What's New for 2009
The 2009 Kia Rio continues with no mechanical changes. However, there are a few audio system upgrades.
Subcompact cars used to be strictly a low budget, no frills proposition. In the past, cars like the Kia Rio offered basic transportation and not much else, and the competition wasn't much better. However, given the recent interest in fuel economy and the fairly high price of most hybrids, subcompact cars are getting a new lease on life. The Rio is a good example. When it was completely redesigned a few years ago, it became more pleasant to look at and to drive.
As Kia's smallest car, the 2009 Rio boasts the brand's smallest price, making it one of the least expensive new cars you can buy in the United States. It also delivers respectable fuel economy, looks sharp in SX trim and is backed by Kia's stellar warranty. Two body styles, the sedan and the Rio5 four-door hatchback, are available to provide more of a choice to potential buyers. It all stacks up to make the Rio a pretty decent daily driver.
Still, you should shop around some before settling on the 2009 Kia Rio. True, if a rock-bottom price for basic transportation with a great warranty is your primary concern, the base Kia Rio is hard to beat. But if you're looking for a nicely equipped fuel sipper, we think there are better choices. The redesigned Honda Fit, in particular, is a better all-around car, thanks to its versatile interior and sporty driving characteristics.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Kia Rio is a subcompact available as a sedan or a four-door hatchback. The sedan comes in base, LX and SX trim levels, while the Rio5 hatchback comes in LX and SX trims only. The base sedan is bare-bones, coming standard with 14-inch steel wheels and a four-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player and satellite radio. The LX adds popular features such as air-conditioning, power steering, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a tilt steering wheel and an auxiliary audio jack. The SX trim level adds foglights, 15-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, metallic interior accents, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and upgraded cloth trim.
Optional for the LX and SX is a power package that adds full power accessories, keyless entry and tweeter speakers. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are additionally available for the SX.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2009 Kia Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 with 110 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard across the board, while a four-speed automatic is optional on all but the base sedan. Acceleration suffers a little when you choose the automatic transmission. A Rio5 SX automatic we tested took 11.5 seconds to run to 60 mph.
EPA fuel mileage estimates for the Rio stand at 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 26/35/30 mpg for the automatic. That's right in line with other subcompacts like the Fit and the Toyota Yaris.
Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on all Rios. The LX and SX trims also come with adjustable rear headrests. Antilock disc brakes are optional on those higher trim levels as well.
In government frontal-impact crash testing, the 2009 Kia Rio scored four stars (out of five) for driver protection and five stars for passenger protection. In its side-impact test, the Rio earned four stars for front-occupant protection and three stars for the rear. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing yielded a score of "Acceptable" (the second highest of four) in frontal-offset tests and a score of "Poor" (the lowest possible) in that agency's side-impact test.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Rio's cabin, especially in beige, has an airy feel unexpected in this price segment. The materials quality is generally above average. Seat comfort is very good for most body types, although drivers north of 6 feet tall may get fidgety after more than an hour behind the wheel. A fold-down armrest is standard for the driver, but we'd prefer a more traditional center console box that provides this feature for both front occupants along with handy storage space. In back, headroom is a bit tight for 6-footers, but legroom is fully adequate and the tall bench provides good thigh support. The Rio5, with its rear seats lowered, can take on up to 49.6 cubic feet of cargo.
The Rio's 1.6-liter engine gets noisy at high rpm but provides decent punch, especially with the manual transmission. Precise action and a smooth clutch make shifting the manual gearbox enjoyable. Rios with the automatic aren't as peppy, although gearchanges are smooth and relatively quick. The Rio's ride is smooth and stable, and even at 75 mph, the cabin is hushed. The suspension isn't as composed over broken pavement as we'd like, though, as large impacts tend to shudder through the cabin. Pushed through corners, the 2009 Kia Rio responds with predictable body roll and unexpectedly crisp steering.