Not many years ago, most U.S. buyers scoffed at small, economical cars. Fuel- and space-conscious models made for Europe and Asia never saw these shores because automakers feared they just wouldn’t sell. Times have changed. With fuel prices on the rise (again) and steeper fleet fuel economy standards, manufacturers are rushing to compete in the subcompact market.
Enter the all-new 2012 Kia Rio.
The redesigned 2012 Kia Rio sedan was unveiled at the 2011 New York International Auto Show in April. In March, the 2012 Kia Rio 5 hatchback was revealed at the Geneva International Motor Show.
In addition to all-new designs, the 2012 Kia Rio gets a retooled platform, a more powerful and efficient engine, and optional fuel-saving technology.
Exterior styling on the 2012 Kia Rio sedan and Rio 5 hatchback echoes the same design language found on other late-generation Kia models such as the Optima and Sportage, forged by Kia design director Peter Schreyer (formerly of Volkswagen/Audi). The vehicles are more streamlined than their predecessors and incorporate strong wedge shapes. The grille has been slimmed down and connected to the headlamps, while, keeping with an ongoing trend in this segment, the air intake gets larger.
Underneath, the 2012 Rio rides on a new platform, which is lower, longer and wider than its predecessor. High-tensile-strength steel enables ride stiffness, improved handling and better safety performance. The front-wheel-drive Rio sedan and hatchback use independent front and rear suspension systems.
Powering the new Rio is a 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter, gasoline direct injection (GDI) four-cylinder engine offering a 28 hp bump over the previous Rio. Engineers managed to shave off 29 pounds from the engine block by using an aluminum valve cover. Optional Idle Stop and Go (ISG) technology, which automatically shuts the engine down when the vehicle is stopped to save fuel, is a first for the subcompact segment. Transmission choices are either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic.
Thanks to the stretched wheelbase, the interior of the 2012 Kia Rio offers more leg- and headroom than the previous generation, as well as more cargo space.
Standard features on the base Rio LX model include a radio with CD player, satellite radio capability and USB port, while moving up to the EX trim will get you power windows, a Bluetooth handsfree phone system and 60/40 split folding rear seats. The top-of-the-line SX, along with upgraded interior trim, comes standard with a trip computer, cruise control, and Kia’s UVO system powered by Microsoft, including a rear camera display. More feature-filled packages are also available for the EX and SX models.
The EPA has not yet rated the 2012 Rio, although Kia claims fuel economy numbers will come in at 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. That compares with 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway for the 2011 model equipped with a 4-speed automatic transmission.
The 2012 Kia Rio 5 hatchback will be available this summer, while the sedan is slated to hit dealerships in October 2011. Kia hasn’t officially released pricing, but company execs say both body styles will start at less than $13,000.