Road Test

2012 Kia Rio LX sedan

Buying small no longer means doing without and the Kia Rio proves the point

2012 Kia Rio sedan - front seat
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$13,795 base. $21,695 as tested.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 6.8 city. 4.9 highway. 6.0 combined.
POWERTRAIN
1.6-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine, 138 horsepower, 123 lb-ft of torque; six-speed automatic transm
Pros & CONS
  • Can be loaded with luxury features
  • Excellent fuel economy on all models
  • Can be very affordable
  • Suspension still needs some fine tuning
  • Watch those options or the price grows quickly
  • Could use a little more oomph.

Remember when small cars were the bane of the industry, stripped vehicles with hose-out vinyl interiors, wind-up windows, weak engines and three-speed transmissions?

We’ve come a long way baby – at least Kia has. I just drove the smallest Kia in the lineup and it had a

heated steering wheel, navigation system, leather seats, rear view camera, power folding mirrors, push-button ignition with Smart Key and a host of other amenities usually reserved for luxury cars!

Buying small no longer means doing without. Sure you have been able to add some options to the aforementioned small car, but not like this puppy.

Two target markets for the loaded Rio lie at either end of the car-buying spectrum – those just getting into the game and the "mature" set who are looking for a thrifty little around town runabout but are not willing to sacrifice the finer things in life they have earned and become accustomed to over the years.

Choice of models

2012 Kia Rio sedan - rear quarter.jpgKia Canada says the majority (70%) of its Rio customers prefer the five-door hatchback model, the Rio5, but in an effort to leave no stone unturned or let any potential customer walk away, it has brought out the sedan. You can buy a plain Rio sedan for less than $14,000 which covers that end of the market.

The best seller in the Rio lineup, however, is the LX with an automatic transmission. At $16,595 it comes with a long list of standard equipment, including six-way adjustable driver’s seat, power locks and windows, power heated mirror, tilt wheel, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, air conditioning, heated seats, cruise control, keyless entry and wireless connectivity.

Or, you can also step up to the EX luxury version and have a 7/8th scale luxury car with an upscale interior.

Compared to its five-door sibling, the sedan gets a different grille, front bumper and headlights and sits 15-mm lower. Pillar-mounted side mirrors help the aero numbers and reduce wind noise.

The different front fascia shortens overhang at that end by 25mm. The sedan is 320-mm longer overall, but most of that is aft of the rear wheels.

2012 Kia Rio sedan - front seat.jpgThe two have the same head, shoulder, hip and leg room but the sedan gets a conventional and roomy trunk.

The interior has a definite upscale feel, with soft-touch surfaces for the front portion of the instrument panel. Fit and finish are as good as anything in the industry and while there are plastic surfaces they do no dominate

Class-leading fuel economy

Kia is rightfully proud of the fact you don’t have to buy a special trim level to get the best fuel economy. No special tricks, deleted items or other sleight-of-hand necessary.

If you have not been paying attention to the fuel economy race or think hybrids are the only answer you might not realize the numbers for the Rio with an automatic transmission are right up there with the best of them – with a conventional gasoline engine and an automatic transmission with a torque-converter.

Each and every 2012 Rio sedan with an automatic transmission carries a class-leading Transport Canada rating of 4.9 litres/100 on the highway.

Those numbers are more realistic than you might think. Despite my heavy right foot and decidedly aggressive driving I averaged 5.9 litres/100 km on hilly roads.

These numbers are a tribute to Kia’s growing engineering prowess. The engine is the new 1.6-litre "Gamma" all-aluminum four-cylinder, with dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and direct injection. The latter, with multiple injections and ignition events per cycle allows it to run a high compression ratio for maximum power and economy on regular fuel.

At 138-horsepower this engine is in a tie with the Chevrolet Sonic for most power in class. All Rios equipped with an automatic transmission come with what Kia calls Active ECO. Push that button and throttle response is softened, shift points lowered and life in general goes into laid-back mode. Not my cup of tea!

Other key players in those low fuel-consumption numbers are the Rio's six-speed transmissions – whether automatic or manual.

Like the engine, they were designed and developed in-house and with six gears they have sufficient ratio spread to ensure punch off the line, a gear for passing or climbing hills and an overdrive top gear for loafing along at minimal fuel-sipping revs on the highway.

There is a downside. Despite their brilliance and accomplishments, the Hyundai-Kia researchers have not found a way to alter the laws of physics. The Rio is not a race car, far from it. Getting from rest to 100 km/h requires more than 10 seconds, which is slow by any comparison.

But this is yet another example of how you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

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