What's New for 2001
With a base MSRP that makes it the least expensive car in America, the roomy little Rio is a peppy 96-horsepower entry-level sedan. While the design and materials used on this car are nothing to write home about, build quality is impressively tight. And Kia's new Long Haul Warranty Program offers the added security of a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, along with impressive levels of bumper-to-bumper and roadside assistance coverage.
Kia is determined to get a tenacious hold on the econo-car market, and with the introduction of the appealingly inexpensive Rio, along with the company's impressive new Long Haul Warranty Program, it may well be on its way to doing just that.
The Rio's 1.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder, the only engine available and charged with motivating less than 2,300 pounds, is surprisingly peppy, providing quick acceleration from a stop as well as adequate passing power on highways. Over 75 mph, the engine serenades the driver with an incessant whine, but maintains speed quite well. The optional four-speed automatic tranny has an overdrive-off button to avoid gear searching in the hills.
The wedge-shaped exterior design of the Rio is inoffensively generic, which, as Kia notes, means "your friends won't give you a hard time when you show up in [the Rio]." The interior is solidly screwed together, although the materials used reflect the bargain-basement price of this subcompact sedan. Hard plastics and cheesy upholstery abound, but rattles and squeaks are kept to a minimum within the cabin. Outside, the Rio boasts upscale-looking clear lens headlights and, with the reasonably priced upgrade package, wheel covers and bodyside moldings. Snazzy alloy wheels are available as an inexpensive independent option, and you can get a nifty spoiler for the deck lid, too.
Antilock brakes are not standard equipment, but you can get them as an option. Air conditioning, which works beautifully without hampering engine power too much, is also on the a la carte menu. For tunes, you can choose either a cassette player or a CD player, but you can't get both.
The inside of this thrifty sedan is logically and simply laid-out. Radio controls are conveniently placed above the climate switchgear, although the latter are set a little too low in the center stack for optimum ergonomic operation. Buttons and switches are all big enough and easy to find and use, and the front seats are comfy, but lack lumbar support. The rear seat feels like a park bench, but interior room is pretty impressive for a vehicle of this size, measuring more than even Toyota's relatively spacious Echo, according to Kia. One accoutrement of which Kia is especially proud is the driver seat fold-down armrest, but it's pretty much useless with the stick shift, and in fact impedes arm movement somewhat even in the folded-up position.
The Rio behaves well on the road, with a tight suspension that keeps body roll to a minimum, but communicates irregularities in the tarmac directly to the driver. The power rack-and-pinion steering is tight and accurate for a vehicle at this price point, but a lack of overall refinement is apparent in the vibration through the gas pedal and shifter.
The Rio competes with the Hyundai Accent, the Daewoo Lanos and the Toyota Echo, while being cheaper than all three and still displaying solid build quality. It's definitely worth checking out, if you're low on funds. And if you're willing to wait until the summer of 2001, you can have the Rio Wagon (well, it's more of a five-door hatchback), which will become the lowest priced small wagon on the market. You can expect to pay a small premium for the wagon over the sedan.