Until no more than a couple of years ago, the Kia Rio was (and to some degree still is) known as nothing more than a cheap piece of junk. Until the latest stripper version of the Nissan Versa was released, the Rio was the most inexpensive new car you could buy in Canada; after including dealer incentives it wasn’t unheard of to pick up a Rio under $10,000. A brand new car for under $10,000 can’t be very good, or can it? To find out, I recently spent some quality time with the 2013 Kia Rio SX GDI.
Priced at just over $23,000 as-tested, my Rio essentially doubles the base price. It still comes with the same wheezy engine and lazy 6-speed automatic transmission, but the SX is the upmarket, or in my eyes, the oxymoronic version of the Rio. Equipped with options previously unheard of in a subcompact, my SX tester came equipped with everything you’d expect in an entry level luxury car, such as a GPS navigation system, power moonroof, and heated leather seats. The car also supports Bluetooth audio and has voice recognition.
When discussing my test car of the week with a friend who loves cars but in all honesty lacks the expertise to form an informed opinion, he brought up an interesting point. His exact words were, “so it’s a polished turd, isn’t it?” Having owned an older Kia Spectra for many years, my friend hasn’t exactly had the most positive experience with the emerging Korean brand that, since teaming up with Hyundai, is still going through its rebirth as a quality automaker.
The Rio has been advertised as an extremely efficient, viable option as a reliable commuter. Does it deliver? I observed 7.0L/100km in combined mileage over my week-long road test. I probably could have done a bit better, but that would have involved going much slower than the flow of traffic. The Rio isn’t made for highway cruising in the slightest. The little four-banger is zippy enough to boot around the city with no issues, but it’s buzzy and tedious to maintain a constant speed while cruising on the highway. Admittedly, the 6-speed automatic is a nice upgrade and is a great way to keep the RPMs down on the highway. I recall observing a 4,000rpm highway cruising speed in my five-speed R50 Mini Cooper. The handling of the Rio is actually quite good. It effortlessly navigated the ridiculous nuisances that were generously provided by Toronto’s taxi drivers. Body roll around corners is minimal for a vehicle in this class.
A significant gripe I’ve had with the entirety of this car class is the disproportionate styling of the sedan models. What’s wrong with solely offering a hatchback and eliminating the availability of the sedan altogether? Honda and Mazda seem to have it down pat with the Fit and the Mazda2. Cars that compete with this Rio, such as the Ford Fiesta, the Toyota Yaris, and even the Nissan Versa, look horribly disproportionate and frumpy. I’d rather have no sedan than an ugly sedan. This is especially noticeable considering the majority of the sedan models are essentially dominated by the fleet market. I understand that I may be going on a bit of a rant here, but it’s not even as though these vehicles are slightly unattractive. The new Versa sedan takes the cake for being one of the most disproportionate sedans on the road right now.
Overall, I wouldn’t go as far as to say I completely dislike the Rio sedan. As I said, with the hatchback being more versatile for moving things, especially for the young urban commuter, I see the sedan as an unnecessary redundancy on the market as a whole. However, the refinement, build quality, and efficiency. On top of all that, one needs to realize that the main factor that is taken into consideration when shopping in this segment is value; and that’s something the Rio excels at. If I were in the market for such a vehicle, nothing would stop me from opting for the manual Rio Eco hatchback without the unnecessary options such as navigation and heated leather.