Luxury on a budget
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona - Every time I drive a new subcompact, I’m impressed at the quick pace of their evolution. The recent additions to the segment, such as the Ford Fiesta, the Chevrolet Sonic, the Hyundai Accent and this new-for-2012 Kia Rio, offer the refinement, drivability and feature content we expect in larger cars.
The 2012 Kia Rio five-door hit the market late in 2011, and now it’s the sedan’s turn to get some attention. And that attention is well-deserved.
Kia Canada chose the wide-open spaces of Arizona for their presentation of the new model to the media. After a night at Scottsdale’s retro-chic Hotel Valley Ho, we hit the highways and mountain roads aboard the four-door Rio.
Under the hood is a new engine that’s shared with Hyundai and equips the 2012 Accent as well as the 2012 Veloster. This 1.6L unit includes the latest tricks to save fuel, such as direct injection; other techniques are also used, like an alternator decoupling pulley, electric power steering as well as a stop-start system, the latter offered only in the Rio LX Eco model, available later this year.
The Rio benefits from 138 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque; no need to wind the 1.6L four to its redline in order to get the car moving along swiftly. It is a slow revver, however, so don’t expect exhilarating performance despite its class-leading output.
We sampled both transmissions. The six-speed manual provides slick shifts with relatively short throws; the car does feel lazy through second and third gears, as if the gearbox isn’t exploiting the engine’s full potential; overall, the six-speed automatic makes the car feel livelier because its gear ratios are spread out better. Oh, and the clutch pedal in our test car squeaks, an easy fix at the dealer.
Speaking of the automatic, it also benefits from what Kia calls an Active Eco system; it basically relaxes throttle response and modifies the transmission shift points for even better fuel economy, at the expense of a little performance. Over the course of the route, the trip computer indicates an average that varies between 6.0 and 7.5L/100 km. The highway rating is 4.9L/100 km for all versions of the Rio.
Here’s an interesting detail: since fuel consumption tests require any type of fuel-saving system to be functional at start-up: the Active Eco system isn’t on during testing, since it must be manually turned on with a dash-mounted button. In short, you could potentially end up with results better than the official ratings.
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