2009 Kia Rio Expert Review

You'll Like The 2009 Kia Rio If...

Frugal-minded buyers should be impressed by the 2009 Kia Rio5, which yields a nice balance between fuel economy and performance. If you like a subcompact that's more fun to drive than some cars in its league, maneuvering with a smooth, certain spirit, the Rio5 is worth a closer look.

You May Not Like The 2009 Kia Rio If...

If you frequently carry passengers in the backseat, note that they might lack knee space unless the front seat is positioned well forward. The little 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine does emit considerable noise during harder acceleration.

What's New

The 2009 Kia Rio5 gains a new radio with an MP3 compatible CD player, USB port and a three-month free subscription to SIRIUS Satellite Radio.

Interior Features

Five passengers can fit into the Rio5, but longer-legged folks might not be comfortable in back. Rear head- and foot-room are adequate, but the rear seat is hard, reclines excessively and the center occupant must straddle a tunnel. Front occupants get ample space on sufficiently cushioned, adequately supportive seats. Cargo space totals 15.8 cubic feet, growing to 49.6 cubic feet when the 60/40-split seat is folded down. Helpful extras include a dashboard slot that can hold a parking pass, plus a hook that can carry a purse.

Exterior Features

Although the Rio was designed in South Korea, its appearance is European-influenced according to Kia, imparting a sporty and youthful character into an entry-level automobile. The 2009 Kia Rio5 has a tuned suspension and a wide track aimed toward producing a more enjoyable road experience. A mesh-patterned grille sits between sizable headlights. Foglamps and a rear spoiler are standard on the Rio5, which rides on standard 15- or available 16-inch alloy wheels.

Driving Impressions

Ride comfort and easy maneuverability head the list of Rio5 merits. Even when the pavement gets troublesome, Kia's suspension absorbs considerable roughness. Steering is light, but the Rio5 is delightfully nimble in urban environments, tracks adeptly on straightaways, is easy to guide into turns and doesn't lean as much as expected in the corners. Performance is no more than adequate with the mannerly automatic transmission. Although the engine gets seriously buzzy when accelerating, it quiets nicely as speed levels off. Unobstructed visibility is helped by a low cowl and sizable rear glass.

Pricing Notes

The 2009 Kia Rio5 LX's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starts around $14,000, while a loaded SX tops out around $17,000. Before you set out to buy your new Rio5 be sure to check the Fair Purchase Price, which shows the typical transaction price paid for the Rio5 in your area. The Chevrolet Aveo hatchback runs slightly less than the Rio5, as does the Toyota Yaris in base two-door hatchback form. The Scion xD and Honda Fit are slightly more expensive even when similarly equipped. Kelley Blue Book expects the Rio5 will hold only an average resale value over time, well behind the segment leaders from Honda Toyota and Scion, but not as far behind the Hyundai Accent and Suzuki SX4.

Notable Equipment

The LX features a complement of six airbags (front, front side-impact and side curtains), eight-way adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary and USB input jacks, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, a 1.6-liter engine, five-speed manual transmission, body-colored bumpers, auto-off headlamps, rear defroster, variable wipers, a tilt steering wheel, tachometer, dual sun visors with vanity mirrors, dual cup holders and air conditioning. The SX adds fog lamps, red-stitched gray sport seats, 15-inch alloy wheels, metal pedals with rubber inserts and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

Notable Options

Available options include anti-lock brakes (ABS) and a Power Package that includes power locks, windows and heated mirrors, remote keyless entry and a tweeter speaker upgrade.

Favorite Features

Six Standard Airbags

If Kia can put side-impact airbags and curtain-type airbags into every Rio, one wonders why other automakers have made these important safety features optional.

Automatic Transmission

Unlike some small cars with automatics, the Rio5 goes through the gears promptly and easily, with no awkwardness or lurching. Shifts are barely noticed, in fact, though the manual transmission can deliver slightly more spirited acceleration.

Under the Hood

Kia has raised the power of its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which drives either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Although Kia has made major improvements in noise, vibration and harshness, the Rio's engine is still buzzy under harder acceleration and lacks the smoothness and refinement of its Japanese competitors. Fuel economy is good, attaining 35 miles per gallon highway when equipped with the four-speed automatic.

1.6-liter in-line 4

110 horsepower @ 6000 rpm

107 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4500 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/33 (manual), 26/35 (automatic)

Editors' Notes

Kia continues to take small cars seriously. When the South Korean automaker launched a wagon companion to its subcompact Rio sedan for 2001, that hatchback was called the Rio Cinco ("five" in Spanish), to denote the number of doors. The Cinco name may be gone, but the five-door hatchback remains with a simpler name: The 2009 Kia Rio5. Sharing much of its design with the Rio Sedan, the Rio5 has a sportier demeanor about it, not to mention a more versatile cargo hold. And, despite the Rio5's "entry-level" pricing, Kia installs six standard airbags in every vehicle. Kia claims to be the most improved brand in terms of initial quality over the past five years. A half decade ago it had serious room for improvement, but now it is certainly in the mainstream of vehicle quality.

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