2012 Kia Rio 5Posted on October 12th, 2011
Sexy subcompact is value packed
By Nina Russin
This fall, Kia rolls out the third iteration of its subcompact Rio, beginning with the five-door hatchback. Although the Rio is the smallest car in the Kia lineup, the new five-door offers its owners a remarkably versatile interior with standard convenience features normally not found in the subcompact segment.
The volume-leading is EX sits in the middle of a three grade strategy, which also includes the base LX and sporty upscale SX. EX buyers might be surprised to find cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power folding mirrors and a soft-touch dashboard on a car priced from $16,500. Pricing does not include a $750 delivery charge.
Kia product planners knew that the gloves had to come off in order for the Rio to compete against the popular Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Nissan Versa. A new direct injection 1.6-liter engine delivers up to 138 horsepower as well as 40 mile-per-gallon fuel economy on the highway. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission and six-speed automatic on the base LX; both the EX and SX come exclusively with the six-speed automatic.
An Eco option becomes available at the end of this year, which will stretch gas mileage even further by automatically turning the engine off at idle. The engine automatically restarts when the driver lifts his foot off the brake pedal. The idle stop-and-go feature adds another mile-per-gallon to the Rio’s fuel economy in city driving.
Designers focused on sustainable technologies, constructing 85 percent of the vehicle out of recyclable materials. They also added a high level of standard safety features, since safety is one of the five biggest consideration factors among buyers in this segment. Antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control are standard on all grades.
Test drive in Texas hill country
I recently drove the new Rio 5 at a media program in Austin, Texas. The drive route included some suburban commuting roads, a bit of highway, and lots of hilly two-lane rural roads.
The test car was the EX with the $400 Eco package and a premium option which adds Kia’s UVO infotainment system, automatic headlamps, power folding side mirrors with turn signal indicators and a rearview camera ($1000). The premium option also upgrades the standard 15-inch rims from steel wheels with hubcaps to alloy rims.
I don’t think that I was alone in my initial impression, that the third-generation Rio is light years ahead of the models which preceded it. Fit and finish has improved tremendously both on the exterior and inside the car. The Rio is the most recent model overhauled as part of Kia’s design revolution, which began with the 2009 Soul.
The 2012 model is stylish, with a sharply raked beltline and short front and rear overhands. It has a commanding presence on the road. Inside, the driver will find a substantial feeling steering wheel, nice shift lever, a colossal glovebox, nicely bolstered front bucket seats, and standard air conditioning.
Infinity’s eight-speaker 350-watt audio system should meet the demands of music aficionados. All models come with an AM/FM/CD player with Sirius satellite radio and a three-month complimentary subscription, iPod and MP3 interface. Smart phone owners can stream tunes using the Bluetooth interface.
While the small engine isn’t a barn burner, it has plenty of power to meet the demands of urban commuters. Drivers will be pleased with acceleration off the line, and in the critical 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range used merging into high-speed traffic.
Engineers used an electric power steering system in lieu of a traditional hydraulic setup to save space and weight under the hood. The electric power steering system also reduces parasitic power loss to boost gas mileage. The system has plenty of assist at low speeds for maneuvering through crowded parking lots, but feels a bit flat at speed. On center response is adequate, but not exceptional.
The MacPherson front and torsion beam rear suspension provides a sporty ride without feeling overly harsh. Standard gas shocks provide better rebound for more aggressive performance.
Four-wheel disc brakes are also standard on all grades, and in this writer’s opinion, add a lot of value to the package. Not only are the rear discs easier to service than the drums which some competitors use, they are also self-drying, so they stop the vehicle faster and more evenly in wet weather.
Visibility to the front and sides of the car is quite good. The small rear glass produces some large blind spots in the back corners. I was happy to have the rearview camera when backing out of parking spots.
Bicycle friendly interior
Ralph Tjoa, Kia’s manager of car product planning, is a recreational triathlete. He has carried his own road bike in the Rio 5. Remove the bike’s front wheel, fold the rear seats flat and in it goes.
Front passengers should be pleased with the Rio’s abundance of head, leg and hip room. The sport seats have more front-to-rear travel than those in the outgoing model, with better height adjustment for smaller drivers. The telescoping steering wheel includes redundant audio controls to minimize driver distraction.
The armrest also slides fore-and-aft, to make drivers more comfortable. Controls in the center stack for the audio system and HVAC are easy to reach from both seating positions. Air conditioning is standard on all grades. Designers utilized easy-to-use toggle switches for many of the convenience controls.
A fifteen liter glovebox is big enough to conceal a purse or small pack inside the car. There are plenty of small cubbies for personal electronic devices near the standard 12-volt outlets and USB port at the base of the center stack. Cupholders are large enough to hold 20-ounce water bottles.
The Rio’s small wheelbase translates to a paucity of legroom in the second row. I felt squeezed with the front seats moved forward. Still, the extra seats come in handy for short trips around town.
Kia engineers utilized 65 percent high strength steel in the Rio 5 chassis, making it a safer car with improved torsional rigidity for better handling. Standard safety features also include front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. Hill start assist prevents the vehicle from rolling backwards when the driver accelerates from a stop on a steep grade.
Kia’s ten year/100,000 mile factory warranty includes 24-hour roadside assistance for up to five years or 60,000 miles.
Likes: An affordable, versatile five-door hatchback with a surprising level of standard comfort and safety features. The Rio 5 is a good option for active urbanites needing to stretch the gas budget, park on the street and who want a versatile cargo area.
Dislike: Lack of legroom in the second-row streets.
Model: Rio 5
Base price: $16,500*
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 138 Hp @ 6300 rom
Torque: 123 lbs.-ft. @ 4850 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 30/40 mpg city/highway
Comment: *MSRP does not include a $750 delivery charge.
One response to “2012 Kia Rio 5”
I bought the base LX mtx two months ago today, and have put over 6200 miles it it. The ’12 Rio 5 is actually a fourth-generation design, being longer, lower, and wider than last year’s model, and having the newly-designed 1.6L GDI and 6-speed tranny. Other differences include a redesigned face and tail lights, and sculpted sides.
At first, I thought the seats were a tad hard, but they seem to be “adapting” to me (especially after a 2800 mile road trip last month). I thought I would miss cruise control, too, but I felt no discomfort in keeping my foot in one spot after 250 or so miles. What I *do* miss is a center console armrest. 80mph freeway speeds, all day long, were a breeze. And, being the little guy that I am, I didn’t feel cramped at any time.
If you do your own maintenance, you’ll appreciate Kia putting the oil filter up front, instead of between the engine and firewall. The drain plug is on the front of the oil pan as well. No need to pull the front splash guard off, either. Also nifty are the four-wheel disc brakes. Better braking (than my 2003 Spectra) and simpler to work on.
My only true dislike about the new Rio 5 is the lack of a spare tire and jack. Kia supplies a “tire mobility kit”, which consists of a small cpmpressor and a canister of sealant. Now…the tires are equipped with sensors for the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). Sealant and sensors don’t always play well together. My first act was to ditch the kit and get a spare, jack, and lug wrench. Yes, yes, I know all about “roadside assistance”. But I’m not about to take my car into a shop to have the tires rotated. I certainly don’t want to have to wait on a service guy when I’m half-way between Austin and Nowhere. A side note: I also carry a tire plug kit and a $10 Walmart air pump (that stayed in my Spectra the entire 6 years I owned it).
I do a mix of town & highway driving during my commute to work each week, 34.8 miles round trip (174 miles), and burn about 3/4 tank (out of 11.3 gallons). Stop & go in town, hilly on the highway, averaging about 20mpg. But, I don’t shift when the indicator tells me, and I have a fairly heavy foot. The sweet spot seems to be third gear at 3500-4000rpm, going into fourth. Feels good, sounds good, runs good. And staying in 6th while going up the hill on 2222 beats trying to downshift to 5th, then 4th, and losing a lot of momentum.
Two months and 6200 miles later, I have no regrets in purchasing the 2012 Rio 5.
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