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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.