There’s been no shortage of new Kia products to talk about lately and now we add one more to the list, the 2012 Rio 5-Door. Though based on the same chassis as the Hyundai Accent, both the look and the feel are decidedly sportier. So, let’s see if that’s enough to make the Rio5 stand out in the very crowded sub-compact class?
The youthful look of the 2012 KIA Rio 5-door is certainly consistent with another small-fry Kia, the Soul. Yet, the 5’s shape is obviously more “well rounded”. It’s also much more aggressive looking than the new Rio sedan. The Rio5’s front end gets a smaller version of the chrome-surrounded Kia family grille, while the lower air intakes are a lot larger. Huge angular bubbles cover dual beam multi-reflector head lights.
The new Rio5 is longer, lower, and wider than before. Wheelbase is up almost 3-inches to 101.2, helping out both looks and interior room. Power, door-mounted, body colored, “wing”-style mirrors are standard, while our EX model, with its optional Convenience Package, adds mirror turn signals along with alloy wheels and fog lights. In the rear, a standard spoiler sits atop the rather small hatch glass, while two-piece tail lights wrap fairly far forward into the fenders.
So, while the sedan is somewhat domesticated, the Rio 5-door’s styling cues are very European, less “swoopy” than the Accent, but also less edgy than the Chevrolet Sonic. The interior is nicely laid out, with an overall theme very similar to the Optima, only again on a smaller scale. There are more soft touch materials in the cabin than most in the segment, and seats are very supportive, some thought them on the hard side, but all could agree that the seat fabric looks cheap.
A tilt/telescoping wheel is standard on the EX, but all seat controls remain manual. We like the large HVAC controls with big knobs and artfully-shaped toggle switches. The Convenience Package adds the UVO entertainment system with 4.3-inch touch screen display and both HD and Satellite radio, as well as full iPod integration. The screen also displays the back-up camera feed.
Getting navigation however requires stepping up to SX trim plus adding the Premium Package. Gauges are large, with a big speedometer front and center in the cluster, and an Active Eco system softens throttle response to help fuel economy. Six airbags are standard. Back seat space is OK for a sub-compact, but legroom is way less than class best. Seat backs fold 60/40 to expand the 15 cubic-feet of luggage capacity.
Overall, we give the interior high marks for packaging; it’s a good job of getting a lot of useful space out of a small footprint. Power comes from a 1.6-liter Direct Injection I4 also shared with the Accent, putting out the same 138-horsepower and 123 pound feet of torque. Both the standard manual and optional automatic transmissions are 6-speeds and both have Government Fuel Economy Ratings of 30-City and 40-Highway. We averaged a very good 38 miles-per-gallon of Regular in mixed driving in our automatic equipped test car. Those numbers result in a better-than- average Energy Impact Score of just 10.4 barrels of oil consumed per year while emitting just 5.7 annual tons of CO2.
And, the Rio will be the first non-hybrid Kia to offer Idle Stop and Go when an optional ECO package arrives later in the year. For a sub-compact that’s not really a sports car, the Rio 5-door is surprisingly fun and a capable handler, feeling a bit like a budget GTi. It’s also quieter than many in the segment, including the Accent, although not as quiet as the Sonic.
Ride quality from the MacPherson front and torsion beam rear suspension is on the Euro-firm side, but the overall feel is more solid than harsh. That fun-to-drive spirit continues at our test track where quick turn-ins and a nimble chassis offered point-and-shoot directness, accompanied by only minor under steer and body roll. Steering is electric assisted, but is quick and provided good feel; and tires offered a good amount of grip. Even at higher speeds the Rio5 remains stable, and Stability Control engages very subtly.
Off the line, the Rio 5 is a quick revver, and gets going quickly. From there however, things are a bit of a letdown, as power stays flat and you lumber to 60 in 9-seconds. Shifts are fairly quick and smooth, but towards the top of the rev band, the engine gets very buzzy; but this is fairly typical for the class. The quarter mile ends in 16.9-seconds at a reasonable 83 miles-per-hour. Less impressive was braking performance, with stops from 60 taking 130-feet, accompanied by noisy and excessively pulsing ABS. Fade began to creep in after only 3 runs.
While the Rio 5-Door is far from the least expensive entry in this class, the base LX comes very well equipped at $14,350, our much better equipped EX test car starts at $17,250, while the top tier SX begins at a pricey $18,450.
The 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door is not your typical Korean sub-compact. There’s both more performance and more aggressive styling than we’re accustomed to. But, then Kia has been making that transformation to all its cars. Moreover, the Rio5 has a more sophisticated feel to it than many in the segment, making it one sub-compact that every driver in the family will enjoy.
Engine: 1.6-liter Direct Injection I4
Torque: 123 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 9-seconds
1/4 mile: 16.9-seconds @ 83 mph
EPA: 30 mpg city/ 40 mpg highway
Mixed Loop: 38 mpg
Energy Impact: 10.4 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 5.7 tons/yr