Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kia Rio - Small Car, Big Step Up

When you're selling in the lower end of the car market, it's easy to be dismissed as a cheap "econobox." The Kia Rio could be treated that way--but it would be a mistake. For 2012, it's not only better looking, but has the feel, inside and out, of a real car that's worth buying for its own sake--not just for the price.

Much of the goodness is its looks comes from the happy fact that Kia's design chief, Peter Schreyer, used to design Audis for a living. Everything Kia sells is getting a profound upgrade, and now, Kia's smallest vehicle in America has been hit with with the beauty brush (the opposite of an ugly stick). From the large headlight pods to the subtle scoops on the sides to the tightly integrated high taillamps,this car looks the part of a scrappy little hatchback now--or a tidy sedan, depending on which you choose.

I just spent a week driving back and forth to work and all over the place in a Signal Red Rio 5-door hatch. I got 29.6 miles per gallon in the process. It would probably have been a little higher if I had the manual transmission, but that's still quite good for a regular, non-hybrid vehicle.

Regarding the manual, it's available--but only on the LX base model, so ordering one would preclude some items I'd want, including Bluetooth, telescoping steering column and the standard audio system. The automatic worked fine with the 1.6-liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and it wasn't too noisy in the cabin.

And what an interior you get now with this little car. While sister division Hyundai revels in swoops and curves, the little Kia is chunky and Teutonic--more like a VW Golf--and the flat, matte-finish dash is just one area where you can see the influence. The door armrests felt a little "sticky" with their soft plastic coating, but the overall sense of high quality, good design and attention to detail makes this car a whole lot nicer than the Kia Sephia I tested back in 1994.

Yes, the bass fits in there fine when you flip down the rear seats and remove the cargo cover. I had the scroll as an armrest, and it was the one time when I was glad I had an automatic.

My car, with SX model, with shipping, came to $18,545. Prices start at $14,350.

Things are going very well for the Korean manufacturers in the U.S. now, and that's because they're delivering what customers want--looks, features and price-and it's all backed up with a 10-year warranty.

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