Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: 2012 Kia Rio EX: A new level of maturity for Kia’s smallest hatchback

2012 Kia Rio EX on a crisp Oregon Day - Subcompact Culture
2012 Kia Rio EX on a crisp fall day in Oregon. The Rio's styling is simple and clean.
I remember the first time I ever saw the Kia Rio. No, not the all-new 2012 Rio, the 2001 Kia Rio: It was chartreuse in color, somewhat ungainly, and powered by a 1.5-liter engine that didn’t make 100 hp. It was basic transportation. The 2012 Kia Rio has come light years from what the first-gen Rio was, and has improved quite a bit over the previous model. The model has matured, and it’s now set to take on the best of the best in the b-segment. Competition is getting fiercer by the month in the subcompact segment, and Kia has certainly upped its game with its latest subcompact.

First things first, the new Rio looks modern, sophisticated and tidy. No weird lines or bulges, it’s a plain, simple, clean, even somewhat European look. I can’t help but thing VW from some angles. Our EX model included the optional 15” alloy wheels. They aren’t terribly eye catching, but a step up from hubcaps for sure. The sporty 17” alloys can be had on the sportier SX model.

2012 Kia Rio EX interior - Subcompact Culture
The Rio EX's interior feels open and airy, and isn't radically styled.
The Rio’s inside echoes the exterior: conservative, but clean and comfortable. Our test model’s tan-and-black two-tone interior looks well designed and airy, and is great improvement over the last generation. The dashboard is void of futuristic sweeps, swooshes, and angles found in cars such as the Ford Fiesta. Gauges are simple and easy to read. The three-dial climate control system is intuitive and simple to use, just the way I like it. I also really liked the aircraft-inspired toggle switches for the A/C, rear defroster, and recirculating air, too. The front seats are comfy, but not terribly supportive. Both front and rear seats offer a good amount of room. The rear cargo area is surprisingly deep, great for hauling all kinds of stuff. One of the more interesting features this car had was power folding mirrors. Yes, push a button and both side mirrors fold in toward the body. Could this be done manually? Sure. Honestly, it’s kinda cool. Having had a side mirror ripped off by a passing semi truck in the past, I could see this feature being quite useful, actually.

Kia UVO infotainment system
Kia's UVO infotainment system works well, albeit, the screen
is a touch small. I like the four toggle buttons at the dash's base.
This Rio was equipped with Kia’s UVO infotainment system, which features outstandingly easy Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius XM radio, as well as a reverse camera display, another favorite feature of mine. Although the touch-screen monitor is a bit small, the system works well. Audio quality was crisp, but not a ton of bass with this system. Unfortunately the screen's size only allows you to view a few channel presets per page. You can have a bunch of them, but you’ll have to scroll to another page. A minor thing, but a thing nonetheless. One other gripe: There were a few noticeable rattles in the dashboard.

The Rio is the first subcompact in the U.S. powered by a gasoline-direct-injection (GDI) engine. To put it into oversimplified terms, the fuel/air mixture is directly injected into the cylinder chamber allowing the gasoline to be burned more efficiently. The 1.6-liter GDI engine makes 138 hp. and 123 ft./lbs. of torque. Power is put through a smooth-shifting six-speed auto with manual shifting ability—the only gearbox available on the EX (and SX) model.

2012 Kis Rio EX cornering - Subcompact Culture
Handling is the Rio's forte, and cornering felt flat and well controlled.
There’s a bit of a mechanical sound to the engine, especially at start up. It’s different. Get-up-and-go is adequate, but don’t expect to shatter any speed records. Merging and passing is done easily enough, but the Rio doesn't feel terribly quick. Although acceleration might not be the Rio’s strong suit, handling is. Even with the narrow 185/65/15 tires, grip is strong and its reflexes are impressive. Cornering felt flat and composed. I can see why Kia would enter the Rio into the SCCA’s B-spec racing class. Highway manners are on par with the rest of the class, as was braking. I was glad to see the Rio come with Hill Assist Control for starting on those steeper hills.

EPA fuel economy is also impressive: 30 city, 40 highway on 87 octane fuel. During my week of city driving with the Rio I couldn’t muster better than 28 MPG as hard as I tried. Admittedly, I have a hilly commute, so I’ll chalk it up to that.

2012 Kia Rio rear shot - Subcompact Culture
The Rio EX is the middle trim level. It's better appointed than the LX, but not as sporty as the SX.
My 2012 Rio EX was $18,345 including the $750 destination charge. It is undeniably more mature feeling, more grown up compared to the last two generation. It is also, of course, costs more. Now, you do get the UVO infotainment system, rear camera, power folding mirrors, alloys, cruise, power everything, and fog lights. But keep in mind, there are a lot of exciting and outstanding choices in this segment. And while the new Rio is much nicer than any Rio in the past, there just wasn’t any single feature that was a standout. Unfortunately, the Rio just didn’t have the excitement that some of its competitors have, at least not in EX trim. But Kia is on fire right now, and both sales and quality are way up, and they’ll likely sell a lot of the mid-level EX models, especially to folks who want a Kia, want good fuel economy, but don’t want the funky-styled Soul. Perhaps I would’ve preferred the Rio SX with its extra dose of sportiness. But the Rio EX isn’t a bad car by any means—it’s just not the most stimulating.


nlpnt said...

I'd say at this price point it's out of the running, but at the $14k level where it goes against the non-turbo Sonic, sedan-only Fiesta, 3-door Yaris and even the base Fit's a stretch, a base Rio with the 6-speed manual might have a stronger case for itself. Especially since this color combo IS offered in that version.

Matt H. said...

love the styling of the newer KIA's. The RIO looks like their version of the Golf (hatch RIO). I think it looks good. I'd probably consider it if I were in the market. My only gripe would be the interior. Doesn't look that good.