Kia Rio – Road Test – Car Reviews – Car and Driver

22 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Kia Rio – Road Test – Car Reviews – Car and Driver
Kia Rio

Kia Rio

In which we report that the state of cheapness is good.

A lump of iron ore sitting around since the planet congealed from molten space snot four billion years ago has uncertain prospects in the hands of man. Sure, it could go someplace like Zuffenhausen after it’s been cooked into steel, or it could become a toilet-seat hinge.

Being stamped into America’s least expensive mass-market car, which today is the Kia Rio, is a better fate than it used to be. Buyers prowling the bargain basement of the new-car market have some pretty decent vehicles to choose from (our Little Cars 6.1 test of 13 cheap sedans in June 2000 proved that).

And although we haven’t been big fans of Kia-the Sephia ranked 13th in that test-the Rio proves that the Seoul, South Korea-based division of Hyundai responsible for making the really cheap cars is starting to mature.

For example, whatever its other faults, Kia has shown some talent for shaping steel into fresh forms. The Rio has broad shoulders and unpolluted lines, exhibiting more style than one is entitled to demand from a car with a base price of $9390 (ours was $10,909, including A/C, power steering, and a somewhat pricey $320 radio/cassette player).

Against other bottom-feeding orientals-including the ho-hum Hyundai Accent and the dumpy Daewoo Lanos-the Rio is downright handsome. To its credit, Kia has bucked the industry fashion of pasting identical corporate mugs on all its vehicles, preferring instead to concoct different themes for each new product. Consider the Rio’s pinched, atomic-insect glower against the four-eyed face of the hatchback Spectra and the benign ovals of the rent-me Sephia.

Kia is not above trying something new.

This is good because the tinny Rio needs a little boost to match its competitors, which aren’t just the Lanos and the Accent. At this price, the Rio also goes head-to-head with the natty secondhand Camry and the way-off-lease Accord, and other preowned phaetons with more space and plenty of life left in them.

Kia Rio

Against them, our Rio felt small and, in some instances, slapdashed together. The driver’s roll-up window slipped a few millimeters every time the door was slammed, allowing air to whistle past the seal. The sound increased at 75 mph, when the entire door began fluttering against the body.

The whirring and gnashing of the five-speed manual’s cogwheels was audible in every forward gear; in reverse, the box moaned piteously as though lubrication were being handled by cornstarch.

On the other hand, the Rio’s red paint exhibited less orange-peel than has been noted on cars costing three times the price. The interior textiles have a feeling of quality and showed no flawed stitching, and order reigns underneath the hood, where all wires and tubes seem efficiently routed and properly lashed down.

From underneath its plastic hat, the iron-block 1.5-liter DOHC 16-valve four issues its 96 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque in full fortissimo, a headache-inducing 78 decibels of which penetrate the fire wall under full throttle. Still, that places the Rio just below the 79-dBA average for last June’s Little Cars test, the participants of which all cost $2000 to $5000 more. And although the Rio’s powertrain is loud and excites the shifter and gas pedal to quivering vibrations, at least the engine note is synchronous and relatively phlegm-free, even around the 6500-rpm fuel cutoff (since there is no tach, you have to take our word for it).

The engine generates just enough sparkle to punch the Rio’s featherweight carcass through traffic with more entertainment value than the 10.3-second 0-to-60-mph time suggests. Maybe that’s because there’s enough power available at mid-revs to elicit some feeling of acceleration in any gear. Think of it this way: The Rio is only 1.1 seconds slower to 60 mph than the original Mazda Miata (C/D, September 1989).

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