and not just what was said by the PR folks). Perhaps the “market has spoken”, but the facts are that the Rio and the Versa are the only two subcompact entrants with no stick available on even the midlevel cars.

      • 0 avatar
        moorewr

        Secret Hi5:

        I expect the answers are: they built it for Europe, they thought it would be a good halo for the car, and the slushbox will show up soon enough.

        Also, they might conceivably be taking my advice about treating manual drivers as a permanent niche market (a la VW and those diesel hatches). At that end of the market they might end up splitting all the manual sales with Mazda in a few years.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Unfortunately, the market has the dealer middleman between the manufacturer and the end consumer so it’s not entirely clear what the end consumer wants or will buy. Someone at the dealership may even try to sell them pink paint with the mandatory slush box.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        Was it the Aspire, or Escort, that Mr. Baruth, in his younger days as a car salesperson, was always trying to sell in Pink or whatever, regardless of the color selected by the buyer?

        I seem to recall that from one of the capsule reviews.

    • 0 avatar
      stryker1

      Buy a base, and swap out the dash unit with a decent stereo/gps and the speakers and you likely won’t miss a thing from the upper trim levels.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      This.

      I don’t understand either. The reason we haven’t yet replaced our ’05 Focus SES (it has a manual transmission, but every other single option box was checked off when ordered, so it is exactly what Ford is trying to sell now, a loaded small car) is because it’s getting increasingly difficult to find top-of-the-line trim models of smallish cars with manuals.

      In the past few weeks we’ve looked at a FIAT 500, a Hyundai Elantra and an Audi A4, all with auto-boxes because dealers won’t stock manuals (“That’s a factory order only, mister!” says Mr. Elantra Salesguy).

      I did get a chance to test drive both the 500 and Veloster with manuals as well, but most of the time when we visit car dealerships they look at us like we’re from another planet when we request to test drive the manual version.

      Though, most of the cars with manuals get compared to the Focus, usually to their detriment. I never realized how well Ford had done with the Focus until we started comparing cars that are 5 to 6 years NEWER, and still don’t measure up to a 6 year old Focus (and the same can be said of Mazda 3’s as well).

      • 0 avatar
        moorewr

        Monty, same story in Florida – the manuals exist in theory, but there are none on the lot. Not sure how I’ll get to test drive half the models on my list.

        Fiat and Mazda being the happy exceptions…

      • 0 avatar
        steeringwithmyknees

        Monty – I went through that same issue with the ford focus. I had a loaded 04 manual. It was the second focus I owned – the first was a stripper that got totaled. I really liked that car, but got a new job that would require a lot of driving from place to place. The focus was getting pretty beat-up and it needed a few different expensive repairs. I chose to get a new car with a new car warranty – another loaded manual hatchback, but I realized that even though i paid almost twice as much for the new car, the focus was better.

        When I bought that focus, the sticker was 20-something thousand, but i got it for 13500 out the door because the dealer was eager to get it off the lot where it had been sitting because nobody wanted a loaded small car with a 5-speed (and the 05 was a refresh year). Definitely the best car deal I’ve made (5 so far).

        It was a 04 ZX3. It had the Blaupunkt “audiophile” stereo and the 2.3 liter aluminum engine. Its kind of funny how you end up appreciating cars you dont drive anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      Hyundai started penalizing people a few years ago, for buying a manual. It isn’t just that manuals aren’t available on higher end models, but that features are missing from cars with manuals when the automatic version has them. Kia followed suit. For example, the nice MS UVO stereo system comes with the 2nd level Soul, but only if you buy an automatic. Likewise you can’t even get cruise control with a manual. No wonder their take rates are so low.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    nothing some generic home-depot dynomat cant fix.

  • avatar
    ALDontNo

    I’ll be buying at the $16,000 price range next year and am looking forward to testing this out. My family had a Kia loaner a decade ago and the road noise was tragic, too bad this problem still exists to some degree. Any comments on that rear window port?

  • avatar
    segfault

    Visibility can’t be excellent through that gun slit rear window.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      That’s my thinking too. Having a car with ‘the silly triangle windows in the A-pillars,’ I can tell you that the only times I’ve looked at them is when I’m washing the car. This review fairly reeked of a directed sales walk around, pointing out imaginary features and simply stating pure contrarian fiction about obvious deficiencies. Oh well. People only do it because it works on the fallow minded. Isn’t it great that it isn’t proportioned like other subcompacts, the ones designed for the ridiculous purpose of comfortably accomodating people and their stuff? That’s awsome!

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I’ll respond to both of you.

      segfault, the rear window is close enough that visibility is not as issue. If the window were any taller, you would only see the back of the rear seat through it.

      CJinSD, feel free to elaborate on your statements. Not everyone wants their small car to be taller than it is wide. Kia has the Soul for people who do.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Jack – I wouldn`t worry about “debating” CJ since he seems to like insulting reviewers (regularly hitting MK for his reviews too) and if it isn`t a Honda product your discussing then it must be crap by his definition!

  • avatar

    “Sonic: Second-tier Korean car made by UAW labor.”

    Love. It.

  • avatar
    Pahaska

    Great shot of the Rio by the longhgorn sculpture on US290, just west of Johnson City, TX. The longhorn is made mostly of salvaged motorcycle parts.

    My wife’s Tribute is about shot and this is a car I want her to seriously look at buying.-

    • 0 avatar
      67dodgeman

      I KNEW I recognized that longhorn! Went camping at Pedernales this summer and last summer. Drove right past it several times. It certainly stood out, even if we didn’t stop to take a pic.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    “If you want to wear a homburg while you drive…

    Fedoras, too, undoubtedly, which I do wear (really!), so no deal for me. Besides, on my current lousy, long, dark commute, I feel a bit safer in my Impala. For around town, this may be a pretty good buy, but in my recent Kia driving experiences with rentals, the Forte scores really high, second to the Impala (duh!) we had in SoCal. Hey! I’m 60, so maybe I would rather have a Buick? I’ll let you know when the time comes!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I wouldn’t mind any of the current Buicks out there (assuming the Lucerne’s been put down, of course).

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      Would I be accused of sounding like a Kia fanboi for agreeing about the Forte, since I own one, or just a happy owner who hopes he doesn’t get bit?

      I had an ’11 Accent as a rental awhile back and it was kinda buzzy, but not too bad (to me anyway, but I have no delusions of being able to drive like I’m on a track”. I know the two are in a different class, but still.

      • 0 avatar
        tmport

        I don’t have a Forte, but I have its predecessor, the Kia Spectra5. I think it’s a great car–excellent noise isolation (hence my surprise to hear that other Kias have a problem with noise), a lot of fun to drive, and great value for the money. In 4 1/2 years of ownership, the only thing I’ve had to do (aside from oil changes) is replace the rear brakes.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    I’m happy to see Kia realizes the value of disc brakes all around. It’s a detail that probably won’t affect most owners but it shows they’re not trying to cheapen the content. I thought it was a neat feature on the previous Spectra that would have made it an option if I had needed a new car. I wish Ford and GM would do the same with the Fiesta/Focus/Sonic/Cruze.

    • 0 avatar
      rem83

      I’m not entirely certain I see the value of disc brakes all around, and there’s a good thread on Miata.net full of others who would agree with me (which I mention simply because the Miata has never had a drum brake). Subcompacts generally don’t see the type of use that would warrant a disc brake, and the decreased parts complexity and cost of rear drums seems worth it.

      • 0 avatar
        SherbornSean

        After 4 years, my Accord needed new disk brakes up front, but the drums were only 20% worn. Unless my family sedan sees track time any time soon, I am happy to save $400 every 4 years.

      • 0 avatar
        Advance_92

        The rear brakes would not have worn any faster as discs. Brakes are a lot like tires; no one thinks about them until they’re needed. Which reminds me I need to get some new snow tires this year…

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        There is such a thing as garbage disc brakes and good drum brakes. We saw the same thing in the past 5 years in the mountain biking industry. Everyone wanted disc brakes but no one wanted to pay the $250 cost of entry for disc brakes on the $500 bike they were looking at. So, what did they do? Manufacturers came out with cheaper disc brakes, of course! Nevermind the fact that the cable actuation is terrible compared to a good hydraulic, they require constant upkeep due to not much means of adjustment, and they often don’t stop nearly as well as a good rim brake. They ticked a box on a spec sheet that customers were demanding. In customer’s minds, disc brakes > rim brakes. Most of the customers couldn’t tell the difference between a good performing brakeset and a bad one, so upcharging $100 for the disc equipped version was a pretty easy sell.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Drum brakes are good on a number of fronts. My CR-V drum brake shoes lasted about 215K miles. I’m still on the original drums themselves. Where they suck is when they get wet b/c there is no stopping power. Not such an issue on a car with drums on the back only like everything built since the mid-70s. $400 for rotors? I put OEM Honda shoes on the ‘V for about $50. You’ve got to get out the driveway and do them yourself for 50% or less.

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      Honda also skips the rear disks with the Fit, and if I recall, the base Accent gets rear drums.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Excellent review, but why the anti-Yaris sentiment all over again? It’s an inexpensive, reliable, high mileage transport and by the amount I see driving everywhere I go, lots of folks feel the way I do and customer satisfaction is high.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Because the Yaris interior best compares to the Aveo, not the current competition in the B-class. Which is why I won’t consider the car. I need a little comfort and style. I especially don’t need my car yelling at me, “you cheap bastard”, ever time I get into it.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      “It’s an inexpensive, reliable, high mileage transport”

      That is certainly true, but it goes to show how far this segment has advanced in just a few years. Four years ago when we bought our Yaris sedan it was fully competitive. Since then everyone else has moved so damned fast that if I were shopping the segment again, even the redesigned Yaris would be lucky to get a test drive.

      We still like it, but I bet we would like this Rio even better.

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        But the extra cost has made a lot of people opt for a used one instead, what is the purpose of that? the upcoming Yaris will also go up in price, soon you won’t be able to buy ANYTHING new for less than $20k. Just look at the Fiesta!

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        Also if a buyer wants to spend more money to get a more upscale interior in a small, economy car, that’s fine, but what about those at the other end who find reliability and affordability more important? There should be choices for all.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Volt,
        I agree, there should be some modestly equipped cars as affordable alternatives. It looks like Nissan still makes the Versa that way, and the 2.0L Jetta S is a pretty good deal at $17K for a family sedan, assuming reliability isn’t an issue and you don’t need to get to 60 in under 11 seconds.

        If I recall, you can still price out a number of b-segment cars for $16-17K, and these aren’t stripped-out models anymore. I think Fiestas and Accents start at $14K, and Versas even less.

    • 0 avatar
      MBsam

      Toyota no longer gets a free pass because they are reliable (which is simply not a given for them anymore). A car is something you spend a lot of time in and if the interior is of poor quality and uncomfortable then it defeats the purpose. There are “whole packages” out there that offer reliability and good design/construction so why buy the Yaris?

  • avatar
    geozinger

    From this report, the littlest Kia sounds very impressive. One thing I noticed is that it doesn’t have the ‘clown car’ proportions most of the competition seems to have in this segment of the market. There’s something about having the C pillar end right over the rear wheel that says odd proportion to my midwestern eye. On this car, it looks natural.

    BTW, what the heck is that steer shaped object behind the Rio in the opening photo?

    EDIT: Forget my question about the sculpture. I see someone else recognized it.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Definitely a nice looking subcompact and there are A LOT of nice looking ones these days.

    I’d consider one of these if the base has what I want and rides decently (re, no overly soft suspension)

    But the surprise is that Fiat has what I’ve read, a 50% take on the manual but that may WELL be the demographic that is buying that car, though it seems to appeal to people of ALL ages, both old and new and of both sexes.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Sounds good. Sounds real good. Sounds really, really real good. Looks like this is getting added to the list for the January car hunt.

    Uh . . . . . .

    . . . . . . . did you say, “automatic only in the higher trim levels?” Thanks. Get me all interested, then drop the one thing that kills the car. Looks like it’s back to the Soul if I’m going to consider Kia.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    Looks like it has small rear windowitis, a contageous condition affecting some new cars. Can u really see out of it? Or are you expected to buy a rear camera?

  • avatar
    Derby129

    Does the B&B think that being able to say the Rio has moved from “credit-criminal transportation to class leading entry” helps improve the reception of said car?

    This is asked because Kia has chosen to keep the Rio nameplate even given its inherent horribleness in the past. Contrast for example the progression through the years of *ahem* Pontiac J2000, 2000 Sunbird, Sunbird, Sunfire, Pursuit, and G5.

    I do think there is value in saying “The new Rio is great!” versus having to rebuild brand recognition every few years. Not to mention the underlying admission of “The last one was crap, so let’s rename this new model”.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      “Rio” is a pretty good name: short, easy to pronounce, it’s a real word, and it has exotic connotations (Rio de Janeiro). Unlike Aveo and Sebring, there weren’t vast numbers of them in rental fleets, so their crappiness tended to fly under most people’s radar. I think keeping it was a good call.

      Too bad they shrank the back seat, the old Rio’s was actually fairly comfortable for two adults.

  • avatar
    Pahaska

    The longhorn sculpture was placed there by Benini, an Italian artist/sculpturist who has a studio on a large ranch SW of Johnson City, Texas. There is a studio and a drive-through exhibition by many artists on what used to be LBJ’s hunting ranch. All free. Well worth a few mile detour off US290, just west of Johnson City, TX.

    We go by maybe once a year to see what is new.

    • 0 avatar
      kezeka

      290 is a nice road with some ok scenery but why not take 71 towards lake travis and hammer through some of the newly paved backroads in the hill country out there past 620? Austin has some of my favorite driving roads in the nation if you get off the main highways. Definitely love the 3 mile stretch of spicewood springs/old lampasas that feeds into loop 360 then 2222. Shame you didnt make it over to those while in town.

      Well written and great review though, thanks for another great write up!

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        As fate would have it, a friend of mine showed up with a chipped-up GTI that evening and I took said GTI through those roads towards “The Oasis”. There’s a reason those roads weren’t on the journo drive route… somebody would have flipped a car.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I wonder why her mirrors were folded. Does she not use them, or did she want to avoid drivers behind meeting her eyes?

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    It’s amazing how far these cars have advanced. I dated a girl that owned a 2001 Rio, and it was a horrible car.

  • avatar
    Acd

    Jack,

    If anyone else wrote this I’d suspect some wobble (or reverse wobble since the review was so positive), although you were dead on with your 2011 Town & Country review so maybe this is just a good little car.

  • avatar
    SV

    I’m really impressed by this car, it looks great outside (though I still give the Fiesta’s styling a slight edge – it’s a hard car to top for me) and looks well-built inside (though I find the dashboard design unappealing).

    The engine looks class-leading as well.

    I do have doubts that the value equation is quite as big a deal as you make it out to be, however. Hyundai/Kias of late undercut their rivals but not by huge amounts – often the difference is negligible when feature differences are factored in (thanks TrueDelta).

    Case in point: the “pricey” Fiesta vs. the “bargain” Rio. A Fiesta SE auto with the Sport and Sync packages comes out to $18,085, while a Rio EX with the Convenience Package, which as far as I can make out is the closest equivalent to that Fiesta, is $18,250. So the Kia is actually slightly pricier (!), but it also has rear discs so let’s call it even. And, admittedly, the value equation tilts back in the Rio’s favor in the top trim levels.

    Personally, I want my next car to be a manual but I also want cruise control and some other “luxuries”, so the manual-in-stripper-trim-only Rio is off my list. Meanwhile the 1.4T Sonic has an appealing drivetrain but the exterior and interior styling turn me off. So it’s still the Fiesta or Mazda2 for me, in this class.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      We’re thinking the same. Ford and Mazda are my front runners, I really want to drive the Sonic, would like to look at a Fit (but there’s this little matter of dealing), drove the Soul and kinda like it (probably my #3 choice at the moment) . . . . and I do want to try out a Fiat 500 before making my final decision.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Well, this review may have sealed the deal for me.

    I own a subcompact car, and my next car, if new, will probably be one, too. When I think of all the times my car’s small size and maneuverability got me out of terrible traffic situations, and how often I’m the only occupant, a car that’s more than 13 feet long just doesn’t appeal to me.

    The Veloster and CR-Z are a bit too pricey, the Yaris is just plain terrible, I’m still turned off by the Sonic’s warmed-over Aveo looks, the Accent and Mazda2 are dinky-looking, and owning a Versa would frankly crush my soul.

    That leaves…the Rio. The previous Rio was perhaps the dinkiest model of them all, and the one before that even worse. But this new one looks all growed-up. The Rio’s noise levels and stereo will still be huge improvements over my 15-year-old Civic. It’s roomier and much faster, too.

    Oh, and I’ll need a sunroof too. That could be the kicker.

    Only the top-level SX comes with a sunroof. You can only get it with the $2,200 Premium package that includes lots of other things like heated leather seats (don’t need), a satnav with xm traffic (don’t need), and push button start (cool!). So the cheapest Rio with a sunroof costs…$20,650. That’s an awful lot for a Rio, but damn, it really is equipped like a Lexus ES.

    The Veloster splits the features of Rio’s Premium package into two separate $2,000 packages, “style” and “tech”. If I just get the sunroof package, A Veloster costs $21,310, but if I want satnav, backup camera and push-button start the Rio offers, it’ll cost me $23,310.

    The fact that I’m weighing a choice between two Korean hatchbacks at all is astounding in and of itself. When I was a kid, Hyundai was a joke, and there were no Kias.

    • 0 avatar
      Boff

      Don’t forget the Fiesta.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      The sunroof requirement almost always messes up the value proposition, so you will be stuck shopping $20k+ cars no matter what you pick. If you are ok with that, great, but if you care about the value, try crossing the sunroof off the list and see what it does to the price.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        try crossing the sunroof off the list and see what it does to the price.

        I’d rather cross off airbags and ABS first. Life is too short to live without a sunroof….

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        If a sunroof REALLY means that much to you, then great, go for it. But thats exactly the attitude they are counting on to stick sunroof fans with all the other options as well, driving the price of an otherwise inexpensive car up to fairly high levels. Which is all I meant when I said it screws up the value proposition.

        I have a sunroof, I open it maybe once a month. It doesnt add to my enjoyment of the car, it just happened to come with the (used) car already. I would never pay extra, and I would never spend thousands of dollars on other worthless options just for the opportunity to buy a hole in my roof. Its a poor substitute for a convertible, and I already have one of those too.

        My point being, if you are budget concious and looking for a good value, a sunroof isn’t the best option to make a deal breaker.

      • 0 avatar
        Cymen

        I’ve had moonroofs on my last two cars. I can’t wait to buy one without one. Leaks, noise, reduced headroom, etc. Not worth it by a long shot.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        @Cymen

        +1
        Also, if you’re anywhere over 6’3″ tall (6’3 1/2″ tall here), a sunroof in any but the largest cars or a pickup/SUV totally destroys the headroom. It’s a pity when I could fit in my dearly departed ’95 Geo Prizm better than a brand new Acura TSX.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Opinions on aesthetics being what they are (like the hole in my bum…everybody has one), I do really like the style of the new Rio5…snagging Audi’s DINC (designer in chief) didn’t hurt any, that’s for sure. Lots of Euro-inspiration here, and a good value proposition, to be sure. Too bad about the road noise, though…a quieter ride would make for a more pleasant driving experience. Is it really that loud underway?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Seems that Kia is succeeding at out-Mazdaing Mazda.

  • avatar
    mike978

    Good review and it seems the two major complaints (stereo and road noise) can be fixed fairly easily by Kia. I know the current Sportage had noise issues which the 2012 model year is meant to have fixed with more sound deadening. I would have hoped the stereo issue would have been caught before release but if this is all there is to complain about then Kia probably have a hit on their hands.

    Thanks for reminding me that the back looks like the old generation SEAT Leon, I had been trying to remember where I saw it before. That was an attractive car in the late 90’s/early 00’s.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Great review.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Special circumstances would call for this car.

    Excession is the best of Iaian M. Banks Culture novels. Banks is also something of a car guy as demonstrated in his novel The Bridge.

  • avatar
    rodface

    I drive a 2009 Rio, LX with a 5-speed. I’m well aware of the car’s flaws but am pleased with my purchase (one previous owner, one year off the lot with 13,000 miles on the clock). I would *love* to buy the new Rio sedan, in top trim level… but the lack of a stick shift is a serious turn-off. Can anybody guesstimate what the net cost would be to do a tranny swap with a brand-new OEM 5-speed immediately after driving off the lot? Assuming I can get a decent price on eBay for the autotragic. It seems silly to imagine such an undertaking for a car at this price point, but it’s pushing all the right buttons…

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    “If you’re swimming in this segment, you’re about to see blood in the water.”

    I remember this kind of excitement right before the Fiesta hit. But once it had been tested more extensively, reviewers found fault and the magic faded somewhat. The Sonic has just been crowned b-segment king by other reviewers, a sentiment Jack doesn’t seem to agree with. We’ll see how the Rio and Sonic fare once they’ve been out for awhile.

    This looks like a great little car in so many ways, but the road noise might kill it for me. There’s a reason we didn’t buy another Honda once our ’93 Civic retired. You can have the slickest interior, and features around, but if I have to listen to the road texture resonate through my skull during my commute, that’s a deal killer.

  • avatar
    LKre

    What would a Special Circumstances agent (accompanied by a small attack drone, as is customary) drive on the US soil (speed, reliability, room for dead bodies), if the car could not be modified?

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    If your friends have less than $20,000, but know how to shift, they could also have a “stripper” six-speed manual Optima for $19,200. “Stripper” these days means, among other things, AC, power windows and locks, six speaker stereo with USB input and Bluetooth, and all the safety features of the more expensive versions.

    The question is always whether a loaded cheap car is better than an stripped more expensive one.

  • avatar
    sco

    Nice review Jack. I realize that the bulk of car buyers will rush to the least expensive vehicle in any class esp the subcompacts, but my 98 civic ex is a case worth noting. It was not the least expensive vehicle in its class but any means but over the years and 250K+ miles its build quality and over-engineering has really paid off. Anything you noticed in the Rio that might give you a sense of whether this car was built for the long haul?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I wouldn’t expect any modern subcompact to do that kind of mileage but I did not see anything to indicate that the Rio wouldn’t hold up as long as a Fit or Yaris. The DI system is likely to need a scrub-out at some point.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Looks like a Sportage writ small. I kind of like it.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine, living in Moscow, Russia, bought a 2011 Rio. The first mod he did was an aftermarket cruise control, vacuum powered. That’s right, the engine has a mechanical throttle. I wonder if it’s the same in 2012.

  • avatar
    zambaq

    “Visibility is excellent all-around” — Really, Jack?
    Maybe for you (if in addition to inspiration, Mr. Banks has supplied you with some kind of special Sci-Fi Vision!), but with the Rio’s currently-faddish high beltline and that curvaceous rear window, I doubt it would seem so to me. I think visibility has been sacrificed for style in most new cars, and if the trend continues, car makers will have to equip them with periscopes, or else make them “self-driving” a la Google’s current experiment!

    • 0 avatar
      TCragg

      I agree on the compromised visibility. I test drove the local Kia dealer’s first 2012 Rio two weeks ago (a white LX+ model, Canadian-spec) and the trend of making ever-higher belt lines and ever-diminishing greenhouses was evident. My mother-in-law was looking for a new or gently used subcompact to replace her (unbelievably reliable) 2000 Hyundai Accent. The Rio drove as well as Jack described, and yes, the stereo, despite a fancy display and standard Sirius, sucked. Out the door with HST and fees, the car was a shade over $20,000.00. We decided on a 2009 Golf City (freshened Mk. 4.5 Golf) for under $12,000.00. The Golf’s older design afforded a more expansive greenhouse, and because the car is a step up in size, more room for the old lady. For what it is, though, the Rio is outstanding, and the level of equipment would be unheard of in this class of car even ten years ago. The Festiva wouldn’t know the new Rio if it fell over it.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    At the top of my list to replace my wonderful 05 xB1 is the 2012 Rio 4-door. I think it looks better than the 5-door.

  • avatar
    bd2

    “Sonic a second tier Korean car…’

    I don’t know about that; pretty much all the reviews on the Sonic have been positive, esp. regarding the fun to drive quotient – rivaling the Mazda2 and Fiesta.

    Anyway, the new Rio is a very good all around package from Kia in this segment; my biggest nitpick would be the steering feel.

    It’s pretty decent, but not as good as on say, the Mazda2. The UK auto reviews like the new Rio, but they love the new Picanto due to its better steering feel (don’t know why Kia can’t give the steering on the Rio the same calibration).

    There is talk that Kia may do a “hot-hatch” version of the Rio – getting the same 208HP powerplant that is rumored for the Veloster turbo – so maybe Kia will tighten up the steering and suspension on the hot hatch model.

    Also, there is no excuse for Kia to not offer an MT on the SX trim of the Rio, esp, since Kia is supposed to be the “sportier” brand in relation to Hyundai and Hyundai offers the MT on all trims of the Accent.

    The Rio hatch is definitely the looker in its segment; the Rio sedan has a sleek greenhouse, but the front doesn’t exactly go with the greenhouse (oddly, the Chinese version of the Rio sedan gets more of the mini-Optima look up front).

    As good as the Rio is, I think the Kia model (aside from the Optima) to look out for is the new Forte which is about a year away.

    • 0 avatar
      klossfam

      Daewoo = 2nd Tier Korean car…Jack is correct.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      The Sonic reviews have been overwhelmingly positive mostly because they are of the 1.4T, and – NOT – the 1.8 that will be the volume seller.

      It’s a good car, but the Sonic that buyers will be considering probably isn’t the one in the reviews.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      the Rio sedan has a sleek greenhouse, but the front doesn’t exactly go with the greenhouse
      If you’re looking at the sedan on the KIA web site, it’s the 2011. The 2012 sedan won’t be available until January.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Good steering? A Picanto? I wonder what calibration they’re getting on their test units…

      Because here, the steering is absolute ****e. The calibration jumps between low speed assist and high speed firmness too quickly, and the motor turns itself off when you’re not giving it any inputs, making the Picanto the first car I’ve ever driven that doesn’t want to self-center when you let go of the wheel when going around a high speed sweeper.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    If they made this in a 3dr body and turbocharged the 1.6 it would be a no brainer for me. I’d buy one now even though I don’t even need a car.

  • avatar
    klossfam

    It is one nice looking subcompact. I just drove the GDI 1.6L and
    6 speed MT combo in a Veloster and it is a SWEET combo…The 1.6L is Honda smooth at high revs…

  • avatar
    Marko

    It looks like a slightly smaller VW GTI, and that’s a good thing. It looks like Kia has another “home run” on their hands.

    The only thing that would bother me, according to the review, is the noise. Jack, is it worse than the Fit?

  • avatar
    ninja14blue

    $20K for a new fully-loaded Kia Rio…completely insane. Same goes for the Fiesta, Sonic, Fit, etc.

  • avatar
    Charlie84

    “This is the class-leading interior without a doubt, and by some clear distance.”

    Moreso than the current VW Golf (which sits perhaps a bit uncomfortably between the Ford Fiesta and Ford Focus market segments)?

    • 0 avatar
      SV

      I always thought the Golf was a direct Focus competitor; in Europe it’s the template for C-segment cars.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      The Golf is a class larger/more expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        Charlie84

        Right, as I noted.

        In the U.S. market, with it’s antiquated drivetrain, the Golf 2.5 arguably sits right below the Focus.

        The question was about how the interior of the Kia compares, given that this is the nearest relevant VW product and VW products have long been considered to have some of the best interiors in the industry. Jack seems to think that the Kia interior compares favorably to many $25K cars. Thus, the comparison is apt.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I think this is a great looking car, but man I am so pissed that they refuse to offer a stick on anything but the base model. They already have the stick, its the same engine, etc. Why not make it an option at least? Even a pay-extra option? Even a special order option? They offer the SX model, the SX designation is supposed to be the “sport” model, on other Kias it comes with a more powerful engine, all the SX models come with sport suspensions, sporty seats, red interior threading, etc, its the SPORTING version! Couldn’t they offer the stick on at least the top level model, even if they dont offer it on the mid-level ones??

    And I dont believe the marketing hype. I think this whole thing about buyers not choosing a stick shift is a self-fulfilling prophecy. YES, most buyers dont choose a stick, true. But dealers dont order sticks, or some cars dont offer them, and the percentage of buyers who WOULD buy one shop elsewhere. If they package a decent driver’s car WITH a stick, I think the take rate would be higher for that model.

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      Hyundai and Kia penalize you for buying a stick. I was shocked to find you can’t even get cruise in a stick on the Kia Soul. No wonder their take rates are so low.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        @Disaster

        The problem is, majority rules. And the majority of drivers in the US wouldn’t even know what a manual transmission LOOKS like, let alone how to drive one. Hence, automatic transmissions until further notice.

    • 0 avatar

      agreed. i think it’s the dealer network that doesn’t like selling stick shifts. with a lot of options, the dealer can just sweeten the deal and move the metal but if your wife can’t drive a stick, you won’t buy one. it’s that simple. if they made a special order sport version with a stick, i bet you it would sell.

      p.s. great writing as always jack, i for one appreciate that you appreciate both kia hatchbacks and the lincoln town car, and that you’re not afraid to admit it. also, kudos for staying above the fray by not replying to the political bait that some readers troll around here…

  • avatar
    keyman

    Is it just me or does anyone else also realize that the KIA badge on the hood and trunk with black background so solemnly resembles the military acronym of K.I.A. (killed in action). Bad luck for car brand. For that reason, I will never consider a KIA. I do not want that hanging over me whenever I’m in the car.

  • avatar
    BlisterInTheSun

    And more cheerleaders to watch while eating that ice cream. (Edit – misplaced in thread.)

    Anyhoo, this will likely be on the list of possible new car purchases in the next six months. Cannot wait!

  • avatar
    Spartan

    Sound system is an easy fix. Buy some components and replace the crappy stock speakers. Want more volume, buy an amplifier.

    Either way, this car is a serious bargain with that interior.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      You’ve hit one of my modern pet peeves: how most carmakers have abandoned standard stereo hole shapes so you have to buy your sound system upgrades from them. The nav/stereo unit in the picture looks like it just might be a standard double-DIN size, concealed by a trim piece that overspreads the edges onto the surrounding dash.

      Gentlemen, start your Dremels.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    This review fairly reeked of a directed sales walk around, pointing out imaginary features and simply stating pure contrarian fiction about obvious deficiencies.

    Wow, despite my several advanced degrees I’m going to have to read more to figure this one out. Must be an OWS break.

    Meanwhile, it would help a little with interior ability if that back window wasn’t so sloped…

  • avatar
    mtunofun

    I’m one of the few people who are sad about this car. As an employee of a rental car company, I am happy when an Aveo, Rio, or Accent is on the lot, I can always get people to upgrade. Alas, these cars are actually desirable now….mini violin playing :)

  • avatar
    mazder3

    I might have to look into one of these when they come out with the Cupra R edition.

  • avatar
    jenkins190

    “…it doesn’t scandalize the neighbors by announcing your poverty.”

    that’s fantastic.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Just test drove one of these last night, back to back with a base optima, and a soul + (all autos).

    Very impressed by the Rio, more so than the accent.
    Most of the optima’s appeal is on the outside (and the sticker),
    and the soul is roomy but has a surprisingly bumpier ride compared to the rio or the optima. weird.


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