What's New for 2006
Completely redesigned, the 2006 Kia Rio sedan and Rio5 hatchback now share a platform with Hyundai's Accent. Roomier and more refined, the new Rio's equipment list is topped by a spunky 110-hp engine and standard side curtain airbags.
Priced to go after buyers with minimal budgets, the original Kia Rio sold from 2001 to 2005 had little going for it other than its big warranty. It could get you from home to work all right, but between its unrefined road manners and lack of amenities, it was basic transportation and nothing else. However, with high fuel prices likely here to stay, the bottom end of the car market is getting more attention from consumers and manufacturers alike. Kia's engineers and designers evidently took a good look at the feature-laden Scion xA while they were redesigning the Rio. Although the 2006 Kia Rio may not have the Scion's fashion sense, it's pleasant to drive, loaded with features and comfortable to boot.
For 2006, Kia is offering the Rio sedan in base and LX trim levels, along with a Rio5 hatchback in a single SX trim. With no air conditioning and skinny 14-inch tires, the base sedan is still very much a budget ride. Yet, you do get an attractive cloth interior in beige or gray, side-impact airbags for front occupants and side curtain airbags for front and rear occupants for about $11,000. Kia expects most buyers to step up to the LX sedan, which for just under $13,000 comes with modern-day essentials like A/C, a CD stereo, power steering, a 60/40-split folding rear seat and a tilt steering wheel. Priced a few hundred dollars above the least expensive Spectra, the Kia Rio5 SX hatchback is sharper-looking than the Rio sedan (and certainly the outgoing Rio Cinco wagon), thanks to its neatly finished tail and standard 15-inch alloy wheels.
Quickness is not within a lower-end economy car's grasp, but energized by a 30-pound weight loss and a new 110-hp, 1.6-liter inline four with variable intake valve timing, the 2006 Kia Rio gets around as easily as any of its peers. As before, suspension consists of a simple arrangement of struts in front and a semi-independent torsion bar with coil springs in back, but Kia engineers evidently took more care when tuning it, because it's now capable of managing body movement and road irregularities. Handling around corners is sure and steady. Like other Kia cars, the new Rio and Rio5 offer excellent value. And unlike the old Rio, they're affordable cars you may actually grow to like.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Kia Rio sedan comes in base and LX trims, while the five-door Rio5 hatchback is available in a single SX trim. With no air conditioning and skinny 175/70R14 tires, the base sedan is a budget ride. Yet, you do get an attractive cloth interior in beige or gray, two-way driver-seat height adjustment, a tachometer and a full complement of side airbags. The well-equipped LX sedan provides A/C, a four-speaker CD stereo, power steering, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, a tilt steering wheel and meatier 185/65R14 tires. The Rio5 SX hatchback adds 15-inch alloy wheels, metallic interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and metal-trimmed pedals. LX sedan and Rio5 hatch buyers can get the optional Power Package, which provides power windows, mirrors and locks; keyless entry; and tweeter speakers.
Powertrains and Performance
Energized by a new 1.6-liter inline four with variable intake valve timing, the 2006 Kia Rio gets around as easily as any of its peers. Horsepower comes in a 110, while torque rates 107 lb-ft. A five-speed manual transmission is mandatory on the base sedan, but the LX sedan and Rio5 hatchback can be had with either the manual or a four-speed automatic. Mileage ratings are much higher than the old Rio's -- 32 city, 35 highway with the manual and 29/38 with the automatic.
All Rios come standard with side-impact airbags for front occupants, full-length side curtain airbags and three-point belts in all seating positions. The LX sedan and Rio5 hatchback also come with adjustable rear headrests. ABS is optional on the LX sedan and Rio5, and ordering it replaces the standard front discs/rear drums with four-wheel disc brakes. In NHTSA frontal-impact crash testing, the Kia Rio scored four (out of a possible five stars) for driver protection and five stars for passenger protection. In the side-impact test, the vehicle earned three stars for both front and rear occupants.
Interior Design and Special Features
Dressed in beige, the Rio's cockpit has an airy, optimistic feel so often lacking in this price bracket. Interior materials quality is above-average, but a few of the plastics aren't up to the xA's level. The cloth upholstery is attractive and breathes well in warm weather, and the control layout is as straightforward as they come. Seat comfort is excellent, as the well-shaped front chairs offer a generous range of seat-track travel. In back, headroom is a bit tight for 6-footers, but legroom is fully adequate and the tall bench provides good thigh support.
The 1.6-liter provides decent low-end pull and the manual transmission version offers enough thrust to merge into highway traffic with ease, although the engine gets noisy at higher rpm. Shifting the manual gearbox is enjoyable, thanks to the distinct gates and smooth clutch. Acceleration is almost as good with the automatic (which serves up smooth upshifts and on-time downshifts), though freeway merging takes some planning. The Rio's ride is smooth and stable, as the suspension does a fine job of soaking up road irregularities, and even at 75 mph, the ride is hushed. Pushed through corners, the Kia Rio responds with predictable body roll and unexpectedly crisp steering.