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2012 Kia Rio ReviewThe Good
Euro-inspired styling, plenty of standard features and options, a significant boost in engine power and performance, and a pair of brand new 6-speed transmissions mean a whole new Kia Rio experience for 2012.The Bad
The 2012 Rio's noisy and still underachieving 4-cylinder powerplant, a rear seat that doesn’t fold quite flat and less interior room than some rivals all indicate Kia still has work to do.
The CarGurus View
Re-worked and modernized, the next generation of the Kia Rio sedan and Rio5 hatchback now offers a value-laden alternative in the Fit-dominated subcompact market. For those who want a maneuverable, decently equipped second car for the family, the Rio lineup is worth a tire kick or two. And an over-the-top warranty just keeps on adding value.
At a Glance
The first thing that must be said about Kia’s redesigned 2012 Rio lineup is that this is not your father’s Rio. A total reworking from last years ‘80s look has given this 5-passenger subcompact a whole new attitude, though it couldn’t have gotten much stodgier in any case. Now this little runabout, still available in sedan and Rio5 5-door hatchback editions, moves firmly into the 21st Century—and my, what a refreshing sight it is. Suddenly, Kia offers a solid alternative to the Honda Fit, the Ford Fiesta, the Chevy Sonic and the Hyundai Accent.
Despite the changes, this little family automobile, in both sedan and hatchback form, remains available in three trims, but with a twist. The entry-level LX replaces the old Base Rio, with a new midlevel trim called the EX bolstering the sport-oriented flagship SX. Of course, a 4-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive (FWD) remain the sole powertrain offering. But—and this is a big but—direct injection (DI) technology adds 28 hp and 16 lb-ft of torque to this year’s Rio powerplant, with the sedan’s 5-speed stick shift replaced by a more efficient 6-speed manual transmission that’s available now in both the sedan and the hatchback. And Kia’s unheard-of warranty coverage is, of course, still around for added value and peace of mind.
Possibly the most notable feature about the new-look Rio lineup is, well, its brand-new look. A profile that was once boxy and bland now boasts a distinctly lean and mean aggressiveness that gets its attitude from a swooped roofline that blends enticingly with a longer, sleeker hood, grille and headlight assembly in front, and that integrates comfortably into a far more modernistic rear deck.
This year’s sedan is almost 4 inches longer and 1 inch wider than last year's, for totals of 171.9 inches in overall length and 67.7 inches in width, while the Rio5 hatchback now measures 159.3 inches in length, a gain of nearly 1.5 inches, and retains the sedan’s 67.7 inches in width. The hatchback, nonetheless, still retains its 49.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded, while the Rio sedan actually adds almost 2 cubic feet of trunk space, for a total of 13.7 cubic feet.
The new-look cabin, finally, features appealing, upscale textures in the hard plastic surfaces (of which there are still, unfortunately, a lot). An available soft-touch dashboard, not to mention a hefty load of cabin storage, enough front-seat headroom for a pair of 6-footers and some upscale simulated alloy inserts complete the interior improvement process.
In keeping with tradition, the 2012 Rio lineup sports a single inline 4-cylinder (I4) powerplant. But, with direct injection (DI) technology that’s new for this year, look for this variable-valve-timed (VVT) 1.6-liter to crank out 138 hp at 6,300 rpm and 123 lb-ft of torque at 4,850 rpm. Also new this year is the 6-speed manual transmission that’s standard with the base LX trim in both the sedan and the Rio5 hatchback versions. The new 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission that’s standard in the EX and SX sedans and hatchbacks is also optional for both LX body styles. Mileage estimates with the stick shift in either body style run 29 mpg city/37 highway, while the 6-speed automatic works out to 28/36.
Alas, these mileage numbers sound awesome in a perfect world, but to hear both reviewers and owners tell it, as far as the Rio’s fuel-economy numbers are concerned, we live in a far from perfect world, and this fact should be noted before expecting the same mileage.
An available ECO Package, optional for the midlevel EX trim in both sedan and hatchback versions, features ISG (Idle, Stop and Go) technology that’s popular in Europe and, through automakers such as Kia, is now finding its way into the U.S. With this hybrid-like system, the engine shuts off at a stop to save fuel and restarts on acceleration. Reviewers and owners claim that proper manipulation of this system may result in the mileage numbers Kia claims, but that more restrained driving habits, with or without the available ECO mode, are about the only thing that’ll realize the automaker’s (and the EPA’s) advertised fuel figures.
Otherwise, reviews across the board laud this little commuter car for its added vigor, and the 6-speed manual transmission will delight with its suitably short throw and perfectly adequate clutch, while the 6-speed automatic is praised for its smooth action and quick downshifts when extra oomph is needed. A few reviews, however, do note that despite its added ponies, this subcompact still isn’t quite as peppy as some competitors. And there’s an added caveat virtually all reviewers note: The latest version of the Rio’s I4 is still a noisy little critter on hard acceleration. Fear not, though—acceleration remains smooth, and once it gets to cruising speeds, according to the vast majority of reviews, this reworked four-banger subsides to a comforting hum.
Ride & Handling
For 2012, the Rio lineup, both sedan and hatchback, comes with a front independent suspension, complemented by MacPherson front struts, a torsion bar rear suspension and stabilizer bars in front and rear. Both the base Rio and Rio5 LX and the midlevel EX are delivered with 15-inch steel wheels, while the SX in both body configurations sports 17-inch alloy wheels. Once more, all Rios are delivered with all-season tires.
It stands to reason that the Rio, being an affordable small sedan/hatchback, is not going to provide the ride comfort of a larger, heavier automobile. Virtually all reviewers note, however, that the Rio’s obviously less-than-plush ride is no worse than most in its class, and most claim that the LX and EX trims provide a decent ride on good roads, with small bumps and imperfections well damped, though larger ridges and holes will be somewhat more noticeable.
The SX, with its larger wheels and tires, isn’t as forgiving, according to most reviews, and all but the smoothest surfaces will be felt to a greater extent. Most reviewers are quick to point out that this little commuter car is never downright unmanageable on any but the most degraded of surfaces.
On the plus side, reviewers praise this Korean-designed subcompact for its surprising agility, well-balanced steering feel and confident body control in fast corners. Most reviewers feel confident tossing this subcompact around a little bit, while the vast majority are, if not ecstatic, at least pleased with its lane-holding capabilities on the highway.
A more-than-competent antilock braking system, with 60-0-mph stopping distances averaging a competent 119 feet, add to the equation. Be advised, however, that there are a number of reviewers who claim this subcompact’s brakes are a bit too grabby for their tastes.
Cabin & Comfort
Appearance, convenience and comfort amenities in the base Rio and Rio5 LX include a rear spoiler on the Rio5 LX hatchback, and cloth upholstery, a rear folding armrest and heated power-adjustable outside mirrors in and on both the sedan and hatchback versions. A trip computer, meantime, finds it way into this base subcompact’s instrument cluster, while tilt-wheel steering remains a viable convenience feature. Air conditioning, of course, not to mention an MP3-capable single-CD player with 4 speakers, a USB port and satellite radio, all return to maintain the expected level of occupant comfort.
The midlevel Rio and Rio5 EX add premium cloth upholstery, remote power door locks, power windows and cruise control, as well as simulated alloy dashboard trim, telescoping tilt-wheel steering, 6 stereo speakers and standard Bluetooth hands-free communications.
Finally, the Rio and Rio5 SX toss in a leather-wrapped steering wheel with mounted paddle shifters and cruise and audio controls, not to mention a rear-view camera and Kia’s touted UVO/Microsoft entertainment and communications interface.
Options for the lower trims include many items that come standard with the higher-priced editions, while an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with the Homelink universal remote garage door opener remains available lineup-wide.
For the EX, an available Convenience Package can be added to the available ECO Package and brings 15-inch alloy wheels, the UVO infotainment system with rear-view camera, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power-folding outside mirrors and a soft-touch dashboard to the mix.
The SX, meanwhile, is eligible for the Premium Package, which includes a navigation suite, leather-trimmed upholstery, push-button start, heated front seats and a power sunroof. Be advised, however, that selecting this package forces the deletion of the standard UVO system.
Most reviewers are well aware that hard plastics still abound in the redesigned Rio cabin, but they are also quick to point out that soothing textures and the newly available soft-touch dashboard go a long way toward mitigating what was once a veritable cavern of mediocrity. Cabin room has been increased significantly for the next-gen Rio, though reviewers do concede that rear-seat passengers will again have to be on the small side to be comfortable. Interior storage is noticeably more abundant with the added length and width of this sub-compact, while road and wind noise have been considerably alleviated.
All in all, reviewers find the reworked 2012 Rio to be far more tastefully appointed than its predecessors. Comfortable seating for the long haul, note the majority of reviews, as well as adequate, if not overwhelming amounts of front leg- and headroom, straightforward gauges and controls, and available leather upholstery and accents all add up to a surprisingly upscale ambiance.
The reworked 2012 Rio lineup, of course, comes with all the customary standard safety features, including 4-wheel antilock brakes (ABS) with emergency braking assist and electronic brakeforce distribution. And then there’s standard traction and stability control, as well as front side-mounted airbags and the obligatory front and rear head airbags.
Both the EX and SX trims are delivered with turn-signal-integrated mirrors, with the SX also boasting standard front fog/driving lights that are optional for the EX. Meantime, the flagship Rio and Rio5 SX trims additionally sport standard LED daytime running lights that are new for this year.
Testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) resulted in a second-best 4-star rating overall for Kia’s subcompact lineup, with front impact and rollover testing showing a score of 4 stars each. The Administration’s best 5-star rating was given in side-impact testing, though with the notation that some tested vehicles showed unexpected anomalies in these results.
Perhaps such anomalies are reflected in the Rio being given a rating of Poor in side-impact tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), its worst possible score. Results of front impact tests by the Institute are reflected in its best score of Good, while roof-strength tests and overall safety dynamics testing each showed the Institute’s second-highest rating of Acceptable. Finally, the Institute’s highest score of Good was once again awarded for seat/head restraint geometry.
What Owners Think
By nearly all accounts, owners find both Kia and the EPA woefully inaccurate in their estimates of the 2012 Rio’s mileage. Many will grant that their driving habits may cause a bit lower mileage, but owners claim they use just enough acceleration to at least keep up with traffic flow and few jackrabbit starts, yet fuel economy doesn’t even approach what both the automaker and the EPA claim.
Additional owner frustrations with the next-gen Rio include its noisy I4 powerplant, an often unworkable flat-fixing kit in place of a spare tire and an often uncomfortable ride, especially in the SX trim.
On the positive side, most owners are pleased with this subcompact’s new styling and roomy cabin, while further kudos go to the new direct-injection technology in adding some needed oomph to the four-banger. The 6-speed stick shift, new for LX trims, as well as the continued excellence in warranty coverage once again have owners lauding the Rio for its outstanding value.
Have Laptop, Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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