KBB Logo Expert Review written by the Kelley Blue Book vehicle review editorial team.

Editor's Overview

A longtime also-ran, the Kia Rio is all-new for 2012 and my, what a transformation it's undergone. More daring bodywork, compelling standard and optional features, an efficient modern powertrain, and excellent value should help the Rio finally find its share of the spotlight.

You'll Like The 2012 Kia Rio If...

The 2012 Kia Rio is an inexpensive sub-compact that delivers a great value and superb fuel economy backed by an outstanding warranty.

You May Not Like The 2012 Kia Rio If...

While the 2012 Kia Rio is a well-rounded car, it doesn't excel in cargo capacity like the Honda Fit or driving fun like the Ford Fiesta.

What's New

The Kia Rio has been completely revamped for 2012 and has an even lower price tag. It's still available as a 4-door sedan, but adds a 5-door hatchback design, both of which sport a new look, a new engine and enough tech-savvy features to make others in its class jealous.

Interior Features

Aesthetics aside, what really sets the 2012 Kia Rio apart from the competition is its lavish interior and impressive list of standard and available features. The Rio incorporates a 3-cylinder instrument panel and wraparound dash design that is simple and user-friendly. Some of the more notable available features include Bluetooth, a 7-inch navigation system with a rear-view camera, push-button start, a UVO voice-activated infotainment system and leather seating surfaces for a more upscale feel. While most, if not all of these features can be obtained in the Rio's competitors, we were more impressed in the fact that the Rio offers them in the first place. A shockingly good surprise.

Exterior Features

Our time with the 2012 Kia Rio was limited to the 5-door variant, which shares the same features and mechanical details with its 4-door sibling but just looks better, in our opinion. Kia's design engineers went back the drawing board and wedged the edges, sloped the shoulder lines and sculpted a new look for the Rio using design elements from its Optima and Sportage brethren. The Rio incorporates Kia's signature grille flanked by slanted headlights and a large air dam. Sweeping side character lines slope up to the high-placed taillights and steeply-raked rear window. The base Rio sits on 15-inch steel wheel or alloys, but stepping to the up-level SX brings more stylish 17-inch alloys. All things said, it looks like the product of some serious Optima and Sportage canoodling.

Driving Impressions

Our time behind the wheel of the 2012 Kia Rio consisted mainly of highway driving, but it was enough to get a feel of what the front-wheel-drive sub-compact has to offer – and it didn't disappoint. The eager 1.6-liter engine has more than enough power for passing slower trucks, although most of the power can be felt in the higher-rpm range. We were surprised at how comfortable the car rides considering its small size, but the soft ride doesn't compromise its handling abilities. In sorting out the suspension, Kia's engineers used the Ford Fiesta as their benchmark to ensure some sporty footwork and, while we can say they got pretty close, we can't say they exceeded it. The 2012 Kia Rio is agile and confident in the turns but, in the overall sense, we wouldn't equate it to the same athletic feel as the Ford Fiesta or Mazda2. Aside from the driving dynamics, we're happy to report that even after two straight hours of driving, the Rio was just as pleasant as when we first stepped foot inside. The seats are comfortable and only minimal road noise could be detected, another pleasant surprise for a car in this class.

Pricing Notes

The 2012 Kia Rio LX 5-door has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) around $14,000. The Rio EX 5-door starts around $15,000 and the top-trim SX 5-door is near $18,000. The ECO package tacks on $400. Check out the KBB Fair Purchase Price for current real-world pricing of the Kia Rio in your area. As for resale value, we expect the Kia Rio will retain residuals on par with those of the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent, but not as well as those of the Honda Fit and Mazda2.

Notable Equipment

The 2012 Kia Rio LX comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission (a 6-speed automatic is available), air conditioning, a radio with auxiliary/USB input, steering-wheel audio controls and four speakers and that's about it. Power windows and door locks are optional. Stepping up to the EX and SX trims includes the power accessories and adds many other features: Cruise control, UVO audio and rearview camera, AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM audio, Bluetooth, power door locks, power windows and other visual and convenience upgrades to the interior and exterior.

Notable Options

Options for the 2012 Kia Rio come in the form of packages. For example, notable features in the SX Premium Package include push-button start with Smart Key, a navigation system, leather seating surfaces, heated front seats and a moonroof. The ECO package includes the ISG (Idle Stop and Go) technology and Active ECO system for optimal fuel-efficient driving.

Favorite Features

Idle Stop and Go (ISG) Technology

It's a little disconcerting at first but, once we got used to the sound of the car starting after every stop, we took comfort in the added fuel savings that the feature entails.

Navigation system

Factory navigation systems are uncommon at this price point and we like that the Kia Rio blazes the trail by offering this feature.

Under the Hood

The 2012 Kia Rio's sole motivator is the same 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter direct-injected 4-cylinder engine that powers its Hyundai Accent cousin. With automatic transmission, the power plant returns projected gas mileage numbers of 28 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. But the Rio has an ace up its sleeve in the form of ISG technology. The acronym stands for "Idle Stop and Go," which is a fuel-saving system that turns off the engine when the car is stopped and seamlessly turns it on again when the brake pedal is released. This eco-smart mechanism is good for approximately one more mpg across the board, according to Kia.

1.6-liter in-line 4

138 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm

123 lb-ft of torque @ 4,850 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 29/37 (manual), 28/36 (automatic)

Editors' Notes

If the subcompact category were a movie, the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent would be the stars, soaking up the highly sought-after screen time, each exuding their own unique talents to draw in the audience. But what about the Kia Rio? Well, it would probably be that one guy in that one scene with that one line that no one really remembers. Until now. For 2012, the Kia Rio has been revamped and restyled in an attempt to gain more notoriety in the sub-compact ranks. Like Matt Damon going from Good Will Hunting to The Bourne Identity, it might be a little weird at first, but its audience will be more accepting in time. And maybe a short time, at that, thanks to the 2012 Kia Rio's new talents and eccentric styling.

Road Test Video Reviews

2012 Kia Rio Owner Reviews

59 Reviews
34% 42% 14% 8% 1 star 0%
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2012 Kia Rio a spacious sedan.

2012 Kia Rio LX

I have had no issues with my car, it gets very good mileage, handles well. As the only owner of this car it is been totally reliable in the almost seven years I have owned it and I feel comfortable that I am not bombarded with features, there's just enough technology for me. Because I am an older driver, I still enjoy manual locks and windows which I have and the newer features like the alarm that reminds me to take my keys from the ignition before exiting the car or the automatic shutting off of my headlights a few minutes after I exit my car when I forget to turn off my lights are great for someone forgetful like me. Anyway, I would recommend the Kia Rio for anyone, they have surprisingly spacious cabins and trunks and basically give you a very good deal for your money whether you purchase a relatively bare bones manual model like mine or opt for a fully automatic one with all the bells and whistles. I am sure all of Kia models are fine, but I really love my Rio!

- Wanda B

Kia Rio: The perfect car for traveling students.

2012 Kia Rio LX

My Kia Rio is a perfect car for my needs. It is compact, efficient and reliable but spacious and comfortable for transporting groups of people! I love the large trunk, roll up windows and comfortable seats. This is my first car, and everything is very adjustable and easy to find, making the transition a very smooth one. I can go very far with a little bit of gas, and even the sound system is easy to use and is great quality. My music is important to me while I drive. The doors lock manually, which can make getting in and out with guests a little more tricky but never an issue. I mostly use my car for transport to school, and it meets my needs perfectly. Overall, the Kia Rio has lots of features and personality and I expect to drive it for a very long time!

- Emma B

Good car for commute. Not good for mountain driving or traveling long distances.

2012 Kia Rio LX

It's too slow when you press the gas and too slow to stop if you need the brakes to work quickly. It's not good for winter weather, no 4-wheel drive, that is a MUST in Colorado. the windows are wheel down not automatic, which is hard if you want more than the drivers side open. There isn't any way to put things on top of the car, which makes life hard for traveling. I like the feature of having an AV port because I can play music from my phone. I like the features on my steering wheel, adjusting volume, and what I am listening to. I like the size of the vehicle, it's small and compact but is also a hatchback. I wouldn't buy the same car again though, the negatives outweigh the positives for someone who is outdoorsy and drives in the Colorado mountains.

- Melanie S

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