What's New for 2002
One of America's least expensive cars now comes in sedan or wagon flavor. Dubbed the Rio Cinco, the five-door Kia provides 44.3 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seat down.
Kia is determined to get a tenacious hold on the econo-car market, and with the appealingly inexpensive Rio sedan and Rio Cinco wagon, 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 2,500 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 and wagon. 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. Snazzy alloy wheels are available as an inexpensive independent option, and you can get a nifty spoiler for the deck lid of the sedan, 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. Note that the wagon comes with a bit more standard content, including power steering, a tachometer, tilt adjustment for the steering wheel, vanity mirrors and body-side moldings; you can add all of these items to the sedan via a reasonably priced upgrade package.
The inside of this thrifty car 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, Daewoo Lanos and Toyota Echo; among this group, the Rio sedan is the cheapest four-door and Rio Cinco is the only wagon. Although we would encourage those shopping in this price bracket to consider a larger, slightly used car from one of the major Japanese manufacturers, the Rio sedan and wagon are definitely worth checking out if you're low on funds and really want a new-car warranty.