2012 Kia Rio SX Review

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After testing a 2011 Kia Optima last year, I found myself impressed with Kia’s revised approach to the US market. They seem to have recognized their place in the market, understand their competition, and have done a good job in creating a great added value proposition verses the competition.

The 2012 Kia Rio was a welcome test candidate given my experience driving the Optima last year. The Kia’s we’ve been able to experience have actually stood up well to other cars within their respective classes. Sure, with the competitors like Honda, Hyundai, and Mitsubishi to name a few, competition is tough, but Kia has definitely turned a corner and is producing more and more appealing cars today.

Along with the sports package features, the car comes fully air bagged, front to back, including full length side curtain air bags – definitely a nice feature given the price point of the car. Some more expensive cars will only add full length side curtains airbags as an option only. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, and hill assist control are also included, but are also very standard options from at least this price point and up. One bonus though is the four wheel disc brake feature, which is hard to find on anything else in this class where less powerful rear drum brakes are dominant.

The one feature we missed in this car is Kia’s ISG technology, or “Idle Stop and Go,” which shuts down the motor when at stop lights. It’s said to add about 1 or 2 miles to the already good 30 city and 40 highway fuel economy, but our test car was released before the technology became fully ready for the platform. With other manufacturers from Honda to Porsche adopting this type of system, it would be interesting to see how Kia executes theirs. Honda’s is not super smooth in my opinion, and I have heard that Porsche’s is better but not without some consumer issues. Only time will tell how this will work.

Base price for the Kia Rio SX came in at $17,700. As tested, our car came in at $18,545, which included a set of floor mats, as well as freight and handling. The SX package is considered the Sports Package version of the car. It comes with a sport tuned suspension and great looking 17” two tone alloy wheels mated to a peppy 1.6 liter gas direct injection 4 cylinder motor and 6 speed automatic transmission.

Ming reviews the new 2012 Kia Rio SX

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  • Great balance – For a small car, the Rio exhibited nice balance and agility. Small cars with short wheelbases can sometimes feel a little skittish, but with the wheels pushed as far out to the corners as possible, stability was improved.
  • Styling – We tested the Kia Optima last year, and it was an outstanding looking car. The Rio is no exception. Chief Designer Peter Schreyer has done a fantastic job in helping Kia create a solid aesthetic identity across their line. Their trademark grille design is the most visual key. Admittedly, at first glance, this car looks like a Volkswagen GTI. But is that so bad?
  • City Driving Champ – In my mind, this car excels as a city car. It’s not heavy on power or torque, but the handling combined with the size makes the Rio feel zippy and maneuverable in tight quarters. During our most recent city jaunt, we were able to easily park, cruise in and out of traffic, and defend our space among a maze of larger cars.


  • Blind Spot – the aesthetic design of the car is fantastic – from the outside. Inside, the clean wedge shape doesn’t lend itself to equally fantastic visibility, especially when looking over your shoulder when changing lanes. The small rear windows combined with the back seats and headrests make it tough to see traffic in your inbound lane.
  • Limited Cargo Space – The Rio is definitely a compact car. The trade off to provide a little bit more rear seat leg room comes at the expense of cargo space behind the seats. It’s small, but fortunately with the fold down options, you can still fit a bit of cargo in the car. Just don’t count on rear seat passengers if you need to carry more than a few grocery bags.

Driving Impressions

I’ve always liked cars in this category. I love the size and practicality, especially when considering fuel cost combined with an active lifestyle and a small family. The Rio didn’t disappoint.

Once seated in the Rio, you feel a good sense of your surroundings. Everything is in easy reach and the layout is intuitive. Upon start up, you can definitely hear and feel the motor, but that’s not such a bad thing in my mind. Sometimes if a car in the class is so quiet, it’s harder to establish a connection with the car. If you can’t hear or feel that the car is doing, it’s lessens the experience.

The 1.6 liter GDI, or simply “Gas Direct Injection,” motor is well suited for the size of the Rio. Rated at 138HP and 123 foot pounds of torque, the car is not emphasized on power. This car is set up for sporty practicality. At this price point, it simply works well.

The wheels and suspension layout are also a nice complement to this car in regards to what it does well. It’s a maneuverable little car, yet with the wheels pushed as far out to the corners as possible, it’s also quite stable. The sport suspension isn’t super stiff or supercar harsh, but the springs and dampers do a nice job of providing a subtle sportier feel than the standard model.

The steering feel is on the lighter side, but realistically, this is perfect for this buyer as this is a really easy car to get used to and an easy car to drive.

My only real gripe is the blind spot. While I love the look and shape of the car, it doesn’t lend itself to having great visibility, especially when changing lanes on the busy highways around here. You’re best to make sure the mirrors are dialed in and you know exactly where you have to look when checking your blind spot.

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