In terms of both price and efficiency, the Kia Rio is flat out one of the most economical subcompact automobiles in the American marketplace today. It shares these attributes with its almost identical corporate sibling, the Hyundai Accent.
Although these Korean brands did not originally have a stellar reputation in terms of build quality, things have improved with time. Now in its third generation, the Rio has become a viable competitor to segment heavyweights such as the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Nissan Versa. We’re not saying the Rio is exactly on the same level as these top-tier subcompacts, but the tiny import is at least a reasonable alternative for people who want reliable, baseline transportation from a small car, without spending a penny more than they can afford.
If you’re thinking about buying a Kia Rio, you might also consider a Chevy Aveo or Toyota Yaris. Compare these vehicles.
The 2011 Kia Rio is a repeat of the 2010 model year with no changes or updates.
Rio has two body styles. A four-door sedan is available in three trim levels: a bare-bones Base model, an LX and a sportier SX. The four-door hatchback, named the Rio5, comes in LX and SX trims. The hatchback is built on the same 98.4-inch wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) but at 158.5 inches overall is nearly nine inches shorter than the sedan.
For fuel economy, the Rio gets 28 city/34 highway with a manual transmission. With an automatic, it rates at 27 city/36 highway. These numbers are very competitive with other cars in its class. Add a 12-gallon tank to the equation—second largest in the segment only to the Nissan Versa—and this subcompact is looking at a 400-plus mile interstate cruising range. Fewer trips to the gas pumps are always a good thing.
Exterior And Interior
The Rio’s design dates to model-year 2006. Created with a European-inspired style, the design of the car is conservative, but rather stylish. The front features a black mesh grille and swept-back headlights, while the backside is rather pedestrian. In profile, the Rio exhibits what Kia calls a subtle wedge shape, with sculpted arches at each fender. It has a certain cuteness about it that will appeal to some buyers.
Inside, the interior is simple and clean. Instruments are housed in an ergonomically designed dashboard that relays information quickly. Handy audio and climate controls are angled toward the driver, making them exceptionally easy to use. There is a surprising amount of up-front head- and legroom, and the higher-than-normal seats give the driver a good view of the road. Windows are huge for excellent visibility front, rear or side.
The quality look of materials and the fit and finish, including the cargo area, is what you would expect in the budget buggy car class. Even though most interior surfaces are hard plastic, and padded surfaces are sparse, overall Rio equals some more expensive cars for materials and assembly quality.
Front seats are comfortable, although the seat cushions could be deeper. The backseat is another story. The hard rear seatback is reclined at an angle that prohibits real comfort. Additionally, legroom in the outboard positions is marginal when the front seat is moved rearward. Still, headroom is acceptable and foot room adequate.
The Rio sedan only offers 11.9 cubic feet of trunk cargo, which is unimpressive for the class. However, if you opt for the upper trim levels, the 60/40 split-folding rear seats increase cargo capacity. Kia does not list the cargo capacity with the rear seats folded. The hatchback is more accommodating with 15,8 cubic feet behind the rear seat. Flip down the rear seats and that expands to almost 50 cubic feet—enough room to stuff a full-size mountain bike.
On The Road
Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that features variable valve timing and produces 110 horsepower and 107 pounds-feet of torque. With the sedan, power is directed to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission, although the base model is available only with the manual. The Rio5 hatchback is solely equipped with the automatic.
Although engine horsepower and torque doesn’t sound like a lot, a little over a ton to haul around helps to make the Rio reasonably spry with more-than-adequate power around town but could use more for highway passing. But you have to accept that when you press the gas pedal hard, a small displacement four-cylinder engine becomes noisy and the Rio is no exception.
The five-speed manual transmission, geared to take advantage of the engine’s limited power, shifts smoothly. The petite powerplant is fairly stingy with fuel; we averaged 33 mpg in a mixture of city, suburban and highway driving.
The Rio steers and handles well, but expect body roll with hard cornering. The suspension is compliant enough to smooth out most ripples in the road and fails to absorb only the harshest bumps.
Leaving the destination fee to the fine print allows Kia to advertise the 2011 Rio base sedan with a starting price of $12,295, one of the lowest priced new cars sold in the U.S. But be aware, like the Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris, it’s a bare bones model—no air conditioning, no stereo, no tilt steering, no split/folding rear seat, and you have to roll the windows up and down by hand.
Additionally, even though is has six airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS) are not standard until the next uplevel LX model starting at $14,995. Top competitors include ABS as standard on every model, and Toyota equips its Yaris subcompact with the added safety margin of an electronic stability and traction control system. That’s not an issue with the Rio5 hatchback. Its starting price of $15,095 not only includes ABS standard, but also an automatic transmission and a host of other features such as air conditioning, power windows and an audio system.
The Kea Rio is a durable and efficient choice for mass-market commuters. Some may still call it cheap, but keep in mind that it has an ace in the hole; it’s warranty. Coverage includes 5-years/60,000-miles bumper-to-bumper and 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain. In addition, Rio buyers receive 24-hour roadside assistance at no extra charge for 5-years/unlimited mileage; the service includes emergency towing and lockout service. The warranty might just make the Rio a better value than a used vehicle.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.