2006 Kia Rio-5

Shedding, streamlining, paring down. It's all part of that new minimalist lifestyle, so consumers interested in slim-style transportation should take a keen look at the redesigned Kia Rio-5.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Shedding, streamlining, paring down.

It's all part of that new minimalist lifestyle, so consumers interested in slim-style transportation should take a keen look at the redesigned Kia Rio-5.

It's calorie-reduced, it's decluttered, it's tailor-made for light living.

I test-drove it for a week and came to two worthy conclusions: it's fun to drive and, unlike some other sub-compacts, it's not nerdy looking.

First of all and maybe best of all, it will put a rather light touch on your wallet. I test-drove the top of the line model, the Rio-5 EX four-door hatchback with the sport package, and it priced out at a sensible $15,995.

For that kind of money you won't get ABS, or traction control, you won't have to fret about the distractions of a navigation system, or hear an annoying chime from a carillon every time the temperature drops below 3C. But you do get power locks and windows, heated mirrors and front seats, plus spiffy metal pedals.

The designers also managed to make a teeny hatchback feel spacious. Kia claims to have more passenger volume than Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Chevy Cobalt.

After dating it for a week, I was ready to make a longer commitment.

The Kia brochure has a cool picture of a clean-cut couple loading the trunk with plants. I sought to recreate that horticultural escapade.

Reef the head restraints off the back of the 60/40 split-folding back seats and you can squeeze in a lot of cargo. I loaded in four flats of daffodils and pansies and six more chubby tubs of flowers.

Officially, Kia lists a cargo capacity of 1,405 litres.

So it's perky, it's practical, it's got a good body image, and it's got just enough horsepower to move it

through time and space.

Yes, imagine a car with 110 hp in this day and age of gluttonous excess. I mean that figure makes some people snort with laughter, but you know what, it was enough. With the five-speed manual transmission, it was as frisky as a yearling.

Rio-5 is light, at 1,114 kg. Yet it felt solid during a blustery highway expedition when the winds of spring were blowing.

The gearbox is precise enough, better than some more expensive cars I've driven, and the clutch requires minimal muscle power to operate.

It's an interesting recipe: a tiny, feathery car with solid feel, decent power, direct steering, confident braking and good mileage: officially, 7.4 L/ 100 km city, 6.2 L/100 km highway.

The bright driving experience is packaged in a lively body. The look is unified, poised, slightly aggressive and balanced.

Inside, I liked the cloth seats with red accent stitching. Funny how red thread can be a selling point.

The fashion-forward interior, along with leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, is part of the sport package.

The front seats were supportive, the back seats roomy enough for average-sized citizens and visibility was good, with no nasty blind spots.

You can't fault the sound system if anything, the radio seemed exceptionally crisp.

In Canada, driver taste is much more European, according to Dean Tesser, national marketing manager for Kia Canada.

"The Rio is the perfect car for the Canadian marketplace," he contends.

"The ride, handling, driving dynamics (and) peppiness suit the driving enthusiast."

Now there are two things that keep me from being completely blissful about the Rio.

One is the question of durability and the other safety. Though the Rio appears well built and nicely finished, there is the sense that components are light, just like the car. Door hinges, trunk parts, even the sheet metal does not have the muscular mass one might find in, say, a German car.

How these will weather over time, I do not know.

And sadly, with the Rio in Canada, there is no option to order side airbags.

In the U.S., Rio is touted as being safe and affordable.

One review even lauded the "best airbag package in the universe" in the price range, coming as it does with side impact and side curtain airbags as standard.

In Canada, it seems it's all about price. Tesser says the exclusion of side airbags and curtains keeps the price competitive.

Canadian buyers, Kia claims, are sending the message that side airbags are not a desirable option.

"In North American forecasts of residual values, what consumers value are 15-inch versus 14-inch wheels, leather versus cloth," Tesser says.

"They see no additional value in six airbags versus two, they are not willing to pay for it."

But if consumer tastes change here, he adds, Rio could offer more airbags as soon as 2007.

For now, it comes with front airbags, side-impact door beams and reinforced pillars. The car has not been tested by the independent U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Rio-5 also comes with what is often described as the best warranty in the business: five years or 100,000 km comprehensive and powertrain warranty, and five years or 100,000 km extra care roadside assistance.

Yes, the cheap and cheerful Rio-5 manages to pack a ton of features into a stylishly simple little car. But it's up to you to put your own value on features such as side airbags and ABS.

Tesser, who used to be a CEO with Young Drivers of Canada, likes to think Rio's agility could help drivers avoid crashes.

I agree. I just worry about a truck or SUV running a red light and making contact with the petite Rio. Gross tonnage wins.

Price: base/loaded/as tested $13,695/$16,995/$15,995

Engine: 1.6 litre 4-cylinder

Power/torque: 110 hp/107 lb.ft.

Fuel consumption: (L/100 km) city 7.4, hwy 6.2

Competition: Hyundai Accent, Pontiac Wave, Toyota Yaris

What's best: Nice interior, long warranty

What's worst: No ABS or side airbags available

What's interesting: Heated mirrors and front seats at this price

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