2009 Kia Rio Review

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Review

The Good

Great value, loads of safety features, good fuel efficiency, solid construction, and a range of trims from a bare-bones sedan to a near-sporty four-door hatchback make the 2009 Kia Rio a worthwhile and practical investment.

The Bad

On the small end even for its class, an ultra-basic interior and only average safety scores in government and insurance industry crash tests despite all the '09 Rio's safety features may cause some to look elsewhere in the large and continually growing subcompact class.

The CarGurus View

If you're hoping for savings yet unwilling to sacrifice quality construction, the 2009 Kia Rio is worth a look. What the Rio lacks in standard interior amenities it makes up for with practical interior materials, a first-rate warranty, and enough options to satisfy those looking for a few bells and whistles. And while it may not deliver gut-churning power, the Rio handles with precision and pop.

At a Glance

Kia delivers the essence of a subcompact with its 2009 Rio – economy and practical quality. A look at its $11,495 MSRP for a base four-door sedan might suggest a flimsy car, but the Rios are solidly built vehicles that don’t skimp on safety features and come with a strong 5-year/60,000-mile complete warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Despite some speculation, the Rio is not going hybrid for 2009, but it still provides a 27/32 mpg rating with a manual transmission and 25/35 with an automatic.

A new Rio5 LX four-door hatchback joins the Rio5 SX for 2009 to offer consumers a more economical choice if they need the extra cargo room of a wagon. The sedan comes in three trims – Base, LX, and EX. There are some revamped details for the new Rios as well, including an audio system upgrade that includes a three-month Sirius Satellite Radio subscription, a new power package that includes audio controls on the steering wheel, and restyled front and rear ends.

Drivetrain

All five of the Rio trims are front-wheel drive and come with a 110-horspeower, 1.6-liter inline four engine capable of 107 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 RPM. Kia’s Continuously Variable Valve Timing technology controls its four valves per cylinder.

A five-speed manual transmission comes standard with all trims and offers easy shifting and subtle clutch action. An electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive is also available.

This drivetrain may be best suited to light driving around town, as the Rio's 0-60 time of 9.4 seconds suggests, but it does pack enough power for the Rio’s five-passenger capacity.

Ride & Handling

The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering on the LX and SX trims for both the sedan and wagons (the base sedan does not offer the power assist) supplies the Rio with precise steering that, coupled with its compact size, eases the rigors of urban driving. The SX trims feel practically sporty at times, except when you’re looking for that extra touch of power. All five trims come with independent MacPherson struts with coil springs and a stabilizer bar in the front suspension and a torsion beam and coil springs in the rear.

Hydraulic, power-assisted brakes come standard, but four-sensor, four-channel ABS brakes are available on all models and give the Rio sound stopping control and good pedal feel. The base sedan comes with P175/70R14 tires, the LX sedan with 185/65R14, the LX wagon and SX trims with 195/55R15.

Cabin & Comfort

Kia clearly went economical with the interior of the Rio as well, but even if it’s not luxurious, the Rio’s cabin is practical, and, like the rest of the car, well made.

The seats have cloth upholstery, but other than that most cabin surfaces are hard plastic that doesn’t look excessively cheap. The gauges and controls are all straightforward and accessible to eyes and hands. A USB-input jack for your MP3 players comes standard, as does a front 12-volt power outlet, tinted glass, and, for the LX and SX models, air-conditioning. A power package is required to motorize anything, including the door locks, but again this speaks to Kia’s practical approach to this practical car.

With 92.2 cubic feet of passenger room, the Rio won’t be comfortable for five large adults, but what subcompact car is? The sedans offer 11.9 cubic feet of cargo room, while the hatchbacks give you 15.8 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seat up and a whopping 49.6 when it's down. The LX and SX sedans have split-folding rear seats. With five small bins and a small glovebox, interior storage is minimal, but again, that’s not unexpected with this class of car.

You likely won’t be wowed by the Rio’s creature comforts, but as Car and Driver magazine said, “For a low-buck sedan, it’s substantially more refined than you’d expect.”

Safety

The Rio really outperforms its pricetag in terms of safety. Kia emphasizes safety with this vehicle and gives it full-length side-curtain airbags in the front and rear to keep all five passengers safe. The dual front air bags and dual front seat-mounted airbags register the severity of impact and inflate accordingly.

In addition to all the airbags, the Rio comes with side-impact door beams, front and rear crumple zones, a steering column that absorbs impact energy, front seat-belt pretensioners with force limiters, lower anchors and tethers for children in the rear seats, child safety locks, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

If that seems like a lot of safety features for an economy car, it is. As BusinessWeek said, “The Rio’s defining feature may be the package of safety gear Kia stitches into each one.”

What Owners Think

The Rio's reliability has received mixed reviews, but Kia does provide its 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty to alleviate some of those concerns. Consumers like the Rio's maneuverability, quality construction, easy-to-use controls and, of course, its price. Some have found the car to be a touch loud on rough surfaces.

Updated

After working at gas stations and car washes in high school, driving across the country more than a dozen times and even living on the road in a well-outfitted truck, Tim O'Sullivan finally started putting some of his automotive knowledge to work when he began writing for CarGurus in 2008. He's also an award-winning journalist and the Sports Editor at the Concord (NH) Monitor.

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