By on December 3, 2015

cheapcheaprio

Consumer Reports recently came out with a study that featured the seven least satisfying new cars in today’s market. The worst? By a margin worthy of “Independence Day” going up against “Pluto Nash,” it was the current generation Kia Rio. Only 40 percent of current owners would recommend buying a new one.

The usual demerits for a compact such as the Kia Rio would be that it is tinny, cheap, loud and had interior accompaniments that would be worthy of a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe. In other words, it’s a Korean version of the Mitsubishi Mirage with substantially more power in exchange for far less usable interior space and an ugly beak. That may just be my personal opinion.

But there’s a far guiltier crime of irrefutable measure that the Kia Rio is known for at the auto auctions, and Consumer Reports managed to hit the exact bullseye of that bullseye.

cheaprioseats

Kia decontents the hell out of the Rio (note the roll down windows) and then shucks far too many of these base model cars to dealers who end up catering to what we kindly call in the business the “pulse and a paycheck” clientele. The folks you would never willingly finance yourself, but are more than happy and able to buy any new car in today’s market thanks to cheap credit.

cheapriodash

So long as the payment is low enough that it can be stretched out for at least seven years, these math-challenged souls will sign a stack of papers that will yield more short-term profit than any check cashing errand boy could ever dream of earning as a “Checks For Cash!” franchisee.

Automakers makes an absolute killing out of inking these deals and selling them in bunches as asset-backed securities to whatever bank is willing to remarket these soon-to-be-heavily-depreciated assets. But there are a few catches that come along the way as these cars age. Many of which end up nailing the automaker right in the proverbial groin of their bottom line.

cheaprioonempty

Too Many Base Cars Drag Down Used Car Values

That 2013 Kia Rio that sold for $15,000 back when it was new is now worth less than $6,000 at the auctions according to the Manheim Market Report. We’re not talking about 60 percent off what is usually an inflated MSRP. We’re looking square into a bottomless pit of real-world depreciation that ends up destroying any opportunity for profit on the long-term leasing side of the car business. Whenever automakers decide to build a large horde of base model cars and decontent them to the extreme, it has a lasting negative effect on the value of those vehicles.

You Can’t Ignore Local Needs And Wants

Nissan learned this lesson about 10 years ago, Kia is still learning it.

When the Versa was first released you could find a surprising number of them all over the country. Their unconventional wisdom could be summarized by the following: “No A/C in Georgia? Why the hell not?!” Nissan pretty much ignored the actual needs of their local customers and simply rubber stamped a small army of base Versas to dealers who simply couldn’t sell them.

Back in the Farago days of TTAC, it was surprisingly easy to find a small base car to review that was worthy of an endless onslaught of pejoratives and color metaphors that described the driving experience. Franchise dealers back then would sometimes hock these sorry cars as a “Buy One, Get One Free,” deal that would pair an extortion-priced loaded model with one of these base models. Kia was a leading force in this not too bright marketing scheme that used deceptive ads to try to get the clueless into their doors. Many of them came, but few left with a couple of $2 keys to a cheaped-out base car.

You Can’t Offer Fewer Key Features Than The Competition

In the end, what would happen is that most of these bare-bones vehicles would just sit for month. Eventually they would get wholesaled out at the auctions. In Kia’s case, they still sell the Rio, and to the lesser extent the Forte, with deleted features that heavily detract from the long-term ownership experience.

You can’t sell a car that has roll-down windows, no cruise and wheel covers if your competition is offering power windows, cruise and alloy wheels at the same price point.  It doesn’t matter if your MSRP is $1,500 less. People only look at what’s out their window once the shine of the great deal wears out. Not what you offered them as a great deal on paper a year ago.

Owner’s Remorse Is A Base-car Bitch

Case in point: Imagine going to a stop light with your brand new base-to-the-extreme refrigerator white Kia Rio and seeing a Chevy Sonic with a nice set of alloy wheels, a rear spoiler that works well with the design, and enough presence to make it stand out for all the right reasons. That exterior dynamic has a huge impact on long-term customer satisfaction because there is still an element of upscale features to the car. Even if it’s a base model.

That’s one of the reasons why the Sonic was able to win a Yahoo comparo pitting it against two other cars known for their parsimonious nature: the Versa and the Mirage. In real-world dollars, it was only a few hundred dollars more.  When it comes to new or used cars, cheap only sells if there’s enduring value to it.

 

NOTE: This Is The Loaded 'No Legs!' Version

NOTE: This Is The Loaded ‘No Legs!’ Version

Roominess + Features > Performance

American consumers almost always value room and features over performance when it comes to affordable compact cars. That’s why a Nissan Versa can sell like hotcakes while the pocket rocket Mazda 2 has become a historical footnote.

In the used car world, a 2010 Dodge Caliber SXT equipped with the Jatco CVT may offer virtually no performance virtue compared with the lowly Chevy Cobalt LS and the based out Ford Focus S of the same year. But with standard alloy wheels, a ton more room and an arguably sportier design profile than the other dowdy Detroit offerings, the Caliber often sells for a higher price.

Nobody Wants A Cheap Car. Not Even Cheapskates.

You want a cheap Rio? Go to the website of your local Kia dealership and you will see a surprisingly large army of base LX models with no cruise, no alloy wheels and no power windows. That wouldn’t be that big of a deal 10 years ago, but today these options cost a grand total of maybe $50 to add onto a vehicle? The features that made a car loaded 10 years ago such as alloy wheels, cruise, ABS and traction control are now standard for everything save the cheapest of the cheap, and with many automakers equipping their cheapest cars with these features standard, you have to use these ingredients in the modern recipe that is a base car.

Still want cheap? Just buy a near-base car and upgrade it to your liking as time goes on. If Kia were capable of doing this I’m willing to bet that even the lowly Rio would have a far higher customer satisfaction rating. What do you think?

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127 Comments on “Hammer Time: Why Cheap Cars Don’t Sell...”


  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Why show a nice, bloopy old Rio with a decent greenhouse when the current one looks like this?

    http://tinyurl.com/ja7ku96

    Perhaps this has something to do with their staying on dealers’ lots.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      My parents recently told me they had a rental car while on a vacation to Boston. I didn’t know they were going to/did get one. My dad picked the super-micro section or whatever from Avis, and they ended up with a base Rio.

      My mom: “That’s the worst car I’ve been in, in my life.”
      Dad: “It just had no power, and it was loud and uncomfortable.”
      Me: “If you spent nine more dollars, you could have upgraded to standard class and had a loaded Cruze instead.”
      Dad: “Oh…”

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I wonder how long it takes a bank to decide to repo one of those things? I mean, if they financed it new, they are are going to completely take it in the proverbial shorts if they repo it and send it off to auction.

    If I was a bank, I’d give my errant borrower all the time in the world to get caught up, offer all the concessions I could think of, basically treat him/her like royalty in order to avoid taking a total bath when they try to unload the pile ‘o parts.

    Of course, it’s a total desperate move, as anybody who buys one of these things new is probably not the most financially astute anyway, since it is an inferior choice in every way to even a half-way decent late-model used car.

    I hadn’t heard of these being offered BOGOF. I imagine that served to DROP sales, as nothing says “Imma hella desperate to get this thing off my lot” than pricing cars like heads of lettuce or inexpensive canned goods. I dimly recall econoboxes being “given” away with pickups before, but not another car of the same model.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      At 18%+ interest, it doesn’t take THAT long to make your nut – most people do pay, so the losses are small compared to the profits. Plus I doubt very many actual banks are financing the real bottom feeders, wouldn’t it be mostly KIA’s inhouse financing arm? And finally, as has been said before, when you need your wheels to get to your McJob, you will put off paying absolutely EVERYTHING else including rent before you miss your car payment. Way harder to evict you than to repo the car.

      I’m not so sure the really cheap cars are such a bad thing. Late model used cars are *expensive* for anything good. There is a lot to be said for new with a nice long warranty. Even these base cars are not really penalty boxes by any rational standard (though I won’t go without A/C). They will start and get you where you are going every day for a very long time for very little money. And the less equipment, the less there is to break. Would I buy one? Heck no, but I can also fix my own used cars. Many people can’t.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        “…but I can fix my own used cars. Many people can’t.”

        Uh let’s reword that to many people WON’T. It takes some effort and an investment in some basic tools (buy what you need before the repair, the savings pays for the tools that you get to keep for the next repair).

        You start out doing little things on your car and then learn to do more complex. When I was sixteen a swapped out a heater core and a transmission on my ’81 Mustang. That was after learning to do spark plugs, oil changes, brakes, etc. A couple decades later I can do more or less anything.

        Also – so why wouldn’t Kia add 6 inches to the length of the car to give it usable legroom in the backseat area? As it stands if the front seat occupants are typical American heights the back seat area is useless even for small children.

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      True stories from a bankruptcy lawyer I know: in the bad old early days of the Hyundai, the buyer goes bankrupt and goes to surrender the car as required by law: Dealer says kind of disgustedly “just forget about it”

      Case number 2, a Suzuki. Bankruptcy lawyer finally had to get a bankruptcy court order to get the dealer to take it back.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I had a coworker who owned a Yugo. He was faced with the option of repairing it or stop making payments & have it repo’d. He went with the latter. It was so broken the repo man couldn’t figure out how to take it.

        When the coworker called the bank about it, (I don’t remember the whole story but) the bank decided not to report the default.

  • avatar
    dwford

    In my years of selling cars, there did exist a very small buyer group that INSISTED on stripper base models, that were paranoid about power windows breaking etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Guilty as charged. I have never seen a window crank or manual door lock break. But have seen plenty of power window motors break when someone has tried to open them in the Canadian winter. Or remote key fobs get lost and require $150+ to replace.

      When the stripped model comes with the same motor, suspension, etc as the mid-priced model why pay for all the unnecessary frills?

      However the majority of vehicle purchases are based on emotion or aspirations rather than rational thought and a thorough evaluation of what you really use your vehicle for.

      • 0 avatar
        maestromario

        I absolutely agree.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I’ve had a crank window break in a car I owned. (I’ve also had a power window switch fail, though.) Crank windows don’t keep the linkage from breaking or the window from slipping off.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          VAG products like to break door handles, plastic clips, and mountings of this or that.

          Happens no matter which trim you choose. :(

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            My broken window crank was on a Ford. Like, come to think of it, the majority of automotive breakage and failure that has ever affected me.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I wonder how you’ve never seen a crank break off.

      • 0 avatar
        Car Ramrod

        Both manual door locks in my ’92 Wrangler haven’t worked in a decade plus. It’s a soft top and not daily driven, so I can’t see a reason to fix them.

      • 0 avatar
        Richard Chen

        Had an old Volvo with a sticky crank sunroof that leaked. No more sunroofs/moonroofs, crank or otherwise, for me since.

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatist

        The trick is to be the SECOND owner of one of these, pick it up for pennies on the dollar.

        Great for limited income situations.

      • 0 avatar
        DCwiexplorer

        True story: My daughter (aged 10 or 11 at the time) and I were riding in my old Chev S10. She asked me how to open the window. It was a crank, and she had NEVER seen a crank before.

        “See that knob? You turn it in a circle to make the window go down. Turn it the other way to make it go back up.”

        Now 15, it’s going to be fun teaching her to drive a stick.

      • 0 avatar
        Frylock350

        Some frills are legitimately useful. Without power windows how else can I easily roll down all four windows for open air motoring (and roll them back up when it rains).

      • 0 avatar

        In February I bought my household a 2016 Spark LS with manual seats, windows, locks, and mirrors. And as Arthur says, I got the same powertrain, suspension, infotainment, and A/C that the pricier Sparks have. I pretty much get whatever car I want, but in 32 years of buying new cars, I’ve always bought base versions when possible, and been happy with them.

    • 0 avatar
      ItsMeMartin

      Same here. I just sold my Volvo yesterday and I’m currently looking for a Focus or a Citroen C4 to replace it. My must-haves are steel wheels, non-tinted rear windows, cloth interior, and no touchscreens. If I was buying a new car, it would be the same story; there is not a single car on the market that I would buy in any model other than base, apart from the Charger Hellcat.
      Like Arthur said, what the car doesn’t have can’t be broken. It might not be so important for those of you who drive fairly new cars but for less well-off people like me, going for less has its benefits. Especially since – speaking from my own experience – the risk of buying a used car that has serious faults that the seller is trying to “cover” with equipment (big rims, powerful sound systems) seems to be much higher for luxed-out versions.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        We’re starting to shop for our next car. It is tough to find something with the “basic” luxuries without all the touchscreens and doodads the modern cars come with. What I want are carbon copies of our 1999 vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      My father, a finicky audiophile who claimed that listening to music in a car was basically a sin, special-ordered his VW Squareback (this was of course when that car was the new, new thing) specifically so he could get it without a radio.

    • 0 avatar
      dantes_inferno

      A Tata Nano probably has more standard equipment than this Rio. And that’s not saying much.

      Smart For Two + backseat = Kia Rio.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I remember the stripped Versa, I believe the one I saw didn’t even have a radio.

    That Rio in the picture could be my daughter’s. A MINI totalled it a couple months ago. The driver of the MINI was crying because her car was ruined. My daughter was celebrating, for the same reason.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the infamous sedan-only ‘VERSA S’ or whatever that came with the basic elements of a car – insert-radio-here plate, wartime blackout trim, and like 14″ wheels off a Nissan cargo pallet.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Yep that was the 2009 “1.6 Sedan” trim, released to capture “cheapest car in the US” title from the $9995 Hyundai Accent. It sold for $9990 (plus destination) with a manual transmission, power steering+ power brakes, full set of airbags, and pre-wired with 4 speakers but no stereo. A/C and a 4spd auto were optional.

      I actually prefer that earlier cheapskate 2009 variant to the current Versa Sedan S, which can be found discounted to that same $10k with a 5spd. The new S actually has air conditioning and stereo standard, but the car itself lost that French solidity and comfort. Seat cloth is worse quality, seats are smaller units with integrated headrests. Trunk is larger now (an astounding 14.9 from an already large 13.8). The older car was a heavier Megane based platform and rode nicer than some midsize sedans. The new car is lighter and more efficient, but also lost it’s segment trumping ride quality and solidity, ceding it to the Sonic. It now feels like an 80s econobox for better or for worse, the old car felt fairly unique and was nicer to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        There used to be a local Hyundai dealer ad (years ago) with that cheap-ass Accent. The hood flapped and it talked to him like a cartoon. And it was yellow.

        I may have become violently ill after watching it.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          It was called the Hyundai Accent Blue. I remember when I was getting my VW serviced in AZ (which happened often), the Hyundai dealer next door had one. Under $10K, but it had no A/C! IN AZ!!!

          Steel wheels, no a/c, no power windows, no power locks, Truly a hateful thing.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I always felt the hatch was particularly gross looking from the back.

            http://onlytruecars.com/data_images/gallery/01/hyundai-accent/hyundai-accent-07.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            wolfinator

            I respectfully disagree. I have a couple relatives with those, and I actually enjoyed driving them moreso than any other low-end compact car I’ve been in.

            It feels like driving a go-cart. It’s small and maneuverable, with much better road feel than I’d expect think. The manual transmission is hardly sublime, but lets you pick your own gear as you rev the crap out of the little engine. The couple times I drove them, I expected it to be hateful; instead, it was sheer fun.

            You’re never going to drive a 300hp V6 to the limit on your commute, but that little guy will make you feel like you’re at the carting track.

            Both examples I know of have been reliable, and you can get them for peanuts now. I’d seriously consider one as a commuter car (assuming the commute wasn’t too much freeway).

            No, the hateful, awful car of that era is the Aveo. I drove a rental with the scariest, vaguest steering and worst freeway composure I’ve every encountered. I’d take an Accent Blue a billion times over that pile.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            Our beater is an 01 Accent 1.6L sedan. One thing I will say about it is, its a car.

            Seriously though, it was bought for cash, for a couple grand a couple years ago, and soldiers on. Oil changes and a brake job, and were going to run it till it pops.

            Its slow, and the trans is very clunky, but I absolutely love the visibility it has, and it turns on a dime. Its very easy to drive.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            No A/C in AZ makes it a terrible creature. I have driven the 00s Accent as a rental and wasn’t a fan. Being above an Aveo isn’t a ringing endorsement.

            I also wouldn’t buy one as a commuter because I am not hauling around my 3 year old in a 2000s Hyundai Accent.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    Looked at the Versa Note and Sentra before buying the new Fit last fall. Honda seems to “get it” with there base models. To get a manual transmission in the Nissan products I had to give up among other things cruise control. The only thing the base Fit did not offer that I was willing to pay extra for was alloy wheels. Went on Tire rack a week before we bought the Fit and got a nice set of alloys and Blizzacks for less than $600 all in. Still $1000 cheaper than the next level Fit and the other features were not compelling enough for me to pay extra for. 1 year and 20000 miles later the Fit is what we expected, nothing more or less. Would do it again. 15 years ago Nissan got my money because the Sentra GXE offered power windows and locks, manual trans, AC and cruise.

    • 0 avatar

      I did the same thing with the 2013 Fit. The best feature of that car is that the recirculation flap is manually operated. It manifests itself in 3 ways:

      1) The lever is easy to grasp and operate. I also have a twice more expensive car where the recirculation button is tiny and confusingly placed and labeled.

      2) It’s instantaneous. There’s no motor to whirl. SLAM and it’s closed.

      3) Car does not get to decide if I want it closed. On most cars today you cannot enable recirculation together with using the front outlets under the windshield, because the car considers those defroster only.

      I wish this kind of smart decontenting continued into the 2015 generation, but alas.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Honda has prioritized cruise control availability it seems since the 80s, when base model Accord DXs got it as standard equipment. When I was small car shopping in 2012 I ran into the same dilemma, Hyundai and Kia are the worst offenders at not offering cruise control on stick shift cars, not matter WHAT trim level. An aftermarket Rostra kit at $250+ installation is always an option, but some people prefer not to add aftermarket parts to a brand new car under warranty.

      However, when my folks bought their base model 5spd Fit in 2007, as I recall the only way to get cruise control was to get the Sport model. And boy that car needs cruise control, my leg muscles are absolutely aching after about 20 minutes on the freeway in that thing. Something to do with the lack of thigh support and the angle of your foot on the accelerator if you’re a taller person.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Steve, you are mistaken. The B&B have assured me that the market is crying out for simple cheap cars without all that nonsense like air conditioning or sound deadening.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      That made me laugh in an almost disturbing way! Thanks for writing it!

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      I’ve never used my air conditioning when alone in my car – what better excuse to use a sunroof? (And I live in Toronto.)

    • 0 avatar
      SomeGuy

      I know right? The commentary here is in the extreme minority. I love tech, and frankly I wouldn’t go near a car with no options as my daily driver. No thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Thirded. I like my goodies. I’ve only owned one car ever that wasn’t at least “well equipped,” and that was the very first one. Most of my cars have had every option. I’m actually collecting parts to retrofit my Legend L to auto climate control (a tedious, but not hugely difficult, task) because I get annoyed without it.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Lol, dal that’s quite a first world annoyance!

          Was the L model the only one not to get auto climate as standard?

          I have owned one basic arse car, and it was a 97 Daewoo Lanos automatic, in South Korea. It had 2 of 4 powered windows, and power locks and AC, and a non-powered engine which got 20mpg.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Very much a first-world problem.

            There was a “base” sedan between 91-93 — cloth, black door handles, no moonroof, single-DIN radio with a hole underneath. Here’s a not-bad but overpriced one:

            http://www.mikesautosalesofcharlotte.com/1991_Acura_Legend_Charlotte_NC_263799.veh

            Then there was the L, which had the moonroof, memory seat, body-colored handles (and trim after ’93), and a better radio, and allowed you to choose leather as an option. The LS added auto climate control, the real Bose radio with discrete amp, courtesy lighting, (91-’92) body-colored trim, and (’94-’95) heated seats. Finally the GS (’94-’95 only) got you the Type II engine, those pretty 16″ wheels, traction control, and suspension/brake improvements.

            The most basic car I’ve owned was my ’87 Taurus GL. It had crank windows and no power locks/seats, but it did have some options: power mirrors, A/C, courtesy lighting, floor console, and most importantly the V6.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Somehow, I feel like they didn’t sell so many base gen 2 Legends without leather. I think that’s the first one I’ve seen!

            Now the Integra, very easy to see those with cloth.

            Sort of like for 1-2 years both the I30 and ES300 had cloth available as well (and manual on the I30).

            Was there more standard equipment always on the Sable, given it cost a little more for that additional light bar (of which I approve)?

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Memories are getting hazy but I don’t think you could buy a crank-window Sable, and I know there was never a four-banger Sable. I think the base versions were equipped like a Taurus GL with the power group — that got you the V6, power windows/locks/driver’s seat, and a cassette player.

            In my search for Legends I ran into two base models, both ’91s, the one in that link and a crappier one near me. I also saw two Ls with cloth, one a “barn find” ’92 car in Texas and the other a nice enough but overpriced ’93 car in California. I like the cloth seats — like most Honda cloth of the time they’re super-durable — but they didn’t show up in the right car for me.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Sounds like the better value! Lol, I like those old videos on youtube about the Ford dealer training, where they pretended it’s a news program.

            The new Tempo GL with PEP 434A is a good value for customers. Let’s see how it stacks up against the Hyundai Excel… it’s better!

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaRsba-cPGI

            Optional armrest! And 4×4*.

            *One model only.
            *Wet pavement only.
            *Do not use.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I’m way off from the norm, and even TTAC commenters are extremists in my eyes.

      I don’t want unnecessary features/tech, meaning stuff that doesn’t add value to me, but I still want a good, nice, comfortable car.

    • 0 avatar
      clivesl

      I want all the nanny stuff (radar cruise, lane keeping, etc) without any touchscreens.

      I’m all for adding bits that keep me from hitting things. I don’t like (for me) pointless infotainment features. I get in my van, my connects and I listen to my music on the way to work; That’s it, that’s all I need or want from my vehicle.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Is there any country where the squashed bug of a current Rio *does* sell well?

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    I’ve got a response coming, but I’m on hold with a stubborn VW dealership internet sales rep.

    I offered $13,777.00 including destination and all other fees, plus tax, OTD, on a new 2015 Passat 1.8T S manual they have in silver (best color ever), but he’s insisting his floor supervisor can’t allow him to accept less than $14,988.00.

    But every time I say “Fine, bye,” he quickly says “Hold on! Let me try again! Don’t hang up!”

    I’m not paying a dime more than $13,800.00, WITH AN EXTENDED WARRANTY AND TRU-COAT (applied at the factory, ya know).

  • avatar

    So, the market is funny sometimes.

    ’12 Sonic LS sedan – 37k Miles – White – 5-SPD – 1.8l – No cruise, crank windows – Sold for $5100 + fee @ Manheim St. Pete

    ’14 Sonic LT hatch – 44k Miles – White – 6-SPD – 1.4l Turbo – Cruise, MyLink, Pwr Pkg, Alloys – Sold for $6700 + fee @ Manheim Tampa

    Guess which one *I* bought.

    I used to try and buy cheaper cars like that Rio – stick, crank windows, whatever – just because it was newer and cheap. Guess what? Didn’t work. It only works with trucks, but certainly not unappealing junk like the Rio. Correction; it also works with Corollas because people who buy Corollas tend to not be that bright anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      ^ ask the guy who bought a 2013 Rio LX with 65k and roll down windows for $6000.

      I just hope I can assign that metal to a liberal finance company. God knows I don’t want to ever tote that note.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      ” Correction; it also works with Corollas because people who buy Corollas tend to not be that bright anyway.”

      +100

      • 0 avatar
        kit4

        -101. So people aren’t bright for wanting a reliable car that is easy to maintain and holds high resale? Get off your high horse.

        • 0 avatar
          windnsea00

          That would be the intelligent buyer, the unintelligent one buys the Corolla because society said to even if it has 120k miles and is being sold for the same price as a new Rio.

          My family operated a Budget Car & Truck rental franchise with a 350-500 vehicle fleet depending on the time of the year back in 2007-2011, when we would crunch the numbers the Corolla often would be the best in total cost to own for the sub $16k class.

          I would rather buy the Corolla for a tad more than the Yaris and still rent it as the economy car when necessary because in the end the better resale and ability to move quicker in the retail and wholesale market made it worthwhile. I dreaded when we (my father) bought a ton of manual window/lock/no cruise models in 2007 but sure enough when I put them on our retail lot and wholesale lines they sold no problem.

  • avatar

    I think perhaps the title for this article should’ve been Why Cheap, Stripped Down Cars Don’t Sell. Like it was mentioned, the Versa sells like crazy in the segment. They’ve moved 133,470 units YTD—that’s head, neck, and shoulders above any other b-segment car (sans the Kia Soul, which is a bit bigger). Somewhat amazingly, the Mirage has only sold 3,330 vehicles fewer than the Rio, and the Chevrolet Sonic outsells the Rio almost 3:1 (the Spark outsells the Rio by 32%).

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    We had a KIA storefront in 2002.
    These bottom feeder buyers would call and ask when the price would be reduced by $45, which generally happened the following week.
    When we held the New Owner’s Buffet on our showroom floor each month, the KIA buyers would show up the first time, a second time and a third visit, if they could, for the free meal.
    KIA corporate offered high-quality uniform knit shirts. I redesigned one of them by covering the KIA patches with my 1969 Oldsmobile Toronado and Moon Equipment Racing sew-on patches.
    Will never buy a KIA; still have the cool “Oldsmobile” shirts!

    • 0 avatar
      Robbie

      This is why people don’t buy new cars. Here someone forks over a five digit amount, only to receive an attitude from some clueless car salesman who calls you a bottom feeder and be overcharged. At McDonalds, you will get a much better buying experience for a $2 burger from a similarly educated person.

      Average car age is now 11.5 years old, and going up.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I once rented the previous generation as shown in the pic. I’m usually picky about rentals and use my Amex points for a discount or upgrade but it was a peak period and the Kia Rio/Hyundai Accent was all that was left.
    Either the NVH was pretty bad or the car was a roughed up rental but the car was nothing to rave about. I think the next generation is a bit better.

    • 0 avatar
      TonyJZX

      I’ve had worse than that. I had a Daewoo “I dont know what it was” and I drove it for a day before I returned it back and said ‘gimme anything else’.

      Ended up with a Toyota Starlet in manual which was one of the best cars I’ve ever driven.

      Also I feel Steve gives the Kia Rio a bad rap. The Rio is pretty much head and shoulders above every other car in its class (ie. <$15,000 subcompact) besides cars like the Suzuki Swift (which Americans do not get).

      Our base model has everything… electric windows central lock, aircon etc.

      No touchscreen but you're better off with a $100 smartphone anyway.

      The alternative is the Suzuki Alto, Chinese and Indian cars.

      For under $15,000 and a 7 year bumper to bumper warranty. Tell me what else is out there.

      Also a Korean 1.4 liter four cyl. beats sub 1.0 liter 3 cyls. or whatever of Sino-Indian extracton.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Most of those vehicles we can’t get here in the states but I wish we the Suzuki Swift was still available here. Back in the early 90’s I rented it’s American badged cousin the Gep Metro and found it to be quite lively even with the 1.0-3 banger more fun than the Rio.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    We will never forget Pluto Nash Day.

    you tube /watch?v=DrQcNwsjVEQ

  • avatar
    eamiller

    Yup, these cars don’t sell, they just end up in rental car fleets. True story, I rented a “compact” car from Hertz at IND airport this summer. They obviously hate me because they gave me a dirty Mazda 2 that didn’t have cruise control. Oh sure, it had an auto, power windows, AC, but no cruise control. It also had about 36k hard rental miles (I did it no favors either). What idiot fleet buyer thought it would be good to have that car in their fleet? He better have gotten a crazy deal on it, because I vowed never to ever use Hertz again. Luckily my company agrees with me so now I have National Executive.

    • 0 avatar
      windnsea00

      Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty has a fleet of over 500,000 cars in the US, they buy in mass numbers and that was probably what Mazda had proposed as their package or is what is normal in that spec Mazda2.

      P.S. I rented the same package model from Fox a year ago, fun car to zip around in town but was a poor choice for my long drive from LA down to a small town in Baja California with its short wheelbase, high revving engine, and aforementioned lack of cruise control. The one size larger Focus/Mazda3/Corolla, etc. class really makes more sense in most of the US with our spread out cities.

  • avatar

    I totally misread “math challenged souls” as “meth challenged souls”. Which I suspect is equally appropriate.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      So on the flip side there’s this

      https://www.yahoo.com/autos/america-top-ten-selling-vehicles-140244555/photo-consumers-have-spoken-in-a-1449064996035.html

      No need for a drug-induced stupor, eh?

  • avatar
    mik101

    Speak for yourselves… You can’t find a base manual Rio in Atlantic Canada to save your life. They’re all LX+ with power windows, AC etc that I didn’t want. *That’s* why I wouldn’t consider one. Same goes for the sub $9000 Accent L, etc. Even Ford Fiesta base models can’t be found unless you only want it in black. So the cars either sell or simply don’t exist on the ground. Rendering this article moot.

    I have my fun cars for evenings/weekends. Some folks just want something cheap since fat idiots and terrible drivers are just going to smash it up in parking lots while I’m working anyway.

  • avatar
    zip89105

    Here is Las Vegas, cheap cars sell very well, enough to make Dodge products the #1 brand for new vehicle sales. Folks want something new under $20,000 and Dodge has several that meet that criteria. I do suspect that will change for 2015, but since I moved here in 2012 the most new vehicles I’ve seen are FCA products.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’m about to pull the trigger on a leftover ’15 Hyundai Accent Sport. It has all the toys I want/need, and it’s $17k out the door – same as what a ’16 base model would cost.

  • avatar

    I have no quarrel with the gist of the article, but Steven, don’t be hatin’ on the cranks. I bought my 2010 MY car with window cranks and I paid about $32k for it (approximately, because a trade-in was involved). I still have it and it’s the best car I ever had, period.

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    Manual windows (like manual locks) are more expensive than power ones. Low volume, no real weight savings, high warranty costs, and additional tooling/engineering effort beyond what’s required for a door that doesn’t have to accept manual windows conspire to mean that the “cheap” options cost more, not less, than the far higher volume power components. (Remember: you have to design a new crank mechanism for every door, a power motor just needs a new calibration to be copy-pasted on every car you make.)

    These sorts of super-base features are (in theory) intended to prop up the cost of the mid-tier, but I’m really not sure the added volumes on the overall vehicle justify the additional expenditures on stripper models.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    My first car out of college was the first generation “descended from Festiva” base Rio, $6500 brand new.
    Manual steering (I didn’t know such car still existed at the time), no power anything, no stereo, not even remote trunk release (which made post 9/11 border security checks awkward).

    I would probably only buy something so spartan now if it came from Lotus or Caterham, but I did come to appreciate the purity of its simpleness. I don’t think I really appreciated how much road information a steering wheel can provide until I had a car without power steering. It was probably what led me to Miata for the next car.

    It may not have been a “good” car with its rubbery transmission, refusal to drive straight over 75 mph, and engine that grenaded itself at 60K, but I think I’ll always have a sweet spot for the car.

  • avatar
    FThorn

    I love base models. Just need air conditioning.
    Why have some posts gone missing or been removed?

  • avatar

    I don’t get this. I’m in a rental Sentra now. A/C, power windows, an OK radio with full ipod integration, satellite (oddly missing channels-it doesn’t match the list in my XM Honda or Sirius VW), and decent build quality.

    OK in the city, not a great highway car. Under 20k. Why would you want less ? It doesn’t have the NVH damping of my other cars (twice the price) and my first experience with a CVT leaves me cold. The only thing I don’t like at this price is the “not a key”, but I didn’t like that on my Q50 rental or my BMW loaners either.

    The days of stripper are really past…OK, I avoid sunroofs, because they are useless in 99% of my driving day, but beyond that. It was fun to explain to the rental car agent that the reason that cars now have “not a key” is because since the real identification was made with the chip in the key, the car makers realized they were just wasting $5 per car for a lockset.

  • avatar
    John

    A “decontented” car with am/fm stereo, air conditioning, cloth upholstery, bucket seats, and about as much horsepower as a 1980’s Cadillac – oh! The Humanity! First World problems are dreadful, aren’t they?

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Brilliant article, as always, Steve.

    I am feeling like the economies of scale make such decontenting unprofitable, even if the cars could sell.

    And I feel like the B&B loves decontenting out of a false sense of nostalgia. Sorry boys, those old econo cars with roll up windows, no A/C and only a driver’s side rear view mirror were terrible. They only existed because of the sky high interest rates of their time. Speaking of which Steve, with the Fed looking to raise the base rate I’m wondering what your take is on the impending end of the near zero interest rate party and it’s potential impact on the auto industry. Toyota says we only have about 2 more years of this free for all before things start to contract. I’m also curious about your thoughts on the viability of Volvo’s revival. Their new cars look great but I don’t know that they will be enough to save them.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Volvo will come back although their focus will be more towards crossover and SUVs.

      I would take all the other predictions with the lightest grains of salt. Anything can happen in two years.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    Very nice article! I am very fond of decontented cars. One thing is the fact that you’ll get them very cheaply. A couple of weeks ago, I recommended a friend to buy an ’06 Kia Cee’d wagon that was priced just a tad above the ’02 Honda Stream I bought two years ago – so a car twice the age, with comparable mileage and customer base. That’s an amazing deal for my friend, and he’s happy with it. He is also very fond of Kia’s “open source” maintenance books.

    Additionally, decontented vehicles have less stuff that breaks. You might laugh with new cars being the most reliabel ever, etc etc, but people like me, who buy cars 10-14 years down the line, at 100k miles and occasionally more, see a lot of broken stuff. Maintenance items are one thing, but working heated seats (a great delight I wouldn’t want to be without) are no given in used cars. As are electric windows, electric anything, a working AC etc.

    What i definitely don’t like about decontented cars is that their owners have a clear tendency to be absolute cheapskates. A lot of used Kia, Hyundai and Lada have serious maintenance issues, and a worth nothing not by being unattractice crap, but by having been driven to the ground – with a massive need of investment of time and money to make them acceptable, tech inspection drivers once again.

    • 0 avatar

      I was recently gifted my parent’s old ’98 Plymouth Voyager – they decided they didn’t need 2 cars, and I wanted something I could use for carrying stuff for my side business. It’s a stripper – crank windows, manual locks, ect.

      They also have an ’02 Town and Country that is loaded. They’ve mentioned a few times they might eventually downsize to something smaller, and I don’t know if I should make them an offer on it if they do – it’s got low miles and is longer and more comfortable, but the gadgets are already failing – the automatic rear trunk doesn’t close and the tire pressure monitoring system likes to beep for no reason.

      • 0 avatar
        econobiker

        madanthony,
        Chrysler minivan TPS sensors do that for no reason.Both my mother in laws and brother in laws wife’s T&C have that issue expecially in weather changes.

        And the automatic rear hatch closer- if it sounds like it is trying to close check the motor attachement screws. In 2014 my mother in laws ’05 with only 120,000 miles had the screws back out of the motor base and stop working.we put the screws back in with locktite and no other problems
        Other wise, if the motor is dead, you can get replacement motors fairly easy because we got one and had to resell it when we figured out it was just the screws falling out that stopped the door from working.
        econobiker

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    This is the companion article to the one yesterday about the basic S manual Passat.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Integrating the CD into the dash lost my vote right off the bat.

  • avatar
    tubacity

    Rented at 2015 Kia Rio in Massachusetts. Not bad. Of course, did not know how much one would cost if I bought one. Did have pw, power locks, ps, ac. Not a bad ride on smooth highway 6 to the Cape. A bit stiff on sharp bumps. Power low, not different from the class in general. Mpg overall 38 by the car’s mpg meter. 42 once out of the cities. Not too noisy. Small rear seat. Drove straight down the interstate, with little effort, something my Honda has trouble with. No car problems in the few days I rented. Found the Fit noisier.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The Rio isn’t exactly a bad compared to the older peers in its class. The greater issue for Kia in the USA is that they are loading up on base model vehicles and that, for any automaker, has a negative impact on long-term CSI rating and resale values.

    I would love to see Kia market a value edition of this vehicle with more features and make that their standard base model. There is no intelligent reason why any vehicle in today’s market shouldn’t have cruise control, floor mats and power windows. The reason why the car is suffering has everything to do with content and materials (along with noise issues). In today’s time that should all be sorted out.

    • 0 avatar
      anomaly149

      What’s funny is they’re probably spending money to remove those things due to volume hits.

      You can bet the car’s body control unit is set up for all the bells and whistles; all they’re leaving out is the steering wheel button for cruise.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Back in the 60s Motor Trend tested a stripped [rubber flooring, 3 speed manual on the column, non-powered steering, and an optional heater and whitewalls].

    The were answering the complaint that they only tested loaded cars and that the base models were the ones “most people” bought.

    Their conclusion was that people claim they only want “basic transportation” but buy the most stuff they could afford on their cars.

    For me, the less the better. I actually buy the least equipment on a car I can find. My credit score [the mark of the beast, it’s only a figure that tells the bank how much debt you can “afford” ] is excellent and I think automotive products are ridiculously overpriced.

    Over the decades I’ve had nothing but crank windows and have never repaired any of them.

    My Mother’s 02 Focus had the right rear passenger side power window go and it was $400 to repair at the dealer. That’s high I know, but even at $200 it’s still more than I have ever paid to repair crank windows over 40 years of driving.

    I find it ironic that one can’t get a proper temperature gauge in a new Sonic but get a stupid digital speedo [what is this the eighties?] and a bunch of other quickly out of date electronic gadgets and trendy gadgets.

    My cars are kept for long periods and down the road expenses are part of the equation. Since electronics are the major complaints from many and varied reliability sources, the fewer on my car the better.

    Basic cars are fine with me, both on the road and philosophically. It’s part of the reason I have zero debt today: no mortgage, credit card or automotive and I’m going to keep it that way.

    But, hey, load em up. 96 month loans and cheap leases will give the mob want they want. The banks will, as Mr Lange said, repackage the ABS into Wall Street intruments until the defaults start coming in and the party stops.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      Almost every new vehicle has “idiot” (i.e. non-connected) gauges because the cars have gotten consistently reliable enough that we don’t need to be monitoring temp, oil pressure, etc. constantly.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        It would have been nice if the 2011 & up WK2 Jeep Grand Cherokee had a battery-indicator idiot light, gauge or VIC read-out. Saved Fiatsler a couple of bucks not putting one in.

        Through a brainfart one us left the inside lights on in our JGC during the day, and subsequent night, and another day and night while it was parked at the hotel and not being used by us.

        Have any idea what a b!tch it is to jump-start it using the two jump-terminals on the passenger side under the hood? Battery is under the passenger seat and not easily accessible without removing that seat.

        So, once started, you’re wondering…..”is the alternator working? Should I take a chance and shut off the engine while stopped? What if the battery is dead? How can I tell if the alternator is actually working?”

        BTW, the VIC doesn’t tell you doodly.

        No longer my problem. But it would have been nice.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “Battery is under the passenger seat and not easily accessible without removing that seat.”

          Oh that’s German alright.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            “Battery is under the passenger seat”

            JGC, step brother to Audi. But seriously – most newer cars will shut your interior lights off for you, not leave them burning once you leave the car. Especially those with a smart key with proximity sensor on it. Mine won’t stay on for more than 15-20 minutes once it’s detected that I’m not in the car anymore.

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          Okay, that’s just stupid. A car should at least have an idiot light.

  • avatar
    ericb91

    Ya know, it’s a stupid idea, but this is interesting:

    http://www.autotrader.com/cars-for-sale/vehicledetails.xhtml?zip=60014&endYear=2017&sortBy=derivedpriceASC&showcaseOwnerId=0&startYear=2014&listingType=new&firstRecord=0&listingTypes=new&searchRadius=0&maxPrice=18000&listingId=405602295&Log=0

    It’s a brand-new 2015 Nissan Versa S 5MT. MSRP is $13,185; this dealer in Virginia offers it to you with a full warranty and no miles for only $7,995.

    If you absolutely don’t care about creature comforts and have a short commute, $7,995 for a brand-new car isn’t the worst thing. Very interesting.

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    There is NOTHING WRONG with a base model anything.

    I don’t need or want power windows, navigation, touch screens, or additional items that are distracting. Give me an AM radio and A/C and I’m happy. Power steering and brakes are required though the steering less so.

    I don’t need to impress anyone other than my bank account. And since I keep new cars until they fall apart (my current 1997 Ford has 170k on it now and still runs like new).

    I won’t ever buy a car above base unless I win the lottery. And then that is only to treat myself.

  • avatar
    BrunoT

    Now the real reasons:

    1. These cars stink as cars.

    2. They are poor values and don’t last as long as better cars.

    3. You can finance a barely used 2 year old better car for the same monthly payment, and cheap car buyers are all about the payment.

    4. They are less safe than more expensive cars.

    5. They lack much of the techno gizmos that new car buyers are wanting these days, no matter how stupid those features are when they approach 25% of a car’s price.

  • avatar
    jamescyberjoe

    Friends don’t let friends buy KIA’s unless they are free.
    Local dealer had some sort of promotion going on to unload these. One red and one white. Looks like a Korean washing machine transportation appliance.

    For the cost of the sales tax and state fees and the basic insurance, I got a brand new car. Yes, it’s a Rio. Yes. It has automatic transmission. Air conditioning. A radio.

    No, it has no high tech shit to break. No payments. No worries.

    It gets me from here to there the same as your overpriced Honda.


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