Rio owners feeling surprisingly grand

Remember when $1.25-a-litre gas changed everything?

  • The image of cars in a showroom

Remember when $1.25-a-litre gas changed everything?

“My wife had traded in her gas-guzzling Jeep Cherokee and we laughed at her choice,” starts a post about a family buying a 2006 Kia Rio.

“When gas prices rose, I began using it for selling real estate. My clients are shocked when they find how roomy the back seat is.”

Kia Motors can thank the oil price shock of 2008 for introducing the brand to die-hard V8 worshippers.

“I’m used to driving high-horsepower, American-made trucks, so for me to actually say this thing has some power means something,” posted another convert.

Instead of crushing burned-out Kia shells under their monster-truck tires, some good ol’ boys started commuting in them.


Kia enlarged its second-generation Rio for 2006, gaining economies of scale with corporate master Hyundai by adopting the Accent’s front-drive platform. The subcompact arrived from Sohari, South Korea, as a nifty four-door sedan and cheeky five-door hatchback, the Rio5.

The Rio was a little wider and taller than the outgoing model, but not one iota longer.

Still, the wheelbase was stretched 9 cm, which yielded four newfound centimetres of backseat legroom (apparently enough to astonish real estate clients).

If the car looked vaguely European, there’s a good reason: Kia is winning impressive sales volumes over there, proving popular with budget-minded consumers in that pricey part of the world.

The interior was nicely laid out and made the most of the limited space. The materials looked more expensive than they were, and the fit and finish belied the car’s cut-rate price.

The Rio came with roll-yer-own windows and few hedonistic pleasures, although options packages could fill most of the blanks (cruise control was sorely missed by many, however).

One thing product planners did not scrimp on was safety: front, side and head-protecting curtain side airbags were standard issue. Kia knew marketing a subcompact in North America required a surfeit of safety equipment to ease buyers’ minds.

By adopting variable valve-timing, the Rio’s solitary 1.6 L DOHC four-cylinder motor gained six horsepower for a total of 110, along with 107 lb.-ft. of torque.

A five-speed manual transmission was standard; an efficient four-speed automatic was optional. Antilock four-wheel disc brakes were optional on all but the base sedan.

The suspension was unremarkable: MacPherson struts up front and a torsion bar with coil springs in back.

In typical Korean fashion, it was tuned for a forgiving ride with too little sport baked in.

Subsequent model years did not offer much in the way of updates beyond the usual tinkering with trim levels and options.


While it’s quiet at idle, the iron-block four-banger becomes quite raucous when revved. There’s excessive wind noise at speed that, coupled with the engine racket, makes for tiresome long-distance treks.

The steering is reasonably accurate and the car is relatively fuss-free in crosswinds. Find one with rear disc brakes and the stopping power is uncommonly good.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the Rio’s acceleration.

Zero to 96 km/h comes up in 9.9 seconds with the stickshift; 10.5 with the automatic. A Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris can shave a full second off those times and their engines are smaller still.

Here’s why: the Rio is a little porky and the Kia/Hyundai engines of this vintage were not tuned to maximize fuel economy.

The proof? Some drivers reported disappointing gas consumption, as much as 11 L/100 km (26 mpg) around town – not a great performance for such a small car.

“The gas mileage is nowhere near what Kia advertises,” wrote one owner, voicing a common lament.


Consumers looking for a simple transportation appliance at a minimum price likely settled for a Rio with the lowest of expectations. Owners got considerably more than they bargained for.

“My 2006 Rio5 has already 385,000 km on it and is still running perfectly. It never gave me any problems at all. The only things I fixed so far are ball joints, wheel bearings, tie-rods (rough country roads) and fuel purge valve.”

We found precious few complaints about the 2006-09 Rio models in our Internet scan.

The most common had to do with short-lived batteries. In some cases it was a mysterious drain on the battery, in others it was just a bad cell. Owners may be better off buying a good aftermarket brand.

A few owners reported faulty air conditioners, and a few more leaky automatic transmissions, but in neither instance could it be characterized as an epidemic (the original 2001-02 Rios did have a troublesome autobox).

The last word goes to a Rio owner who has heard all the jokes, but who’s sitting pretty in a pretty good little car.

“You don’t have to be stupid to buy anything else, but it helps.”

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Land Rover LR3, Cadillac SRX and Subaru Tribeca. Email:


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