2012 Kia Rio Sedan a solid little car that delivers satisfaction

More power, better fuel consumption, low price. This Kia even packs in a heated steering wheel and a SatNav system.

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

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. ? More power. More torque. Better fuel consumption. More features. More technology. More value.

Low price.

Better styling. Okay, so this one’s a bit subjective, hence arguable.

Is there anything else a prospective sub-compact purchaser needs to know about the Kia Rio sedan? Or any more reasons why the competition should be worried?

It?s on sale now, starting at $13,795.

The Rio sedan is mechanically and equipment-wise essentially a four-door equivalent of the Rio Hatchback, which has been on sale since late last year.

That said, it isn’t just the hatchback with a trunk grafted on. The grille and headlights are marginally different, and the roofline follows a different coupe-like contour that results in slightly less (5 mm) headroom in the rear seat.

As implied above, I think it looks very pretty. Whatever Kia is paying its ex-Audi, ex-VW, styling chief Peter Schreyer, it isn’t enough.

Overall length is up by 320 mm, which goes into trunk space.

Rio shares most of its oily bits with corporate cousin Hyundai Accent, including the aluminum head-and-block 1.6 litre ?Gamma? four-cylinder engine, with four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts and variable valve timing on both.

But what sets it apart from most engines in this class is direct fuel injection. Instead of fuel being sprayed into the manifold upstream from the intake valves, it goes directly into the cylinder.

The non-technical among you may not care, but this ensures better mixing of air and fuel, which enables a higher compression ratio, which in turn results in greater output using less fuel.

Only Chevrolet Sonic comes close to matching Rio/Accent’s power and torque figures, but Sonic uses more fuel, at least according to Transport Canada.

Direct injection usually means increased combustion noise ? part of the reason Diesels sound so loud is they also have direct injection ? and unstable idle. Kia has worked hard to eliminate those drawbacks; the payoff seems worth it.

The front wheels are driven by one of two six-speed transmissions. Kia Canada figures about 25 per cent of customers will opt for the manual.

The automatic does offer a manual override gate to the left of the main quadrant, but like most cars, the shift pattern is wrong ? it should be forward for downshift and back for upshift because that’s the direction your body weight is shifting when you so indulge.

Also with the automatic comes an ?ECO? system which when activated by pushing a button on the dash changes the throttle mapping and transmission shift schedule to reduce fuel consumption even further, although it can make the car feel a bit sluggish.

Because systems like these can be shut off, car makers can’t utilize them to enhance their Transport Canada numbers, but Kia says it can improve efficiency by about 10 per cent.

Later in the year, Rio will offer a real breakthrough, again only on automatic-equipped cars: Idle Stop/Go (ISG). Under specific circumstances, the engine will shut off at idle, then re-fire automatically when you want to move.

It is this capability that helps hybrids generate such outstanding Transport Canada City numbers; ISG gives a similar benefit at much lower cost.

MacStrut front and twist-beam rear suspensions are pretty much the norm for cars in this class, although few offer four-wheel disc brakes on all trim levels.

ABS, Traction Control and Electronic Stability Control are also all standard. Rio goes one step further by integrating the ESC with the electric power steering: if the system detects the car is heading in the wrong direction, it can apply a small amount of torque to the steering to nudge the car where the driver wants ? or should want ? it to go.

This can also help compensate for crosswinds or steeply-crowned roads.

Ford also offers this on some models.

Big strides for Kia inside the Rio too, with higher-quality materials, better fit and finish, and a remarkable array of equipment both standard (tilt wheel, power locks, windows, and heated mirrors, AM-FM-CD-mp3-Satellite radio, six air bags, 60-40 split-folding rear seat) and optional (air-con, both manual or automatic, telescoping wheel, heated seats, heated steering wheel, Bluetooth, and a full SatNav system in the range-topping EX Luxury trim level).

Yes, I said heated steering wheel ? in a sub-compact car! When the most you can spend on a Rio Sedan is $21,695 (EX Luxury automatic), that’s a lot of kit for your cash.

The car is a pleasant place to spend time in The gauge package is bright and easy to read. Controls all work logically and well (the one-touch / three-flash lane-change turn signal is always appreciated).

I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the damned automatic door locks (not sure if it is possible, but at least when you manually unlock them, they stay unlocked).

Like all Kias (and Hyundais), the Bluetooth system metaphorically rips your cell phone from your briefcase and pairs it into the car ? no having to decipher the da Vinci code in the Owners Manual. Why can’t everyone do it like this (cf., any Ford with SYNC)?

We first wound our way through the streets of Scottsdale, working towards the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. It’s a shade brave to have a drive route running from 300 to 530 metres in altitude, especially for a small car, because altitude saps power.

Fortunately, Rio has lots to spare, plus the advantage of six forward ratios, so performance was never an issue. Lots of torque and a broad torque curve too, so little need for full throttle to maintain an appropriate pace, hence ? again ? better fuel consumption.

The direct injection engine noise is generally well-handled, although there is occasional gruffness in the exhaust note. I’m used to a Diesel, so I prefer this to the keening whine you often hear in small engines.

The transmission shifts with complete anonymity, which is how it should be. I tried the manual override gate just to be sure it worked; it does, but I seldom use these things in the real world.

Overall, the little car felt solid and comfortable.

Regular readers will know that I am seldom so positive about a new car. But there just isn’t much to complain about in this car.

If you go back to the beginning of this story, you’ll see where I was going with this.

Travel for freelance writer Jim Kenzie was paid for by the automaker.


Four-door, five-passenger, sub-compact sedan with front-wheel drive.

PRICE: LX – $13,695; EX – $16,695

ENGINE: 1.6 litre inline four, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, direct fuel injection.

POWER/TORQUE (horsepower / lb.-ft): 138 @ 6,300 r.p.m. / 123 @ 4,850 r.p.m.

FUEL CONSUMPTION, City/Highway, L/100 km: six-speed manual – 6.6 / 4.9; six-speed automatic: 6.8 / 4.9

COMPETITION: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris.

WHAT’S BEST: Best power and power-to-fuel consumption ratio in class; unbeaten levels of standard and available equipment; handsome styling.

WHAT’S WORST: Not much; some may quibble about engine gruffness; annoying automatic power door locks.

WHAT’S INTERESTING: How Kia views its corporate cousin Hyundai Accent as Rio’s main competition, and how two branches of the same company take different approaches to packaging in this segment.

  • 2012 Kia Rio Sedan a solid little car that delivers satisfaction CHARGES MAY APPLY Subject: Kia Rio Sedan pics - 7 of 9 On 2012-01-23, at 2:55 AM, Jim Kenzie wrote: Kenzie Kia Rio RF 34.JPG
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