By on September 11, 2012

In my fawning review of the Kia Rio 5-door, I noted that the six-speed manual transmission was only available with the base model. When the B&B complained, I commented that

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.

Kia’s about to try to prove me wrong.

For $18,650 including destination charges, you can now buy a stick-shift Rio SX five-door with all sorts of fun stuff including touch-screen navigation. It’s still going to be a very loud car, and not everyone likes the way it looks, but this has to be one of the better values in the segment. Note that there’s no price break for taking the stick-shift — and look for that policy to become the rule, not the exception, everywhere you go.

Those of you who said you wanted to buy an upscale manual-transmission compact can now put your money where your mouth is. Assuming, of course, you haven’t all taken delivery of a Focus Titanium already.

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39 Comments on “Here Comes The Hotstepper — And By “Hotstepper” We Mean “Manual-Transmission Kia Rio With Additional Features”...”


  • avatar
    segfault

    Needs to be a true wagon, RWD, and a diesel. Then they’ll sell millions!

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Kia’s only offering about 500 of these initially, so they may be trying to prove you wrong but they aren’t trying very hard.

    I like small cars but $18.7K for a loud B-segment buzz box is a bit too much for me even if it is loaded to the gills. I’d much prefer the quiet little-big-car feel of the Fiesta, but the backseat is tiny. So I’d take the hit in features, stretch an extra $1000, and go for a Focus SE first.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      They know better than anyone here what the true demand for these cars are. 500 might even be generous. I mean you said they aren’t trying hard enough, but immediately made excuses as to why you won’t buy one. “I would buy it but” doesn’t help their bottom line,.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        I wouldn’t buy it because there are better cars out there within that price range, regardless of the transmission. Good enough reason for you? Or just another excuse?

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Eh, a lot of buyer prefer having all the amenties.

      It’s the same argument as going with the Focus Titanium or something in the next segment up but not nearly as loaded.

      It all depends on what’s more impt. to the buyer.

  • avatar
    spyked

    Nearly $20k for a subcompact Kia? I am sure it’s a fine car. But jeez, if you want a manual transmission small car, and have this kind of money to spend, why not get the the real-deal VW Golf? Safety, utility, (relative) luxury ride, feel, materials, and honest reliability and performance.

    I’m not convinced that Hyundai/Kia’s DI technology will stand the test of time – they haven’t coupled their DI with PFI so what’s stopping the inevitable carbon deposits?

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      There is no ‘honest reliability’ with Volkswagen. You lost me with that; actually, VW lost me with that a decade ago.

      • 0 avatar
        stryker1

        The 2.5L Rabbit/Golf have consistently ended up on the CR used car recommendations list. Sure they’re not Hondas, but who is?

      • 0 avatar
        spyked

        Tell that to the millions of people that buy VWs year after year. The Golf isn’t in the top 5 selling cars of all time by being unreliable.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        @stryker1:

        Funny, I went looking to get a 2.5L Rabbit/Golf in around the sub-$18,000 range. last year while I was out pricing new compacts and the dealer showed me one with absolutely Attrocious seats, said they were sport-buckets from the GTI. I asked if I could get normal non-sport seats, he said no, I asked him what other options there were, he said just wear the super-hard and super-narrow bolsters down, I asked how I was supposed to endure that, he said I should invest in a cushion.

        I then asked him if they sold such cushions. He said no, and was I Absolutely Certain I didn’t wanna see one of their new $25,000 Tiguans?

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Les, if you want wide, soft, formless seats, Toyota has a Corolla they’d love to sell you on. The Golf seats are magnificent.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        @30-mile fetch:

        The Golf I was looking at was a base model, 2.5L Manual-transmission, zero option model… yet still had allegedly GTI-grade seats..

        Seats, that looked and felt like they were made from recycled tires, and were two sizes two small.

        Although the dealer-rep didn’t seem to think the seats in a much more expensive and well-equipped Tiguan would give me trouble.

        ….

        I’m saying THE DEALER WAS TRYING TO RIP ME OFF!! *ahem*

        Sorry if I was being too subtle.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I like the Golf & agree with you, but 2 things: Manual available only in 2 door guise. That sucks. And “honest reliability” may be a bit of a stretch. The 2.5L is average or a bit above on reliability rankings (which is great for VW), but the warranty is light and they are expensive to repair.

      • 0 avatar
        EEGeek

        The Golf diesel is still available with a manual and 4 doors. But it’s priced in a different category, for sure.

        I’m not stepping into the VW reliability fight except to say that my experience has been mixed, but overall positive. Enough so that I’m still driving one.

      • 0 avatar
        fvfvsix

        I own the service manual for my MKVI. Difficult to work on, they are not. Expensive to repair – maybe if you go to the wrong place (like most dealerships).

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Is the shifter on Kia (and Hyundai) models of this ilk still spectacularly terrible?

    I recall the Soul’s being pretty bad, as was the older Accent, Elantra and Rio.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      Its as stimulating as a broomstick shoved into a box of dry spaghetti. Clutch is high and hard like I would think a tractor would feel. Very similiar to my ’97 Saturn SL’s 5 spd.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The shifter on the Accent is pretty decent and C&D didn’t seem to have any issue w/ the shifter in the Rio SX (they did, however, complain about the soft clutch pedal).

  • avatar
    jconli1

    Just bought a base 2013 Rio 5-door LX last week to replace the fiancee’s rusted money pit of an ’04 Forester.

    It is primarily her commuter so we went with the 6-speed auto. I still think this car would be about 25% more fun with the 6-speed manual, but I have to admit, for being a standard torque converter, the auto makes quick, usually well-timed shifts, even in the twisty mountain roads. When you don’t like it’s choice, correcting it with the tiptronic is very easy, especially while descending. I never thought I’d say that.

    The car is pretty amazing. We had the Fit and Mazda2 on the list as well, but the styling, fit and finish, features, and performance of the Kia have no real match at the moment, especially considering its price. Peter Schreyer’s influence can be seen and felt everywhere with a tidy, teutonic, non-cartoonish interior and exterior (especially compared to the Accent). Even in the base LX, the details are all there and the quality seems very solid. Compared to the Fischer-Price Mazda2 and the overly-futuristic Fit, the Rio just felt like a sharp, enjoyable Audi-ish small car.

    The 1.6GDI mill is a little buzzy and makes some interesting noises that I’m assuming are the GDI system itself, but it has ample passing power without any drama, even uphill. It was a hoot to throw into a turn as well, reminding me very much of my old Suzuki Swift GTi. That said, on a spirited drive yesterday around Mt. Rainier the Rio surprised us with 44mpg. (It’s been getting mid-30s on the stop and go commute)

    For the last year or so, I was excited about the idea of replacing the Forester with the Mazda2… now I’m glad we waited a little while longer. The look, feel, performance, and economy of the Rio is not to be overlooked, especially since it is also one of the best values (particularly the LX)

    • 0 avatar
      stryker1

      Agreed, I very nearly ended up with one of those instead of my Golf. Only didn’t go with it because of the sub-standard stereo.

      In every other aspect, though, the Rio5 is an awesome little car.

  • avatar
    redav

    “Kia’s about to try to prove me wrong.”

    I don’t think so. Volume is so low for cars in this segment that Kia is more likely testing the waters than trying to make a statement.

    I suspect that in the end, you will be proven right.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      Kia has done this for a simple reason:

      Everyone and their mother on the internet claims they’ll buy one if they offered it with a stick. Sales will tell when people actually put their money where their mouth is, which probably won’t happen.

      Remember all those people wanting the G8? Imagine if GM brought the G8 ST over…..they’d probably still be rusting on the lots.

  • avatar
    vegasgti

    Cruise control is NOT available on a Rio with a manual tranny!

    • 0 avatar
      ezeolla

      AHA! I knew I would find a reason not to buy one!

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      WRONG.

      http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2013-kia-rio5-sx-manual-instrumented-test-review

      Car And Driver already tested the car, and you can see the cruise control on the steering wheel. RH side, bottom LH button is ON/OFF, bottom RH button is Cancel, and the rocker switch on the RH side is the the acc/decel switch.

  • avatar
    foojoo

    I test drove the Hyundai accent with a manual transmission and it was one car where I would opt for the automatic transmission. I did not like anything about the manual transmission. I believe the Kia Rio uses the same exact transmission.

    I also test drove the Kia Rio5 with an automatic transmission, because there were literally like 5 Rio’s in the country with a manual transmission. I was very pleased with the car. Had I not gotten such an amazing deal on my Mazda3 I would have picked up the Kia.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Because manual volume is so low, are we now living in an age where a manual actually costs the manufacturer more money than an automatic, the way cranks cost more than power windows?

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Yep. You have to think, with enthusiasts being smarter, and used cars lasting longer, there’s a much bigger pool of much more exciting metal for the money with stickshifts. I like the idea of this car, but for 20K I like the idea of 1-2 MUCH better used cars.

    • 0 avatar
      stryker1

      Yep.
      Also, Horses are more expensive than Cars.
      If you want to be an enthusiast in a market that is only supported by enthusiasts, you’re going to pay for it.

  • avatar
    Boff

    A month after the original post, I ended up buying a Fiat 500 Sport. With a manual. :)

  • avatar
    NN

    everytime I’ve seen one of these my first thought is “ooooohhh, grey market Seat, cool”, and then I realize it’s a Kia.

  • avatar

    As much as I love Kia, the Rio is subcompact, as opposed to the Focus’s compact size. Furthermore the Rio SX’s material choices and build-quality are not as good as the Ford Focus Titanium’s, which is near to Audi and Lexus in terms of fit-and-finish.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      An $18,000 vs a $26,000 car?

      And no the Focus isn’t that great on the inside. Too many cut lines, and trim pieces. Good luck when those start rattling.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      What’s the point?

      The Rio’s interior is just as good as the Fiesta’s and the Kia cee’d interior is just as good, if not better than the Focus (we’ll see what the interior in the new Forte is like).

  • avatar
    sketch447

    I must admit, when you crunch the numbers for subcomp cars like the Rio, they don’t quite make sense. As you add options, the prices start bumping Focus/Elantra/Cruze/Corolla territory……I think perhaps the tiny Chevy Spark is the rare exception. You can land a decent Spark for $13k, which explains its unexpected sales success………I will give the Rio credit, however. It’s a nice looking small car, inside and out. Impressive styling.

    • 0 avatar
      jconli1

      We looked at it the other way… the LX is already appointed well enough that the option list seems a bit superfluous. $1k for Bluetooth and a backup camera? $2k for LEDs and low-profile tires with a harsh ride?

      The idea that you can have a German-designed, Korean-built subcompact with a 6-speed auto, 138hp, 40mpg, a quality interior, a great list of standard features (Satellite radio w/aux-in and steering wheel controls, LED backlighting, extensive trip computer, TPM, traction/abs/stability, AC, airbags aplenty) plus a killer warranty all for around $15k is pretty hard to beat.

      I hate to sound like an evangelist, but after spending months researching the market inside and out, I am just incredibly impressed with the Kia.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    After depriving myself for 25 yrs, I satisfied my manual transmission urges with a Ranger 5 spd stick. Its deja vu all over again. The 600$ Rat reminds me of my ’47 GMC pick up. Except the Ranger, doesnt have a roll out windshield for ventilation.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    When looking for a replacement to my ’08 Gov’t Motors Malibu (p.s., WORST CAR I’VE EVER OWNED) about 6 months ago, I narrowed the search down to four rides: Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit.

    In addition to the Acura dealer I work for, my employer also owns Honda and Hyundai dealerships. That said, I did seriously consider a Rio due to its low price of admittion. And although the MSRP and fuel economy were attractive, at the time you COULDN’T EVEN GET A/C WITH A MANUAL. Idiotic.

    I ended up with a ’12 Accent hatch (with 6spd manual AND A/C!), and never looked back. It now has about 12k on the ‘clock’, and have had absolutely no issues. I average 40mpg on 50mph county roads with it (with a little ‘spirited’ driving mixed in :)

    What Kia failed to understand at the neo-Rio launch was that the target market for such vehicles rarely want slushboxes. They want low price point, maximum fuel economy, and sometimes the option to wind the engine out to its breaking point once in a while (and boy, is that 1.6l fun to do that with), but with a few modern conveniences.

    My only complaints with Accent in the GS/manual trans trim level: NO CRUISE. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? And the pizza cutter tires are, well, to say the least, cheap crap (and will be replaced by 16 or 17″ next spring).

    Rio is a cousin to the Accent, so, maybe Hyundai/Kia management is actually LISTENING to its customer base. What a novel concept! More than I can say for Honda/Acura (read: 2012 Civic), which considering they write my paychecks, scares the shit out of me.


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