Full 2012 Kia Rio Review
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Kia Rio is fully redesigned.
When you hear the word "Rio," you might think of the city or perhaps Duran Duran. But would "Kia Rio" pop into your head? Probably not. For many years, the Rio has been a pretty forgettable little car. But for 2012, this should change, as the subcompact Kia is thankfully as far removed from last year's model as parachute pants and feathered hair are from today's fashions.
Redesigned for 2012, the Kia Rio has been improved in virtually every way. As with Kia's other recently redesigned models, style is a priority. Inside and out, the Rio has a bold look, especially in this segment of small cars. The new Rio is larger than before, which translates to more passenger and cargo room.
Under the hood is a new 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with direct-injection technology. With 138 horsepower on tap and the promise of up to 37 mpg EPA highway, the Rio is one of the most powerful and efficient cars in its segment: on paper. In the real world, performance proves to be better than average while fuel economy is about average..
There's no debating the Rio's value, however. As is Kia's customary practice, the Rio combines a low starting price with a fairly generous standard features list. The Rio also reflects Kia's recent efforts at improved quality, notably in a nicely trimmed cabin that would be at home in a more expensive car. But with so many upscale features available as options (navigation, leather seating and keyless ignition/entry, for instance), the price of a loaded Rio can approach that of a base Kia Optima.
There's no doubt that Kia now has a firm grasp on what most consumers are looking for, which would be styling, quality, performance and features. As a result, the 2012 Kia Rio is finally a front runner in a market segment that has seen a lot of improved vehicles lately. Other worthy choices include the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and the Hyundai Accent, which is mechanically very similar to the Rio. Your decision will likely come down to styling preferences, driving position, handling/ride dynamics or maximum cargo capacity. Back-to-back test-drives are recommended.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Kia Rio is available in both sedan and hatchback body styles, each with four doors. Trim levels are base LX, nicely equipped EX and sporty SX.
The LX comes with 15-inch steel wheels, power/heated mirrors, air-conditioning, a trip computer, a tilt steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB/iPod interface. An optional Power package provides power windows and door locks with keyless entry.
The EX comes with all the above and adds a chrome grille frame, upgraded audio speakers, Bluetooth, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a center console with sliding armrest, upgraded upholstery and metallic cabin accents. An optional EX Convenience package adds 15-inch alloy wheels, foglights, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, power-folding outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, a soft-touch dash top, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and Kia's "Uvo" voice-activated interface for electronics features.
The SX adds to all the above 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, dual exhaust tips, LED front accent/rear taillights and an upgraded gauge cluster display. An optional SX Premium package adds a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, leather seating, heated front seats and a navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance
Every Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 138 hp and 123 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the LX, with a six-speed automatic optional. Both the EX and SX come only with the six-speed automatic.
In Edmunds testing, a Rio SX did the 0-60 sprint in 9.7 seconds, a quick time for the subcompact segment. Fuel economy estimates stand at 28 mpg city/36 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined for the automatic, with 29/37/32 for the manual.
The 2012 Kia Rio comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and hill start assist. Unlike most rivals that have a front disc/rear drum brake setup, the Rio has disc brakes all around. This undoubtedly contributed to its strong braking performance, as the Rio SX came to a stop from 60 mph in just 119 feet -- a short distance for an economy car.
In government crash tests, the Rio received four out of five stars for overall protection, with four stars for frontal-impact protection and five stars for side-impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Rio's cabin boasts very good build and materials quality. Although there is a lot of hard plastic trim, it is nicely grained and doesn't scream economy car. Indeed, in the upper trims, features such as a soft-touch dash top, sliding center armrest and tasteful metallic accents give the impression that the Rio is a cut above what you'd expect in this class.
The climate and audio controls are easy to use, as is the optional navigation system. The Uvo voice-activated telematics system is another nice bonus, although we've found its voice recognition abilities aren't great and it isn't quite as intuitive to use as Ford's Sync system. Its accompanying electronic controls are much easier to use, however, even when operating more complicated functions like the iPod interface or optional navigation system.
The Rio also scores in the areas of space and comfort. Even tall drivers should be comfortable behind the available tilt-and-telescoping wheel, while the backseat offers a competitive amount of space. Count this as another subcompact that doesn't feel like a penalty box for its passengers.
The Rio's sleek styling does result in outward visibility that isn't quite as good as some competitors' -- especially for the sedan. However, the available rearview camera is a rare feature in this class and helps greatly while parallel parking. When it comes time to carry extra items, the sedan has a 13.7-cubic-foot trunk, a respectable figure. With its rear seats lowered, the hatchback can hold up to 49.8 cubic feet.
As we've only driven the sporty SX, these impressions pertain to that trim. With its firmer suspension tuning, the 2012 Kia Rio SX is a good choice for those who like feeling connected to their car. You may even have some fun behind the wheel. The SX's ride quality might be on the firm side for some drivers, but overall we like the way the Rio drives.
In the times of 500-plus-hp supercars, the 2012 Kia Rio's 138-hp output might sound paltry. Yet this sophisticated direct-injection four-cylinder pulls stronger than the power plants of its major competitors. Both the six-speed manual and the six-speed automatic transmissions make good use of that output, too. Under hard acceleration, the engine remains smooth but can get rather noisy.