What's New for 2011
For the 2011 Kia Rio, the manual transmission is now available only on the base sedan. All other Rios now have the four-speed automatic as standard.
When shopping for an economical car, it's important to make the distinction between an inexpensive car and one that represents a bargain. An inexpensive choice simply means the vehicle is modestly priced. A bargain, on the other hand, represents a car that delivers more for the same amount of money. The 2011 Kia Rio falls into the inexpensive category, as it isn't quite a bargain.
You get what you pay for with a Kia Rio. As an entry-level sedan or four-door hatchback, the Rio is understandably short on features, but even in this cost-conscious category it will likely leave buyers wanting. The base model Rio lacks power steering, antilock brakes, air-conditioning and power accessories -- items that are increasingly standard in this segment. The Rio is also a disappointment when it comes to crash-test scores, which could be of particular interest to parents when considering a first car for teenagers.
On the plus side, the 2011 Kia Rio delivers respectable fuel economy and a warranty that spans 10 years or 100,000 miles. However, we recommend that you check out the competition before committing. The new Ford Fiesta ranks near the top of our list, delivering energetic performance along with a decent list of standard and optional features. The Honda Fit is another great choice due to its versatile cargo configurations. We'd also consider a Nissan Versa, which edges the Rio thanks to greater comfort. With a redesigned Rio lurking on the horizon, we'd think twice about the current model, especially when you consider the strides that Kia has been making with its latest versions of other models.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Kia Rio subcompact comes in two body styles: a four-door sedan and a four-door hatchback known as the Rio5.
The Rio sedan is offered in three trim levels: the affordable base model, the better-equipped LX and the sporty SX. The Rio5 wagon is available in the LX and SX trims only. The base sedan includes 14-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, a tilt steering wheel, cloth upholstery and a four-speaker CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary/USB audio input jacks and satellite radio.
The LX adds power steering, antilock brakes, air-conditioning and 60/40-split-folding rear seatbacks. The top-of-the-line SX model adds 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, power windows, remote keyless entry, cruise control, upgraded cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Bluetooth and two additional speakers. An optional Value package is available on the LX and adds many of the SX's features. Also available on the LX are 15-inch alloy wheels.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Kia Rio and Rio5 are powered by a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 110 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. The base model receives a standard five-speed manual transmission while the LX and SX trims get a four-speed automatic.
Performance takes a backseat to economy, as a Rio 5 we tested accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a leisurely 11.5 seconds. On the plus side, the Rio returns favorable fuel economy. With a manual transmission, the EPA estimates mileage at 28 mpg city/34 mpg highway and 31 mpg in combined driving. The automatic is rated at 27/36/30 mpg.
The 2011 Kia Rio comes standard with side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Antilock brakes are standard on the Rio LX and SX models. Stability control isn't offered.
The Kia Rio has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) resulted in four stars (out of a possible five) for driver protection and five stars for passenger protection in frontal impacts. For side impacts, the Rio earned four stars for front-seat occupants and three stars for rear-seat passengers.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Rio a score of "Acceptable" (the second highest of four) in frontal-offset crashes and a score of "Poor" (the lowest possible) in its side-impact test.
Interior Design and Special Features
Among economy cars, the 2011 Kia Rio boasts one of the nicer interiors available. The cabin is attractively designed, utilizing decent-quality material, legible gauges and easy-to-use controls. Front seat passengers enjoy an abundance of head- and legroom but seat comfort fades after about an hour behind the wheel. Also disappointing is the lack of an enclosed center console box for storing small items out of sight.
The Rio sedan offers a good-sized trunk with 11.9 cubic feet of cargo room. The Rio5 is much better equipped for hauling duties, however, with a generous 49.6 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded down.
While the 2011 Kia Rio's 1.6-liter engine is rather noisy at higher rpm, it does provide a decent amount of pep. Operating the base Rio's manual transmission is enjoyable, thanks to a smooth clutch and precise shifter action. The automatic isn't nearly as lively, but gearchanges are smooth and relatively quick. The Rio's handling is solid and predictable, aided by surprisingly precise steering. The effect of driving over potholes and other road imperfections is quite unforgiving on passengers, but otherwise the ride quality is decent, with a relatively quiet highway ride.