by Matthew Wilson
To be honest, I didn't have many expectations. As with most of Kia's past models, they've mainly been defined by lack of passion and any sense of humanity. It's like they were built by a race of machines whose sole purpose was to create the perfect golf cart for their human subjects. Don't be afraid. Now that Kia has actually hired human beings to engineer and design their cars, I think it's now safe to say (without fear of the machine entity's repercussions) that driving one is no longer a bad thing.
In fact, in today's economy, Kia, and their fellow South Korean sister company Hyundai, have exploited the situation to their advantage. By providing the consumer with more for less, in both build quality and features, Kia's sales and reputation have soared. And the all-new 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door is set to continue this trend. For anybody who's driven or owned the previous generation, the new car will surprise you in every way, from its design, fit and finish, and overall driving experience. Thanks to chief designer Peter Schreyer and his team, Kia has managed to turn the Rio into a clean and aesthetically pleasing design that has an overall premium look.
Beginning with the automaker's distinctive tiger nose front end, not only does it look aggressive, but it evokes a sense of sportiness that has been absent in the past. The top-of-the-line SX trim enhances this look with LED daytime running lights. Arguably the best-looking of the lineup, the SX also features 17-inch aluminum wheels and LED accents on the taillights. The base LX trim comes with 15-inch wheels, but in no way does that make it look like less of a car in any way. With its chiseled side body panels and overall upright appearance, the Rio looks more expensive than it actually is.
Seriously. Just look at it compared to the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class. Although it's highly unlikely potential B-Class buyers would consider the Rio, it's astonishing to see how far Kia design has come in just a few short years. Stepping inside, the interior is equally impressive with its leaps and bounds improvement over its predecessor. It's simple, straight-forward, and yet still manages to look like something more than what is normally designed for an economy car. We love the dash's round gauges and the combination of switches and dials that are definitely influenced by European brands such as Alfa Romeo and MINI.
Besides for the price conscious LX trim, standard features include Bluetooth, cruise control, and a tilting-and-telescoping steering column. A seven-inch LCD navigation screen is optional. The front seats have solid support and the cloth material is of higher quality than expected. The back seat is also quite comfortable for most adults, but if you're over six-feet tall, longer trips will become uncomfortable at some point. Power comes from a direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 138hp and is mated to either a six-speed manual or an optional six-speed slushbox.
According to Kia estimates, the Rio hatch should return 29/39 mpg city/highway. Kia has also announced they'll be introducing a sporty SX trim that comes with those same 17-inch wheels, larger front disc brakes, and a thicker antiroll bar. A start-stop system, set to arrive in early 2012, will only be available on automatic-equipped models. Official pricing hasn't been announced yet, but Kia says the Rio 5-Door will start at less than $14,000 when it goes on sale this month. Compared to what the Rio used to be, Kia has done a wonderful job turning it into something that's actually a formidable competitor to the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris.
It's not at all perfect, but the 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door undoubtedly has a wonderful human element that no robot could ever replicate.