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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Introduction
Over the last two years, Kia has introduced some impressive new products ranging from the sporty Optima to the spacious Sorento, but with the market for subcompact "B-segment" cars heating up, the introduction 2012 Kia Rio could be the next step for Kia to continue to gobble up market share. Kia says that it is the fastest-growing car company in the United States since 2008 with sales up around 61 percent, and the company keeps coming out with new products to prove this is not just a fluke. Initially, the 2012 Kia Rio will launch only as a hatchback (the Rio sedan will be available early next year), and Kia invited us out to Austin, Texas to drive only the five-door Rio (which is no longer referred to as the Rio5) as well as the updated 2012 Kia Soul. As Kia's most affordable model and one of its best-selling models, the Rio and Soul, respectively, represent yet another momentous milestone for the Korean automaker in just its 18th year of selling cars in North America.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in South Korea, the 2012 Kia Rio will be eventually offered in both hatchback and sedan body styles, but Kia has only confirmed the pricing for the new five-door Rio which will be available in three trim levels (LX, EX and SX) with a starting MSRP of $13,600. Most of our time behind the wheel was in a loaded up Rio SX which starts at $17,700 and this model included the SX Premium Package ($2,200) for an as-tested price of $20,650 including the $750 destination charge which is about what can be expected for a fully loaded subcompact these days. Kia has yet to officially announce any pricing details for the Rio sedan, but representatives at the event did say that it "could be a couple hundred dollars less" than the hatchback. We wouldn't be surprised if the sedan's base price dipped below the $13,000 mark.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Competition
Not only has competition in the subcompact market grown significantly over the last couple years, the quality and innovation in these cars has also noticeably improved, and on top of that, most of the competition to the 2012 Kia Rio has been redesigned since 2009 including the cars like the Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa and the upcoming next-generation Toyota Yaris. Kia says that the B-segment currently accounts for around 400,000 units annually in the industry, but by 2015 it expects the market to double and account for 5 percent of all new-car sales. Design and cabin technology were among the leading reasons for consumers to reject subcompacts according to Kia, and if this is right, there are now fewer reasons to avoid this segment as it now offers luxury and technology on par with some cars in the mid-size segment.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Exterior
From the moment the 2012 Kia Rio was unveiled earlier this year, it was obvious that Kia had stepped up its game in terms of styling with a look that borrows heavily from the Kia Sportage and Kia Optima. The new Rio, in both four- and five-door models, has a much more stylish European look than its predecessor, while gaining a more hunkered-down look that should make it more appealing in the U.S. Up front, both the Rio hatchback and sedan share the same styling including the large headlights, short hood and the now-iconic Kia "tiger nose" grille. While the hatchback gets a bubbly rear end with a rounded rear window, the Rio sedan is a bit boxier with a taillight design similar to the Forte. Kia did a great job of giving the Rio hatchback and sedan similar appearances including the roof line which looks almost identical on both, and this is aided by the stylish body creases cut into the side doors that almost mirrors the bubbly shape of the A-pillar and roof line. Obviously, the real differences between the two body designs are evident at the rear of the Rio where the hatchback's liftgate is replaced with an extra 12 inches to accommodate the sedan's spacious trunk.
Finishing off the styling of the 2012 Kia Rio, the SX trim, which starts at $17,700 for the 5-door, adds an even sportier look with LED daytime running lights and unique 17-inch alloy wheels; the Rio LX comes only with 15-inch steel wheels with wheel covers while the Rio EX can be upgraded with eight-spoke alloy wheels.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Interior
As nice as the 2012 Kia Rio is to look at, Kia paid closer attention to the interior which should make it best-in-class in many categories including more rear headroom than the spacious Nissan Versa. Some more surprising dimensions include the facts that the Rio sedan will feature identical front and rear headroom as the Forte sedan, but it will feature less rear legroom than the previous-generation Rio; Kia has yet to announce any rear-seat measurements for the hatchback. Since this event was focused on the Rio hatchback, we only had a brief opportunity to sit in the Rio sedan, but both models felt more than comfortable enough to accommodate two adults in the rear seat even for longer road trips.
After comfort, the new Kia Rio continues to impress with its styling and available cabin technology. Fans of the latest Optima and Sportage will appreciate the modern and sporty interior design including the dark colors, the supportive seats and the three-gauge instrument cluster. Even the best subcompacts hitting the market right now have some quirkiness to their cabins, and the new Rio's lone downfall is its center stack which features a lot of dead space on an odd quartet of toggle switches for the A/C system. Fortunately, this odd layout can be easily overlooked by the Rios's available technology especially on the Rio SX which comes standard with Kia's new UVO infotainment system and offers an optional navigation system. During our short time with the new Rio, we had the chance to check out both tech features in the Rio SX, and it's very impressive at what kind of technology Kia can offer in a sub-$20,000 car. Overall, Kia expects the mid-level Rio EX to be the volume seller for this car which includes power windows, power door locks, cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering column and Bluetooth with steering wheel controls.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Interior Packages and Options
Even the base 2012 Kia Rio comes equipped with plenty of features including air conditioning (not always a given for subcompacts), audio controls mounted steering wheel on the steering wheel, USB and auxiliary jack inputs and tilt steering. For the LX models with an automatic transmission, the $1,000 Power Package adds in power windows, power door locks and remote keyless entry. Stepping up to the EX trim level, the $1,000 Convenience Package includes class-exclusive power-folding outside door mirrors, fog lights, UVO, backup camera and 15-inch alloy wheels. On the sporty SX trim level, the $2,200 Premium Package will get you luxury features such as leather seats, heated front seats, power sunroof, push button start and a touch-screen navigation system with a large 6.5-inch display. In a segment where automakers tend to offer nickel-and-dime option packages, Kia has somehow managed to keep the option list pretty simple for buyers.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
All 2012 Kia Rio models will be powered by an all-new 1.6-liter, direct-injected inline-four that produces 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft torque which ties it for best-in-class power with its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Accent as well as the Chevrolet Sonic. The base Rio LX will be offered with a six-speed choice of manual or automatic transmissions, but the EX and SX trim levels will only be offered with the automatic. This is sure to be noticed by drivers who want to get more premium features in the car while still being able to shift their own gears, but the automatic should still feel sporty enough to not completely alienate these buyers. Regardless of whether you opt for the automatic or manual transmission, the 2012 Kia Rio still gets the same EPA estimates of 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. Looking for even more fuel-conserving and exhaust-reducing technology? Check out the Rio EX which will offer the innovative Idle Stop and Go (ISG) system as a part of the $400 Economy Package. ISG is a class-exclusive technology that shuts the engine off at stop lights (or whenever the car is at a stop for more than 3 seconds) and automatically restarts the engine when the brake pedal is released.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Driving Impressions
Although fuel economy is the name of the game in the subcompact segment, the 2012 Kia Rio still manages to deliver a fun (dare we say engaging?) driving dynamic. Driven along some twisty roads in the Texas Hill Country, the Rio SX performed impressively in handling, braking and acceleration while still delivering a smooth and comfortable ride. Like the closely related Hyundai Accent, the new Rio not only offers its 40-mpg highway rating on all models without having to buy a special trim package, but it is actually easy to hit (and exceed) the EPA estimates as well with our test cars consistently seeing more than 36 mpg in combined driving conditions. On top of the regular efficiency of the car, buyers opting for the Economy Package will be pleasantly surprised by how well this system operates. Kia's ISG system is an impressive addition for this subcompact segment, and it is also smoother and more seamless than some auto stop/start systems in non-hybrid cars six times the Rio's price. Factoring in comfort, fuel economy and its fun-to-drive attitude, the new Rio is a great choice for shoppers looking to drive a more environmentally friendly car without downgrading to a boring, stripped-down econo-box.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Safety
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have crash tested the 2012 Kia Rio yet, but Kia is definitely going to have to step up its game with the new car in terms of safety since the IIHS gave the previous car a "Poor" rating for side-impact protection and "Acceptable" ratings for frontal and rollover protection. All 2012 Kia Rio models come standard with six airbags, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management and, another rarity for this segment, Hill-start Assist Control.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Final Thoughts
Considering how well Kia has done in offering new models such as the Optima, Sportage and Sorento, the Korean should really think about changing its tagline from "The Power to Surprise" to "The Power to Impress," and this is a continuing theme in its latest introduction, the 2012 Kia Rio. Not only is the all-new 2012 Kia Rio a great addition to the Kia line-up, it could very well be the best subcompact on the market with its low starting price, excellent styling, impressive fuel economy and surprising available features.
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2012 Kia Rio First Drive Review: Pros and Cons
- sporty new looks
- 40 mpg standard
- available auto start/stop feature
- massive navigation system available as an option
- no manual transmission option on EX or SX trim levels
- new hatchback and old sedan sold side-by-side at launch
- less rear legroom than previous model
Kia provided travel, lodging and vehicle for this review.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross
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Bonus: 2012 Kia Soul First Drive
The 2010 Kia Soul helped kick off the "Kia 2.0" back in 2009, so it is only fitting that this car also receive updates just two model years after being introduced. Behind the Kia Sorento, the Soul is Kia's second-best model in its product mix, and Kia also had the new 2012 Soul on hand to show off its updates. Like the Rio, the biggest changes to the Soul are to the powertrain including the ISG option, but the car's unique styling has also been upgraded with a refreshed front end and LED taillights. The 2012 Soul will have a starting price of just $13,900 for the base model and up to $19,600 for the Soul! (exclaim).
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