Kia opens the hatch Rio RX-V cuts a dashing figure

  • Driver

Kia is the only car company in Canada with two hatchbacks in its range: the compact Spectra GSX and the little Rio RX-V (pronounced RX-five).

Clearly this is a company that believes in the resurgence of the hatchback. And why wouldn't it with products like these, both of which are far more desirable and versatile than their four-door siblings.

Rio RX-V, with its curving roofline, bubble butt, and pointy triangular tail lamps, cuts a far more dashing figure than a four-door Rio, and looks especially fetching with the larger 14-inch alloy wheels fitted to the sport model.

It's also available in a range of striking colours (think radioactive green metallic) that aren't available on the sedan.

The interior hasn't been treated to a similar makeover; it remains identical to Rio sedan except for the hatch area.

That means surprisingly attractive and tough-wearing fabrics on supportive, if a bit overly firm, front buckets. Thanks to a height-adjustable driver's throne and the domed roofline, headroom isn't lacking up front, and there's good foot room for rear passengers.

But the shiny plastic dash remains tall and blocky, putting the climate controls a long reach away, and the tall shift lever has enough wobble in it to make selecting fifth a constant guessing game.

That rear hatch simply transforms Rio's functionality. Instead of a large but hard-to-access trunk and a small pass- through by folding the rear seats, RX-V has a gaping rear maw, a removable cargo cover, and all the space between the wheel wells you'd want.

Seats folded, it will easily swallow a medium-sized TV, a great big pile of photographer's equipment, or a couple of rigor-mortised bodies. Fold the seats back up and the rear compartment offers more headroom than the sedan, as well as an airier feeling because of the five-door's larger glass area.

Rio RX-V is pitched at a distinctly different customer than the sedan; its high level of standard equipment reflects this.

The Sport model, listing at $14,695 includes aluminum wheels (not available on the sedan), a rear spoiler, and a powerful Sony Xplod sound system, whose buttons, in finest aftermarket tradition, are so small you'll need a sharpened pencil to operate them.

A more luxury-oriented trim swaps in plastic wheel covers but adds air conditioning and power goodies for just $15,095.

Though "sporty" would be going a bit far in describing Rio's dynamics, it's certainly a friendly, eager performer. Throttle response is prompt, turn-in is brisk, and the brakes are sufficiently powerful and quite communicative.

The body rolls quite a bit in turns, but it always feels stable and planted; the steering has some numbness, but overall is immediate and accurate.

Despite the general lack of refinement, there's a cheerfulness in Rio's every move that makes it a pleasure to drive hard.

Cheerful and cheap is clearly the best way to describe this car. Great to look at and entertaining to drive, Rio is a real bargain, and a far more charming car than the sedan would ever be — no matter how good a value it manifestly is.

I smiled every minute I was behind the Rio's wheel, and I also smile every time I see one drive by.

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