2012 Kia Rio SX Review: What Is It
Despite the added practicality of hatchbacks, sedans are still more popular in the United States, so it made sense that Kia Motors continued to offer its subcompact Rio in both body styles for its third-generation design. The only surprise was that the 2012 Kia Rio sedan was launched months after the hatchback model, but after our weeklong road test and review of the four-door Rio, we're happy to report that it was definitely worth the wait. Last year, we had the chance to take a quick spin in the all-new 2012 Kia Rio hatchback for our first drive review, and now we were able to put some serious miles on a 2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan during a lengthy road trip. Aimed primarily toward first-time car buyers and empty nesters, the new Kia Rio Sedan raises the bar even higher for competitors in the subcompact segment.
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in Korea, the 2012 Kia Rio Sedan is available in three trim levels (LX, EX and SX) with a starting MSRP of $13,600. Step up to the sporty, top-of-the-line Rio SX Sedan, and you're looking at a base price of $17,500 which still isn't bad considering the aggressive appearance and the availability of more advanced features. Equipped with its only optional package, the 2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan used for this review had an as-tested price of $20,545 including destination. While this price is creeping into the range of most compacts and some mid-size sedans, the amount of content Kia crams in this new Rio might have some buyers doing a double take of the badge on the front grille.
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: What It's Up Against
There are plenty of subcompact hatchbacks on the market, but the number of rivals for the 2012 Kia Rio Sedan is limited to the likes of the Chevrolet Sonic, Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta and the closely related Hyundai Accent. In the highly competitive B-segment, the new Kia Rio hatchback helped finish off 2011 with some strong numbers (including December 2011 sales that more than doubled compared to December 2010), and sales through the first four months of 2012 have proven to be equally successful with sales up 55.6 percent for the Rio. The new Rio, along with several other new Kia models, have helped give the automaker tremendous momentum in just about every vehicle segment with 20 consecutive months of record monthly sales.
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: Exterior
What's New for 2012:
- sleek and sporty exterior design
- SX has upscale features like LED running lights and taillights
- subtle styling cues distinguish sedan and hatchback models
How It Looks:
For some reason, subcompacts seem to look better in hatchback form, but the 2012 Kia Rio shows that even the a small three-box car can still look sleek and sporty. The sedan's new styling is highlighted by the raked windshield that is practically mirrored by the body lines cut into the front doors and what has come to be called a coupe-like roofline. While hatchbacks in the subcompact segment tend to look better than their four-door counterparts, the 2012 Kia Rio Sedan looks arguably better than the five-door model which is mostly due to the extra length (the trunk adds a little over a foot) giving this car much more attractive proportions. Aside from the trunk, the sedan is also given a front end that is distinguishable (albeit slightly) from the hatchback model). The signature, tiger nose grille is still there, but the sedan gets a black and chrome grille trim, different headlights and unique fog light shapes.
Compared to the last-generation car, the 2012 Kia Rio Sedan rides on a wheelbase that has been stretched by almost three inches, it has grown by more than five inches longer in overall length, widened by about an inch (including adding more than two inches to the front and rear tracks) and it sits about a half inch lower. These sportier dimensions look even better on the SX trim level with the added price bringing dual exhaust outlets, LED parking lights, LED taillights, sporty, 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels with black painted accents. Of course, the car looks even better the bright Signal Red exterior paint as was our test car.
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: Interior
What's New for 2012:
- excellent passenger comfort
- stylish design matches exterior
- available upscale options and packages
How It Looks and Feels:
Although the added dimensions of the 2012 Kia Rio Sedan make the car look bigger, the available passenger volume inside the four-door has dropped a bit compared to the previous model, but the packaging and layout of the Rio's interior makes it feel bigger than some rival B-segment sedans. While the Rio's rear legroom (31.1 inches) is dwarfed by the Nissan Versa with its class-leading 38 inches of rear legroom, the Rio still offers superior hip and shoulder space which gives rear occupants more personal space and added overall comfort. Despite the slightly smaller cabin, there is still plenty of room for five passengers to sit comfortably, and the front seats provide great support during extended seat time. Moving to the Rio's cargo area, its 13.7 cubic feet of trunk space is also less than the Versa, but Kia does include a 60/40 split folding rear seat as standard equipment while Versa buyers have to pay extra for this feature. Speaking of standard features, even base versions of the 2012 Rio get air conditioning (still not a given among subcompacts), unique toggle switch buttons for common HVAC controls, steering wheel audio controls and USB and auxiliary jacks. Stepping up to the SX trim level brings even more luxurious and advanced features such as a soft-touch instrument panel, tilt and telescoping steering column, power-folding mirrors, backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity and Kia's UVO infotainment system which altogether might make it hard for most people to believe this was a subcompact Kia and not a mid-sized luxury sedan.
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: The Extras
Depending on which version of the 2012 Kia Rio you're shopping, option packages vary greatly, but the sporty SX trim level is available with the $2,200 SX Premium Package which was equipped on our test car. This package not only includes a touch-screen navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic, it also adds leather seats, heated front seats, power sunroof and the Smart Key keyless entry with push-button start. This navigation system is only offered on the SX (and it replaces the standard UVO system), but its operation and display are both on par with (and even better than) some systems used in cars much further up market than the Rio.
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
What's New for 2012:
- new direct-inject engine
- more horsepower and torque
- improved fuel economy
- six-speed transmissions
How Does It Go:
Although all 2012 Kia Rio models feature an engine with the same 1.6-liter displacement as the previous model, the two engines couldn't be any more different. This reworked 1.6-liter inline-four Gamma engine benefits from direct-injection and an aluminum block with the former improving power and efficiency and the latter helping this new engine drop 29 pounds compared to the engine used in the 2011 Rio. Now producing 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque, the 2012 Kia Rio produces significantly more power than its predecessor and is tied for most horsepower in the B-segment. Another improvement over the previous car is that the 2012 Kia Rio offers a choice of a six-speed transmission in manual or automatic while the second-generation car only offered a five-speed manual and a four-speed auto. The new engine and transmissions help give the new Kia Rio much better fuel economy with EPA estimates of 30 miles per gallon in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and a rating of 33 mpg in combined driving regardless of trim level, body design and the transmission. This means that the sporty-looking SX gets the exact same fuel economy and the base LX trim level.
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: How It Drives
During our week with the 2012 Kia Rio SX, we put about 1,000 miles on the car in mostly highway driving that gave us a good indication of the car's ride quality, fuel economy and handling. Of these three, we were most impressed by the fuel economy of the car which wasn't hard to hit the EPA estimates especially with the Eco Mode on. When turned on, the throttle response is numbed slightly to squeeze out every last mpg, and, even better, the system can be turned off at the push of a button for peak acceleration. Weighing in at more than 2,500 pounds, this Rio SX is about 100 pounds more than the 2011 Rio with an automatic transmission, but the additional horsepower being sent to the front wheels makes the car feel much sportier to drive than its predecessor. In terms of its sportiness, Kia says that the Rio SX gets a sport-tuned suspension, but we would attribute any added handling to the taller and wider tire and wheel combination. The car definitely feels sporty for an entry-level subcompact, but it doesn't have the rough ride commonly associated with cars featuring a "sport-tuned" suspension. One final aspect of the 2012 Rio that stood out to us during our long-distance road trip was the car's excellent visibility resulting from the high driver's seating position as well as the generous window openings in all four directions.
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: Is It Safe
The new 2012 Kia Rio has yet to be tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but it did receive favorable marks from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) including a four-star overall rating. One interesting note about the NHTSA's results was that despite getting a five-star rating for side-impact protection, crash dummies in the rear seat of 2012 and 2013 Rio models (sedan and hatchback) exhibited "high lower spine acceleration" that increase the likelihood of a thoracic (middle back) injury. For more information on these findings, you can check out the details on the NHTSA website HERE under the "Side Crash" tab. All 2012 Kia Rio Sedan models do include standard safety features such as six airbags, electronic brake-force distribution, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: Final Thoughts
In spite of the added styling, technology and upscale amenities now available in the Rio, pricing for the subcompact has remained very reasonably priced: a lasting attribute of this segment. Look at B-segment cars from just a handful of years ago, and you'll find a segment cluttered with cheap, boring and stripped-down cars, but the new breed of subcompacts - including the 2012 Kia Rio - is proof that buyers in this market will no longer be forced to make sacrifices to drive an affordable, fuel-efficient car. As a matter of fact, new-car shoppers looking at compact or even some mid-size sedans might want to check out the new Rio and its abundance of features and space. Even buyers who desire a more attractive car will also be pleasantly surprised with the new, third-generation Kia Rio especially ones decked out in the SX trim level.
2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan Review: Pros and Cons
- better power and fuel economy from new engine
- class-leading exterior design
- cabin space and technology surprising for a subcompact;
- small ding on safety rating
- passenger volume reduced
Kia provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross