Review: 2012-2013 Kia Rio

By Winding Road Staff

September 26, 2011

This is the Master Landing Page for the Kia Rio. From now on, as we further review this car, we will be updating this page with whatever fresh content we create. Future drive reviews, updated specifications, videos, and other relevant information will all be found right here, in one convenient spot.

Kia has created an all-new version of the Rio sedan and five-door hatchback for the 2012 model year, with a new design and improved underpinnings.
The Rio is powered by a direct-injection, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which produces 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. It comes available with either a six-speed manual transmission, or a six-speed automatic. Thanks in part to the updated engine and weight savings, the new Rio gets 30 miles per gallon in the city, and an impressive 40 mpg highway.
The new model promises more creature comforts than before, especially as you move up in the trim levels. The Rio is available in LX, EX, and SX trim. The top-of-the-line SX offers standard 17-inch wheels, fog lamps, LED accent lights, metal pedals, metal grain, leather steering wheel and shift knob, and voice-activated infotainment system with rear camera display. Hands-free Bluetooth connectivity is standard on the EX and up.
The new Rio uses an independent front suspension system, with MacPherson struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar. The rear features a torsion beam axle suspension. The SX gets a little more dynamic with its sport-tuned suspension.
Scroll down for more information in the press release.
Sub-Compact Hatchback and Sedan Offer Class-Leading Horsepower, Up to 40 Miles Per Gallon and World-Class Design
  • Rio models will feature Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI)
  • Kia's design-led transformation continues with arrival of new sub-compacts
IRVINE, Calif., September 26, 2011 - With class-leading horsepower and fuel economy of up to 40 miles per gallon (mpg), the all-new 2012 Rio 5-door hatchback and Rio sedan will soon join the Kia Motors America (KMA) lineup and offer style- and environmentally conscious consumers eye-catching design, impressive fuel efficiency, cutting-edge technology and fun-to-drive performance. Unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show and 2011 New York International Auto Show respectively, the sub-compacts are the latest introduction in Kia's aggressive transformation, which has resulted in record sales and market share growth since the launch of the Soul in 2009.
Conceived at Kia's design studios in Irvine, Calif., the all-new 2012 Rio 5-door and its sedan sibling proudly wear their own interpretations of Kia's signature grille, slimmed down to connect to the dynamic headlamp design to provide a new twist on the Kia family look that includes a bigger air intake to exude a youthful persona. Exhibiting highly sculpted, sloping shoulder lines and wedge-shaped exteriors, both the sedan and hatchback project athletic profiles that convey power and agility while mimicking the aggressive lines found on other recently launched Kia vehicles such as the 2011 Optima and Sportage. The Rio sedan drops the wedge line only slightly toward the rear door down to the trunk to differentiate it from the hatchback profile.
Class-Leading Power and Fuel-Efficiency
Available in three trims – LX, EX and SX – the 2012 Rio is available with a 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder with the option of either a six-speed manual transmission (LX only) or efficient six-speed automatic. One of only two vehicles in the segment to offer a GDI engine, the 2012 Rio provides an inviting combination of power and fuel efficiency and achieves class-leading 138 horsepower while maintaining a class-leading2 fuel economy rating of 30/40 mpg (city/highway) for the sedan and hatchback.
Adding to the Rio's improved performance, Kia's engineers worked feverishly to reduce engine weight by 29 pounds over the previous generation vehicle by adding an aluminum valve cover and block to the third-generation Gamma engine, while incorporating cast iron linings for increased durability.
Attractive and Functional Exterior
Accentuating the hunkered down and muscular exterior profile, Rio offers no shortage of standard exterior features. Starting with the LX trim includes body-color door handles and side mirrors, rear wiper and washer, multi-reflector headlamps and 15-inch steel wheels with 185/65R15 tires, while the Rio 5-door also comes with a standard rear spoiler to improve aerodynamics. Moving to the EX trim brings additional standard conveniences, including power door locks with keyless entry and a chrome front grille surround, adding to Rio's sophisticated and sleek look. For consumers looking for higher levels of sporty refinement, the SX trim offers standard 17-inch wheels with 205/45R17 tires, fog lamps, LED accent lights and rear combination lamps, dual chrome exhaust tips, power-folding outside heated mirrors with turn signal indicators and, unique for the Rio 5-door, projector headlamps.
Lavish and Comfortable Interior
Moving inside, the 2012 Rio greets drivers and passengers with a bold and modern cabin, centered on Kia's horizontal three-cylinder instrument panel and a two-tone color scheme to emphasize a feeling of spaciousness and comfort. An extended wheelbase (101.2 inches) greatly enhances passenger room and comfort, offering 40.0 inches front headroom, 37.6 inches rear headroom, 43.8 inches front legroom and 31.1 inches rear legroom for the Rio sedan and Rio 5-door hatchback. Those looking for ample cargo space for quick weekend getaways or trips to the grocery store will not be disappointed, with an impressive 13.7 cubic feet for the sedan and 15.0 cubic feet in the hatchback. Also new for Rio for 2012 and emphasizing the earth-friendly theme, 85 percent of the Rio's materials are recyclable at the end of its lifespan, and the Rio features seat foam material that uses 100-percent biodegradable and non-toxic castor oil, which benefits the environment in several ways, including reduced use of petroleum-based products and because castor oil comes from plants, this material is generated from a completely renewable energy source.
Standard on the LX trim is a driver's seat height adjuster and six-way adjustable driver's seat, tilt steering column, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, trip computer, electric power steering, 60/40 split folding rear seats and a cargo cover for the hatchback. Moving to the EX trim includes standard power windows with automatic up/down on the driver's window, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth®3 wireless connectivity with steering wheel-mounted voice activation controls to enable hands-free operation for compatible mobile phones and a sleek metallic finish throughout with leatherette door trim. The SX trim offers consumers an even more upscale and athletic look and feel with standard metal pedals, metal grain, a Supervision meter cluster, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual map lights, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, UVO powered by Microsoft®4 voice-activated infotainment system with rear camera display5.
In addition to offering a comfortable cabin, impressive technology features also come standard on all trims, including an AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sat audio system with SiriusXM Satellite Radio capabilities and three months complimentary service6 and auxiliary and USB audio input jacks for connecting with MP3 players with full iPod and MP3 controllability via the audio head unit and steering wheel-mounted controls7.
Available packaging upgrades for the Rio LX include the Power Package (A/T only), which adds power windows with automatic up/down functionality on the driver's window, power door locks with two-turn entry system and remote keyless entry. For the EX trim, the available Convenience Package includes 15-inch alloy wheels, the UVO powered by Microsoft® voice-activated infotainment system with a 4.3-inch color touch screen and rear camera display8, automatic headlamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power folding side mirrors with turn signal indicators, front fog lights, dual illuminated vanity mirrors and dual map lights. With the luxurious Premium Package available on the SX trim, passengers will benefit from a navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic (replaces the UVO system), push-button start with Smart Key, leather seat trim, heated front seats and a moonroof to give an open, airy feeling.
All-New Advanced Platform
Further distinguishing itself from the previous generation Rio, the 2012 Rio brings with it an all-new longer, wider and lower platform. Its aggressive stance is achieved through an overall length of 171.9 (Rio sedan) or 159.3 (Rio 5-door) with a platform measuring 67.7 inches wide and 57.3 inches high. Employing high-tensile-strength steel (63 percent of body), Rio's lightweight design offers high torsional stiffness for improved handling, ride quality and refinement. Use of these high-quality materials also helps to improve performance in the event of a crash while reducing overall weight. For increased noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) reduction, the 2012 Rio was outfitted with hood and dash insulators as well as expandable foam in the A and C pillars and Thinsulate in the A and B pillars.
Built on a unibody frame, the front-wheel-drive Rio utilizes an independent front suspension system. MacPherson struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar are used in the front with a torsion beam axle suspension in the rear to engage drivers with responsive handling and provide the utmost comfort in a variety of driving situations. A sport-tuned suspension on SX trims offers enhanced handling characteristics for drivers interested in a more spirited drive.
The 2012 Rio is equipped with high levels of standard safety features, including an innovative Halo Body construction designed to help protect occupants in certain side impact and roll-over collisions. Additional standard safety features include six airbags (dual advanced front and front-seat mounted side as well as full-length side curtain), side-impact door beams, height-adjustable front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters, three-point seatbelts for all seating positions and Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH). Also standard on all Rio trims for increased driver and passenger safety are Electronic Stability Control (ESC), a four-wheel Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) which coordinates the car's ESC and ABS to help the driver stay in control of the vehicle.
Industry-Leading Warranty
The 2012 Rio and Rio 5-door are covered by Kia's comprehensive warranty program10, which offers consumer protection at an exceptional value. Included in this program are a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty and a five-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty. A five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan also is part of the comprehensive vehicle coverage.
Design-Led Transformation and Product Line
Kia Motors has undergone a dramatic, design-led transformation, which has been delivering dynamically styled vehicles in several important segments at exactly the right time, contributing to the brand's continued gains in U.S. market share. Kia is poised to continue its momentum and brand growth through design innovation, quality, value, safety features and new technology. Kia's commitment to the U.S. market is represented by its U.S.-based manufacturing facilities in West Point, Georgia – KMMG – which is responsible for the creation of more than 10,000 plant and supplier jobs and added the critically acclaimed Optima midsize sedan to its production line in September. Kia's model year 2012 vehicle line includes the Sorento CUV, Sportage compact CUV, Optima midsize sedan, Optima Hybrid, Soul urban passenger vehicle, Forte compact sedan, Forte 5-door compact hatchback, Forte Koup two-door coupe, all-new Rio and Rio 5-door sub-compacts and Sedona minivan.
About Kia Motors America
Kia Motors America (KMA) is the marketing and distribution arm of Kia Motors Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. KMA offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 745 dealers throughout the United States and serves as the "Official Automotive Partner of the NBA." In 2010, KMA recorded its best-ever U.S. sales and 16th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share. Kia is poised to continue its momentum and will continue to build the brand through design innovation, quality, value, safety features and new technologies.
2012 Kia Rio Five-Door
Engine: Inline-4, 1.6 liters, 16v
Output: 138 hp/123 lb-ft
Weight: 2410 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 30/40 mpg
Base Price: $13,600
2012 Kia Rio Five-Door
Every year it becomes more obvious that you have to pay attention to what Kia is doing. It has rolled out nine new cars in the last three years, is growing faster than the industry during the recovery, and is now up to about a four-percent share of the US market. For perspective, that puts Kia well ahead of not only premium brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW, but also Mazda, Subaru, and Volkswagen. Next in their sights is probably Nissan, with about seven percent of the market. With all the choices in the automotive market, we figure that you don’t make those gains by accident. But, we have to say that it is the rare Kia that stands out in our minds, so we were curious to try Kia’s latest new offering, the Rio 5-Door, to put some perspective on the Kia success story. These guys are doing something right, but what exactly is it?
The Rio five-door is one of the new B-segment cars that now seem to be proliferating on our shores. If you haven’t been following this closely, we’ll jog your memory by mentioning the Honda Fit, the Ford Fiesta, the Nissan Versa, the Chevrolet Sonic, the Toyota Yaris, and the Mazda2. With EPA regulations forcing manufacturers to up their average fuel economy numbers rapidly through 2016 and beyond, suddenly Americans are getting small cars whether they want them or not.
From our perspective this is a very good thing (not the part about jamming things down people’s throats, but the strong competition in the B segment). We’re happy for starters because these small cars get decent fuel mileage. B-segment cars also tend to be light and therefore entertaining to toss about. They tend to offer manual transmissions, adding to the fun factor. And they are quite affordable, while still having plenty of room for most needs. So, they can be one’s only car. Given all that, we have showered the Honda Fit and the Mazda2 with accolades over the past two years, and we should note that the Fiesta is pretty nice as well. With that perspective in mind, we wondered, “What can Kia possibly bring to this rather crowded party?”
Turns out the Rio has plenty to offer. But to understand that, you have to view the car from the right perspective, or perspectives as it happens. Based on our time in the Rio, this is a car you pick because it has a combination of features and value that is appealing, not a car you pick because it has the best driving dynamics in this class. So, rather than follow our normal format, we’ve summarized the ways a likely buyer might understand the new Rio.
The Rio Is An Improved Fiesta
We think the Fiesta is a benchmark car in this segment for mainstream buyers (less so for enthusiasts). Like the Fiesta, the Rio is a nicely styled (inside and out), nice to drive B-segment car. 
Like the Fiesta, the Rio is relatively quiet and has a smooth ride. Both cars have enough acceleration to be perfectly serviceable. They both have smooth transmissions. They are both light and feel nimble. Also like the Fiesta, the Rio feels solid. And the Rio has plenty of techno-features.
Now consider the Rio’s advantages. The Rio is a little bit bigger inside. The Rio gets slightly better mileage (one to two more miles per gallon in the city). The Rio has a bit more power (138 versus 120 horsepower). The Rio has a longer warranty.
The point is that the Rio has some small advantages and doesn't fall down on anything mainstream buyers would consider important. So, the Rio is certainly fully feature competitive with the Fiesta. And then comes the deal closer: the Rio is about $1900 less than the Fiesta (and less than many other B-segment cars as well), which is particularly meaningful given that Kia now has some of the best residual values in the category.
The Rio Is A Mini-Luxury Sedan
If you compare the Rio 5-Door to a mid-sized luxury sedan like the Acura TL or the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the Rio gives a little ground but isn’t blown away. That's because the feel of the Rio seems to be targeted to mimic softer, more isolated cars such as these. Like the bigger sedans, the Rio has a comfortable ride. Because the Rio has a shorter 101-inch wheelbase, it moves around a bit more on bumps and such, but because it is lighter (by about 1500 pounds) it can offer a more compliant suspension without getting floaty. The Kia is quiet too, though the engine noise when you get into the throttle intrudes somewhat more than it does on the Acura or the Mercedes-Benz. The Rio has comfortable seats and adequate room front and rear. Sure, the Rio isn’t quite as roomy inside as a mid-sized car, but the difference isn’t as big as you might imagine. The Rio also offers plenty of creature comforts, including a reverse camera, USB audio input, hard drive for music storage, Bluetooth, and voice activated controls.
All-in-all, the Rio has perhaps 80-percent of the comfort, with a related feel, at 33-percent of the price of such premium luxury cars.
The Rio Is A Prius Alternative
For green-oriented buyers, the Prius is the benchmark car, and the Rio presents an interesting alternative. The Prius gets 51/48 EPA mpg, while the Rio gets 30/40. That seems like a pretty big difference, though over a typical 10,000-mile driving year the Rio only would cost about $400 more to fuel.
Another selling point of the Prius is its hybrid street cred. The Rio counters with a very light form of hybrid technology, called ISG, which turns the engine off and on at stops, for a gain of about one mpg in the city. On top of that, the Rio is 85-percent recyclable. It may be harder for your friends to see that you are hugging a tree with the Rio, but Kia is delivering some advanced eco technology to a new price point. You get a flavor of that when you look at window stickers. The Prius costs $8420 more than the Rio, meaning that economy isn’t the reason to prefer the Prius. More to the point, the Rio gives eco-oriented buyers a really usable, comfortable green car at a price that many can handle.
The Rio Is Ridiculously Sensible
We keep talking about the small (or not so small if you have to make the payments) price advantage of the Rio. That aspect of the Rio is certainly practical, as is the good fuel economy. We’ve also mentioned the warranty, which is a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, combined with a five-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty, and a five-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty. A five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan also is part of the deal. The Rio is also fully up-to-date on safety features, with six airbags, ABS, stability control, and serious structural engineering. And, we have to say, we are B-segment fans because the hatchback arrangement allows so much stuff to be crammed into the car, making these vehicles reasonable substitutes for small crossovers. And while two-box cars like the Scion xB and Kia Soul can certainly compete (and win) on this last point, the Rio’s more conservative styling may appeal more to some tastes and career paths. As we said: sensible.
So, you can see that the Rio has a lot to offer. That said, we have to mention that for the traditional Winding Road reader, the Rio wouldn’t be our first choice. For the buyer who puts driving dynamics first, we’d choose the Mazda2 or the Honda Fit without question. That’s because those cars have tighter suspensions, better manual shifters and more communicative steering than the Rio does (the Rio isn't bad in these categories, just more isolated). But we don’t think the Rio is aimed at that buyer. For the many buyers who simply want a great value, measured by features and comfort per dollar, we think Kia has a winner in the Rio 5-Door. Watch your market share around these guys.
2013 Kia Rio 6MT
Tom Martin wrote a pretty glowing piece on the tiny, five-door Kia Rio when it arrived on the market in 2011. He called it an “improved Fiesta,” a “mini-luxury sedan,” an alternative to the Toyota Prius, and finished by saying Kia’s smallest offering is “ridiculously sensible.”
It wasn’t a perfect cheap offering for enthusiasts, though. The prime issue was that you could only row your own gears with the base Rio LX. That changed for the 2013 model year, as a limited number of the top-trim Rio SX’s were offered with a do-it-yourself shifter. And it’s a darn good gearbox, at that.
The six-speed manual isn’t what we’d expect in the cheapest offering from a perennially affordable brand like Kia. It shifts solidly, with just the right amount of travel between gates. We’re glad Kia resisted the urge to fit some boy racer short-throw shifter, and instead opted for a trans that delivers a sporty, engaging experience that isn’t intolerable in day-to-day use.
The gearlever hits its gates with a satisfying clunk, delivering just the right amount of mechanical feel during each shift. The clutch isn’t amazing, but it’s easy enough to learn. The travel is a bit short, making modulation difficult. The catch point is still quite broad, though. Like we said, not amazing, but certainly not bad.
Our main issues with this gearbox would probably be considered nitpicking. The shift knob feels about 20-percent larger than is ideal (even for your author’s large hands), and the pleather shift boot is easily the worst part of what is otherwise a pretty nice cabin.
Overall, the inclusion of a manual gearbox on the Rio SX is a win for enthusiasts who are looking for cheap, well-equipped, economical, and fun-to-drive transportation.
2012 Kia Rio Sedan 6AT
Involvement: 61
Variety: *
Controls: *
Handling: *
Involvement Notes: Slow and noisy engine and lifeless steering hurt the Rio’s involvement. Great small car if you don’t want to have any fun on your commute. The ride is decidedly soft for a small car, and this is reflected in the level of lateral movement during hard cornering. Might not be so bad if there weren’t so many more competent alternatives.
Comfort: 65
Visibility: *
Ride/Handling: **
Acoustics: *
Controls: **
Comfort Notes: Attractive cabin, but too noisy to really feel very comfortable. Seats could be softer and more supportive. Room in back isn’t bad for a vehicle this small though. Ample trunk space is also a bonus. Optional equipment, as has become a Kia trademark, is quite nice, with heated seats