MINTURN, Colo. -- A drive down U.S. 24, which matches every kink in the white-water Eagle River as it slithers through a canyon in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, shows us that the Rio 5-Door SX subcompact hatchback by Kia of South Korea loves to tackle a curvy course.
Push the metal throttle pedal further toward the floor and Rio's 4-pack engine with direct fuel injection propels the spunky little hatchback too quickly into the face of a sweeping bend. All rules of prudent driving and laws of physics suggest a slower speed for curves like this, yet the oversized 205/45R17 tires bite steadfastly and maintain their grip as torque flows to the front wheels, which pull our vehicle through the bend without hitch or slip. On exit you get the feeling this thing could take that curve even faster and still remained rooted.
It's obviously playful, and in the hands of a skillful driver allows a creative expression of kinetic movement in linear form which can be both exhilarating and satisfying.
But Kia's itsy-bitsy hatch is more than fun to drive: It's also a downright cheap set of wheels.
The entry edition 2016 Rio 5-Door LX with a 6-speed electronic automatic transmission carries a bottom-line MSRP of $15,495. A deluxe EX edition with the 6-speed automatic lists for $17,905 while top-trim SX toting sport-tuned hardware goes for $20,905.
Kia Rio 5-Door in long-roof hatchback format spins off the Kia Rio 4-Door notchback sedan, which earns even lower MSRPs for the refreshed editions of 2016. The Rio 4-Door LX with a 6-speed manual shifter drops down to $14,165, or $15,395 with the 6-speed automatic. Rio 4-Door EX with the automatic lists for $17,755, and the 4-Door SX automatic zips up to $20,755.
Both 4-Door and 5-Door Rios for 2016 reveal restyled sheetmetal with new front and rear fascias and bold swept-back front headlight clusters flanking Kia's narrow signature geometric grille plus new foglamp surrounds with satin-finish bezels housing projector lenses.
In the surprisingly spacious 5-seat cockpit, all 2016 Rio models gain more sound-deadening foam insulation to reduce cabin NVH (noise, vibration, harshness).
The overall look and feel for cabin materials seems like a plush upgrade over previous Rio editions. Highlights include satin-finish bezels dressing air vents and a piano black center console surround.
Every 2016 Rio issue stocks active safety systems including an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake force distribution, plus hill-start assist control and vehicle stability management which coordinates the electronic stability control and ABS systems to maintain control of the vehicle.
Popping the hood reveals that Kia's treatment for the front-wheel-drive Rio 5-Door and 4-Door encompasses an impressive and powerful engine, along with engineering innovations which make the cars easy to drive.
All 2016 Rios use an in-line 4-cylinder aluminum engine which displaces 1.6 liters and has dual overhead cams with gasoline direct injection and continuously variable valve timing. The plant generates 138 hp at 6300 rpm plus 123 lb-ft of torque at 4850 rpm.
The 6-speed manual transmission applies only to the price-leader Rio LX 4-Door, as all other trims get the 6-speed electronic automatic.
For Rio EX, Kia's optional ISG (Idle Stop and Go) technology reduces fuel consumption slightly by automatically shutting the engine off when the vehicle stops at a traffic signal, then automatically restarting when the driver releases the brake pedal.
Kia installs a load of gear even to lowest-price LX trim. Standard equipment ranges from air conditioning to heated power mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, a rear window washer/wiper for the 5-Door, tilting steering column, 6-way manual driver seat, cloth upholstery, 60/40-split folding rear seat, roll-up windows and manual door locks, an audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3 and steering wheel controls, and 15-inch steel wheels with 185/65R15 tires.
Rio 5-Door EX stocks power controls for windows and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, a center console and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
Rio 5-Door SX goes further with the alloy pedal covers, front foglamps and LED taillights, Supervision meter cluster, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, sports suspension calibrations, larger front brakes and 17-inch alloy wheels with 205/45R17 tires.