Parts & People test the 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door SX



Kia’s 2012 Rio 5-Door SX handling and amenities surprises and delights

by Dan Buxbaum

2012 Kia Rio 5-Door SX

Kia’s bold, new exterior design for the Rio 5-Door SX clearly reflects their “design-led transformation” philosophy.







Life is full of great success stories, as is evidenced by Kia Motors’ surge to popularity since its stateside introduction in 1994. Kia Motors America company officials recently reported surpassing 485,000 annual vehicle sales for 2011, a more than 36-percent increase over the same period in 2010.

The 2012 Kia Rio, available in the EX, LX and SX (tested), trim levels, is a successful effort by the manufacturer to make this vehicle not only well respected, but a leader in its class.

The fluid, sculpted lines of the Rio’s exterior clearly convey Kia’s intended message of a “design-led transformation.”  Blessed with luxury car amenities such as LED accent lights and rear combination lamps, power-folding mirrors, and two-tone seventeen-inch wheels, the overall look of our tested SX model is one of substance and quality.

The car has a low and aggressive stance, yet remains parking-lot and driveway entry and exit friendly due to a reasonable 5.5 inches of ground clearance. Not once during our weeklong test drive did we manage to scuff the underside of the Rio’s great-looking chin.

Inside the Rio’s cabin, niceties such as steering wheel audio controls, a sliding center armrest, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, and an auto-up/down driver’s front window prove this little car’s ambitions to move upmarket.

The 2012 Rio 5-Door SX’s interior exudes quality and style with upscale materials and superb ergonomics.

Standard in the 2012 Rio SX, and optional in EX trim, is Microsoft’s Your Voice (UVO) in-vehicle infotainment system with voice control.  The navigability of UVO’s interface is superb, integrating more premium features such as Bluetooth wireless technology, Sirius satellite radio, backup camera, USB and auxiliary jacks, as well as a hard drive for in-car music storage.

With regards to interior volume and comfort, the front seats provide a supportive environment for around-town drives and long-haul road trips.  Sitting high in the driver’s seat, the driver is afforded a commanding view of the cabin and the road ahead.

Side visibility is excellent, as well, though the large C-pillars obstruct rear corner visibility for lane changes and parking lot trolling.

The Rio provides 43.8 inches of front-seat legroom, which was more than ample to accommodate this driver’s six-foot, four-inch frame.  The rear seats provide a less substantial 31.1 inches of legroom, although a child seat was able to be installed directly behind the driver’s seat with very little forward adjustment.

The expansive cargo area with its 15 cubic feet of storage (rear seat up) was easily able to swallow a stroller and productive day’s worth of grocery bags as well.

For 2012, Kia has endowed the Rio with a new version of their award-winning “Gamma” 1.6-L four-cylinder engine.  In this application, the 138-HP Gamma utilizes modern technologies such as Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI), variable valve timing, and ultra-lightweight materials to achieve a class-leading fuel economy rating of 30/40 MPG (city/highway) and an engine weight savings of more than 29 pounds over the previous generation.  In our real-world driving, we averaged a respectable 31.1 MPG on regular unleaded gasoline.

The SX was also equipped, as standard, with a smooth new six-speed automatic transmission which is well-matched to the engine’s power band. A six-speed manual gearbox can be had as well, but only on the entry-level LX model.

The Rio has excellent drivability, with taut, fun-to-drive reflexes.  The SX model’s sport-tuned suspension utilizes a MacPherson type setup with gas shock absorbers up front, and a coupled torsion beam axle with gas shock absorbers in the rear.  Impacts and ride motions were well controlled, even as they were transmitted through the test car’s low-profile 205/45R17 tires.

The standard electric rack-and-pinion steering setup provides excellent feedback and has razor-sharp accuracy when maneuvering around town.

When it comes to slowing down, the Rio is equipped, as standard, with four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution.  The SX model’s front discs are larger than those on the LX and EX (11.0 inch and 10.1 inch, respectively), translating to an excellent pedal feel and respectable tracking, especially when executing panic stops.

The 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door LX MT has a starting MSRP of an impressive $13,600.  Our feature-laden SX AT model, as tested, rang in at an economical $17,795, which includes a $95 carpeted floor mat option.

With Kia’s five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage, as standard, we would be hard-pressed to find a better-executed car for the money.  The overall value, driving dynamics, interior comfort and amenities, and great looks combine to make a great sub-compact car that should be at the top of everyone’s list.

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