Commuter's Paradise | Product Reviews |

18 Sep 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Commuter's Paradise | Product Reviews |

Commuter#8217;s Paradise

As the gazelle belongs to the savannah, the Kia Rio five-door belongs to the stop-and-go traffic of the city streets.

It#8217;s affordable, comfortable and fuel-efficient, attributes that have made previous versions of Kia#8217;s premier commuter-mobile the darling of urban dwellers in their mid-20s to late-30s.

Completely redesigned and packed with new gadgetry, the 2012 Kia Rio SX is a solid contender among competing subcompacts, such as the Ford Fiesta or the Chevrolet Sonic. Much like Hyundai, the other big Korean manufacturer with a foot in the U.S. market, Kia#8217;s come a long way since the days when it only offered entry-level shoeboxes with short life expectancies.

Slipping behind the wheel for the first time, I was transported back to the car-racing arcade games of my youth. The steering wheel is smaller than expected, and the pint-sized dials are set deep in the console. Turn the ignition and the gauges animate: sweeping completely to the left, then back to the right in a friendly wave.

I#8217;m 6 feet tall, but I still had plenty of leg and headroom as both a driver and a passenger #8212; though the last time I would have fit comfortably in the back seat was some time in the late 1980s.

Touch the accelerator and the Rio leaps forward with as much enthusiasm as you could ask for from a direct-injection, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine.

Our tester was equipped with power steering and sport-tuned suspension, and once I got it out on the road, it was responsive and fun. Getting acquainted with the gas pedal took a few spins around the block. Touch the accelerator and the Rio leaps forward with as much enthusiasm as you could ask for from a direct-injection, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine.

It has acres more get-up-and-go than the similarly spec#8217;d late-#8217;90s Hondas some of us drive every day.

The six-speed automatic transmission comes with an #8220;Active Eco System#8221; #8212; hit a button behind the steering wheel and, in exchange for a few revs, save on gas. Fuel efficiency is a major selling point for compacts, and the Rio doesn#8217;t disappoint. The 2012 redesign has taken the Rio#8217;s mpg rating to 30 in the city and 40 on the highway, up from 27 and 36.

Kia has also managed to boost the horsepower at the same time: It#8217;s now 138, up from 110.

On the highway, the car was enjoyable and easy to drive, if not thrilling. The drivetrain made some sounds of protest when I accelerated into ticket territory. But let#8217;s face it, the majority of Rio drivers will spend most of their time commuting and running errands, so the fact that this isn#8217;t a high-performance vehicle isn#8217;t really a big deal.

Downsides? The brakes are a touch too grabby. The 15-cubic-foot cargo area is only grocery-haul roomy, not camping-trip roomy. Lastly, the SX#8217;s 5-door design uses some fat C-pillars in the rear corners.

This causes some blind spots and makes merging slightly tricky. But at least I always felt safe: dual front and lateral seat-mounted air bags are standard, as are the side-curtain airbags which open along the length of the interior. Also, there#8217;s an optional rear-facing camera which helps mitigate any potential visibility issues when backing up.

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