2013 Kia Rio SX Verdict
Long ago -- and by "long," I mean 10 years ago -- you might have been teased for having a little car. Not "compact" like a Honda Civic or Dodge Neon, but "little," as in Chevy Aveo and Toyota ECHO. Dubya-era little cars were ridiculed for many reasons. Homely looks, feeble acceleration, smallness interpreted as lacking in comfort and utility, the imminent sense of doom when crowded by herculean SUVs.
Today, after 18 months of chaperoning the limited-edition, manually shifted Kia Rio SX, I'm left intrigued. Not about the vehicle itself -- there's no doubt modern little cars are much improved over their decade-old compatriots. No, to me, people's different reactions to the Signal Red hatchback have been the most interesting. It made a couple of friends during its stay, charming allies with its $18,794, least-expensive-in-garage earnestness (the $29 iPod adapter cable is my must-have accessory). Numerous non-allies didn't hesitate to tell me what was wrong with the Rio. The most common complaint was some iteration of "It's so slow!" Lunging to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds with a time-saving clutch sidestep is solid for a 138-hp vehicle, but it leaves something to be desired in the powertrain tuning. There are flat spots in the powerband. The sudden tapering in acceleration after shifting from first gear to second is very noticeable, as if the 1.6-liter I-4 is pulling ignition timing at the most inopportune moment. Low-rpm, everyday driveability is otherwise pretty good; an engine that responds eagerly to both leisurely and fast-paced driving would be best.
The next most frequent carp centered on the ride. At 101.2 inches, the Rio's wheelbase is lengthy for a subcompact, but the suspension is inefficiently dialed in. The front end tracks nicely, until it runs out of shock absorption and starts ramming the bump stops. The torsion-beam rear gains excessive leverage on the rest of the car on single-wheel impacts, laterally shifting the tail end and making the whole car jittery. The SX's sport suspension (unique damping, stiffer rear springs, 2mm-thicker front anti-roll bar over LX/EX models) either hammers the hard rubber stops too much (contributing to harshness) or forces the body to flap around.
The fact is it'll never light your hair on fire with how it performs. Yet balancing that out are the facts that it is (1) easy to see out of because of the large greenhouse and liberally sized (and standard power-folding) side mirrors; (2) a breeze to park (watch out for a quirk where the electric power steering effort temporarily gets extra heavy when turning the wheel while stopped); and (3) inexpensive to operate. Of our long-termers that didn't come with a complimentary maintenance period, the little Kia was thriftiest by a long shot, at $215.55 for four service stops.
Addressing the Rio's dynamic shortcomings would go a long way, especially since it's not thirsting for the pumps and is packaged well. As our Real MPG fuel economy program's first and foremost test subject, it put out 30/40/34 mpg city/highway/combined, beautifully corroborating the 34.1 mpg average over 39,212 miles, as documented using the miles-divided-by-gallons method. Curiously, the Real MPG matches its original, pre-mass-relabeling EPA estimate.
At 89.1 cubic feet, it's about midpack in total passenger volume relative to the hatchback competition (the Nissan Versa Note boasts 94.1, with the Ford Fiesta's 83.2 at the low end). Tall folks sitting up front had plenty of room to stretch their legs without getting too familiar with back-seat occupants. Calculating the split between the first- and second-row volumes, the Kia ranks near the bottom, devoting just 39.6 percent of its cabin capacity astern (Versa: 46.4, Fiesta: 39.5). But those who spent extended time in the back found it satisfactory for a little car. The cloth seats are comfortable and the 7-inch touch screen features one of the best navigation/infotainment interfaces in the industry.
The cabin's build quality and materials are $18,794-appropriate, blighted by a peeling steering-wheel rim first noticed at the 30K-mile mark, not unlike what afflicted our old long-term 2012 Hyundai Elantra. The local dealer's reply, after explaining it wouldn't be covered under warranty: The wear is likely caused by lotions or other oil-based substances, which is ludicrous because many people use lotions, and 30K is barely any mileage at all. Outside, the fetching bodywork is easier on the eyes than those old Aveos and Echoes. With a few engine and chassis tweaks, I believe the Rio can be a fine-looking and fine-driving double threat.
And the imminent sense of doom? Frankly, it wouldn't be a little car without it.
More on our long-term 2013 Kia Rio SX:
- Update 1: Winter Tires, Rainy Weather
- Update 2: Is it the Runt Factor?
- Update 3: Differences in Opinion
- Update 4: Routine Rio
- Update 5: Little Cars Have It Good These Days
- Update 6: “Definitely the Korean Car”
- Update 7: Special?
- Ford’s 1.0L EcoBoost I-3 Belongs Everywhere, Including in the Kia Rio
|Service life||18 mo / 39,212 mi|
|OPTIONS||Carpeted floor mats ($115), iPod adapter cable ($29)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$18,794|
|AVG ECON/CO2||34.1 mpg / 0.57 lb/mi|
|PROBLEM AREAS||Peeling steering wheel|
|MAINTENANCE COST||$215.55 (4-oil change, inspection; 3-tire rotation; 2-cabin-air filter; 1-engine-air filter)|
|NORMAL-WEAR COST||$577.40 (new Goodyear Eagle Sport tires; mounting and balancing)|
|3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE*||$9773|
|*Automotive Lease Guide data|
|2013 Kia Rio SX|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||I-4, aluminum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||97.1 cu in/1591 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||138 hp @ 6300 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||123 lb-ft @ 4850 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||18.3 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; torsion beam, coil springs|
|POWER STEERING TYPE||Column-assist electric|
|BRAKES, F;R||11.0-in vented disc; 10.3-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||6.5 x 17-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||205/45R17 84V M+S Hankook Optimo H426|
|TRACK, F/R||59.9/60.0 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||159.3 x 67.7 x 57.3 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||34.5 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||2522 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST., F/R||61/39%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.0/37.6 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||43.8/31.1 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||53.1/52.1 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||12.3 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||4.7|
|QUARTER MILE||16.5 sec @ 83.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||124 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.9 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2500 rpm|
|AIRBAGS||Front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||10 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||11.4 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||29/37/32 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY/COMB||116/91/105 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMBINED||0.60 lb/mile|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||30/40/34 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular|