As promised - my Rio review

Discussion in 'Kia' started by jcp123, Dec 26, 2011.

  1. jcp123

    jcp123 Caliente!

    I purchesed my LX sedan this summer. It's a step up from their base model, but has no power accessories or cruise control. I have always thought this generation of the Rio was a handsome car with a European flavour to its styling. From its rounded roofline to more angular body, it seems to voice a cheery hello when approached, yet is not so silly-looking as to be dismissed as another "beer can on wheels".

    Inside, things are slightly more grim. Attractively styled, the materials are on the cheaper side, even on the door handle, a frequent touch point. Said plastics are also easily scratched. Fit, however, is pretty good, with no excessive or uneven gaps. There are also thus far no squeaks, rattles, or other indications of loosening trim. Gauges are concise, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to read, but Kia omitted even an engine temperature light, so it's more than a bit lacking in this department. One oddity is that the gauge cluster and steering column cover seem to be mounted at an angle vs. the steering wheel, so that it looks crooked and poorly assembled, even though from what I can tell this is exactly how it is designed to fit. One bonus is the separate indicator light to check a loose fuel cap - a nice touch compared to illuminating the check engine light for this common occurrence. Moreover, the few controls present in this car are laid out for easy use, and the switchgear all works with convincing quality. The standard satellite radio is also a great feature. Seats are average though slightly lacking in support for drives over an hour, but are upholstered in a comely fabric mimicked on the thin-but-concise door panels. Visibility is excellent all around. Roomwise, it is adequate, no more and no less. The trunk is large for its class and is well laid-out to make maximum use of its volume, plus split-folding seats - not always present in this class of car - add yet more versatility.

    All that is well and good, but how does it drive? This is another mixed bag. It rides firmly, bordering on downright stiff, and a full load of passengers and luggage does little to alleviate this. Handling should therefore be superb, and while it exhibits a measure of exuberance in normal maneuvers, the tail gets unsettled in bumpy corners or when applying mid-corner braking. Panic stops are dead straight with good ABS feedback and no drama whatsoever. The steering is nicely weighted and has a seductively smooth action to it. It also exhibits high-speed and crosswind stability which belies its low curb weight and tallish profile. Kia's 1.6l twin cam four with variable valve timing is one of the smoother fours I have driven, and is a willing partner with the manual transmission. It also has a pleasingly businesslike sound from inside the cabin not unlike that of some VW's, contrasted with the more whiny tone of many four-cylinder cars. Pair this motor with Kia's 4-speed autmoatic, however, and there's a lot left to be desired. It saps the life out of the little engine, and the car becomes downright pokey. It feels as though it crashes into second gear, but other shifts are smooth. The gear ratios are pleasingly tallish and suitable for the car. Also much to my liking, it is relatively easy to keep the torque converter locked up for maximum fuel economy.

    Speaking of fuel economy (this is the juicy bit, right?), make sure you leave plenty of break-in time for the motor. My first roadtrip netted around 36mpg. I took another trip to Dallas this last week and ended up just shy of 38mpg including some errand runs which took me across town, not to mention temperatures were cool and the day started with wet roads. It's just now coming into its own, and I think it has a little more room to grow - today's odometer reading is 8000 miles. On my normal commute, however, it struggles a little bit, returning 28-32mpg depending on how much my wife is driving it.

    One note: there have been no mechanical problems, but just shy of 7000 miles, one of the taillight assemblies apparently had a compromised seal and allowed condensation to form inside the lens. The service manager at my local dealer is a very pleasant individual and has replaced it under warranty, no questions asked. Kia's warranty is one of the best (read: longest) in the business, and adds significantly to the car's value quotient. Being the last year of the bodystyle, most of the major bugs should have been ironed out by now as well.

    Overall, though it has its quirks, one has to remember this is on the bottom rung of the automotive ladder, and viewed as such, it delivers good value and a satisfying day-to-day competence. There may be more enticing vehicles out there, but buyers' remorse will not be a side effect of purchasing this vehicle.
  2. xcel

    xcel PZEV, there's nothing like it :) Staff Member

    Hi JCP:

    I was waiting for your response and it was a nice overview.

    I have a bid out for the all-new 2012 Rio EX or SX sedan right now given my Preview drive in and around Austin, Texas two months back. I found the stiff platform and suspension a boon to handling prowess.

    Traveling down one of the many country roads outside of Austin at about 50 mph, the roads were marked with arrows as well as a map with distance markers for turns at a given distance inside the car. I saw an arrow pointing right when all it was describing was “Stay to the right”. About 50 yards beyond the small arrow on my right was a narrow but paved farm road veering perpendicular immediately following. It was a typical 90 degree inside corner that I should have hit the binders hard for and took at no more than 15 mph. I began downshifting with the R’s reaching as high as 5K while using engine braking to slow down, I arrived to this inside right hander at maybe 20 to 22 mph. I cut the wheel hard right and she surprisingly held to the inside lane instead of drifting outward as I would have thought. I was really impressed with the accident avoidance and road holding ability. The Rio I was driving was an SX with the sport tuned suspension and 17” low profile tires on 17” alloys.

    2012 Kia Rio 5-Door Hatch Preview

    2012 Kia Rio SX at a changeover location.

    2012 Kia Rio SX - 54.6 mpgUS displayed over a 55 mile jaunt.​

    On the final leg as a passenger, we were traversing a series of very tight decreasing radius and off camber turns in the bottom of deep troughs and at the top off hills. On one of these off camber turns, the car was unweighted as we crested and immediately dove down into a small but sharp trough maybe 25’ ahead while still cornering t maybe 40 mph. I thought for sure we would feel the body flex like a wet noodle but instead, the right front suspension hit its bump stop and the little Rio took that corner like it was happy to do so. Not a squeak, rattle, shimmy or shake which really impressed me!

    The high strength steel the auto makers are using nowadays really stiffens things up which of course improves handling. The downside to stiff chassis is that one some road surfaces, tire to road surface noise intrudes into the cabin pretty harshly as was the case with the 5-door Rio SX on some of those back country roads outside Austin.

    Because we cannot purchase the EX or SX with a stick, the AT is a NICE-On only unit, Try and FAS that big boy and there is some moving and shaking going on so advanced techniques are out of the question. Yes, I tried it once from about 25 mph and it was not a pretty sight upon re-ignition and reengagement. Coasting down to 0 is only a minor issue but reengagement at any speed over 5 mph and things are not right with the little AT mated to the 1.6L GDI.

    Interior materials were ok for a subcompact. Nothing special with some plastic cheapness around the radio bezel. See the toggle picture below. I did not notice the interior door handles flexing upon exit but you surely would notice as mentioned in your review after more than a few stabs at them.

    Interior control toggle switches and the power folding mirrors?

    Kia Rio SX Interior A/C controls.​

    I thought they were a bit gimmicky at first but the more I played with them, the more I liked them. Simple On/Off action and I could tell if I had engaged them or not without having to look down as I could flick them all up to shut everything down without having to look down.

    Folding mirrors on a sub-compact were new to me as well. While I did not operate them for a purpose, I did check them out and they were both quick to fold and unfold. Just the thing for a deep inner city dweller to use to protect his or her mirrors from the inevitable baseball bat, bicyclist or car/truck driving to close to the parked cars on the right.

    Let me know your thoughts.

    Last edited: Dec 27, 2011
  3. jcp123

    jcp123 Caliente!

    I have heard ironed out the handling issues in the redesign and that the uplevel SX felt downright sporty in the twisties - this would appear to be the case! My '11 would not have remained quite so calm. The tail can and will take its own course, and not in the nicely measured drift you'd find in a Ford Focus. Since you brought up coasting, I should also have mentioned that one drawback to my Rio is its limited ability to coast - whether it's drag or some type of rolling resistance, it's probably a big reason this car doesn't get the numbers it should. My informal "coast test" is on my car wash route, coming off a sweeping corner, most cars will run the half mile to the stop sign just about perfectly from a start speed of 45-50mph. The Rio? I need to start my coast about 200yds later from 55mph, and it still struggles to keep enough momentum to crest the last rise.

    Anyhow, I got to sit in a '12 model when I was at the stealership getting the aforementioned taillight assembly replaced, and it felt good - a real cut above mine in design and quality. The hatchback had more cargo room with the rear seat up than I would have thought, and the cabin feels much richer and more pleasant, though I do like the simplicity of the older models. I was also pleased to see that their only m/t Rio sold very quickly, it was off their website when I checked a few days later :D perhaps there's hope yet for the popularity of standard shifts.

    Feel free to use anything I say, although I believe you are under the impression I got one of the new model Rio's - sadly, my hand was forced before the '12's arrived and I possess one of the last examples of the outgoing bodystyle. If nothing else, though, it might be good for comparison's sake.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2011

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