The Kia Rio is Kia's least expensive offering in its line up. Low profit margins and high consumer expectations make this a brutal category to compete in. Historically, there have been some superb values found in this range. The Datsun 510, Toyota Tercel, Mazda Protégé and a few others developed well-earned reputations for economy and durability ~ winning lots of upmarket business from loyal customers as those customer increased their earning power.
Our little Kia Rio arrived with a cleanly styled body in gun metal gray paint. The deep brown and tan interior made up of hard plastics that were not fun to touch, but appealing to the eye for the nice organic shapes. Simple gauges with large easy to read lettering and well-sized controls made up the balance of the dashboard. The front and rear seats offered surprising amounts of room and comfort given the size of the vehicle. While the industrial grade fabrics insured that any spills would be a breeze to clean up.
The engine was quiet at idle, the low speed acceleration good with very smooth shifting by the automatic transmission, while tire noise was a bit intrusive. The turning radius was fabulous and the Rio made short work of shifting directions quickly. Steering, handling and ride around town made this one of the zippiest commuters and truly fun to drive.
With two adults and two kids aboard, nailing the go-pedal on the uphill highway entrance produced a bit of roar when the transmission dropped two gears. The engine droned like a muffled leaf blower as it soared past the 3,500 rpm mark. But once up to speed the Rio proved quite capable of quietly keeping up with the fast traffic in the left lane. Showing itself to be a great car for long-distance highway commuting with very easy to execute lane changes and solid brakes.
On the back roads the Rio proved to be utterly competent, and most impressive. Pour on the coals and the car thinks of itself as a nimble first cousin to the Mini Cooper. The at the limit handling does not match the Mini, but the chassis and suspension show that someone spent a lot of time dialing this car in to be so responsive and composed that one-hand on the wheel driving was easy at most any speed.
The tires gave the game away long before the chassis lost its willingness to come out and play. And yes, the engine drones when pushed, and the Rio does not have the oomph that a lot of other cars do have. But the Rio has poise and control, comfortable seats and a nice interior. The Rio returned an astounding 32 mpg with an automatic while being flogged mercilessly in local and long-distance traffic. Kia has come a long way in a short time. The Rio is a brilliant little car for people who enjoy driving and are willing to give up a little power to get great gas mileage in an truly affordable car.