After a week with the freakishly small Scion iQ from Toyota, I was pleased to see the more familiar shape of the 2012 Kia Rio SX arrive. I never did get used to the funny looks and myriad questions I got from people while driving the iQ. As a somewhat private person, I welcomed the anonymity that the Rio allowed me again. However, the Rio certainly is not a vanilla car anymore. Not by a long shot.
It is a new model year and a new look for the Rio, which to me had previously blended. This year it looks good, with stylish alloy wheels and sculpted headlights that look particularly sexy at night. Its Signal Red coat of paint also helped my test SX to stand out, but my guess is that most folks will see it as set far apart from the crowd for its long list of standard features that usually go with cars further up the food chain. Or, in this case, key chain.
In keeping with the Korean carmaker’s trend of packing features into cars at all levels, the Rio SX is one of the rare subcompact vehicles with a rear-view camera, front fog lights and heated power-folding mirrors with turn signals. Inside, it has a luxo-techno vibe that combines soft leather wraps on the steering wheel and shifter with a steely chrome finish on the pedals and instrument cluster.
Where I find fault with the Rio is its low ride. It is not meant to be an SUV – I understand that – but this vehicle sits so low that one must make quite the effort to climb in and out of the car gracefully. My dad, a tall mountain of a man, has been spoiled over the years by his high-riding Chevy pickup (“Old Blue”) and also by my mom’s cushier Buick four-door. He also found the Rio’s low seating to be troublesome. “Ridiculously low,” may be the phrase I overheard.
The poor-quality satellite radio reception I endured one evening could have been weather-related, as the classic vinyl station cut out repeatedly as I drove toward a gorgeous monster electrical storm. Once the rain came I had to step on the gas to get out of the way of some banzai truckers on Hunt Highway. In so doing I found the 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine to be adequate but not amazing.
At the as-tested price of $18,345, one could easily find a less expensive subcompact than the Rio SX, but not likely with all of the upgrades included. I’m talking anti-lock brakes, traction control, cruise control, air conditioning, power door locks and windows, keyless entry, plus all the input jacks one needs for wiring and all the Bluetooth capabilities for wireless. Buyers have the option of purchasing a navigation system through the Sirius satellite radio system, but unfortunately mine was not so equipped. Bummer.
The Rio gets pretty outstanding gas mileage, though. I averaged close to 35 mpg all week. Someone with a lighter foot and less need for max A/C will probably get close to the highway estimate of 40. If you’d like options in the same circles, I suggest the Hyundai Accent, Chevrolet Sonic or Honda Fit. Don’t be surprised if they don’t hold a candle to the list of features found in the Kia Rio SX.
If it HAS to be a Kia but the Rio SX is a bit too much, check out the Rio LX with its lower base price of $13,400, or even the EX with its $16,300 base. All three models share the same engine and transmission, except for the LX which lets you shift gears all by yourself. But yes, still sitting down low.
Mary and Clifford Fewel alternate their solo driving impressions with their She Says/He Says columns, and team up quarterly in Pinal Ways magazine with a two-way AutoCouple dialogue about the latest cars and trucks. The articles are being reprinted by Copper Area News with permission.
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