Kia Rio hatch delivers sporty feel

2012-Kia-5-door-Hatch review, auto reviews, savageonwheels
Photos courtesy Kia

Last week I drove the Hyundai Accent and this week I drive its near twin, the 2012 Kia Rio SX, both fine small entry-level cars. But there are differences among the similarities.

First, the test Rio was a 5-door or hatchback version, while last week’s Accent was a four-door sedan.

Second, Rio has a much sportier feel created by a stiffer suspension and more supportive contoured seats inside.

Third, the Rio’s interior is more youthful and delivers an understated performance look. Combined, these differences made Rio both more costly and give it a stiffer, more performance oriented feel.

Like the Accent, which was a pleasant driving small car, the Rio comes with a 1.6-liter direct-injected 4-cylinder engine that creates a class-leading 138 horsepower. This version, like the tested Accent also included a 6-speed automatic with manual shift feature and Active Eco system that helps that transmission shift sooner, at lower revs, to save fuel.

The engine is plenty strong for the 2,483-lb. car, which is 20 lbs. heavier than its Hyundai cousin. Acceleration is decent and the transmission shifts easily and fairly seamlessly, but torque tapers off after 40 mph, unless you crunch the pedal. That creates some engine noise, but not so much as to disturb passengers. Sound deadening seems a little less aggressive here though than in the Accent.

2012 Kia Rio, car reviews, savageonwheelsHandling mimics the Accent too, the car turning into corners well with little lean, but not as precise as sportier compacts. Still the car is light and easy to drive.

What a driver notices quickly is Rio’s much stiffer ride, due to its sport-tuned suspension that uses gas-charged mono-tube shocks. Otherwise the suspension layout is the same as in the Accent, independent up front and semi-independent in back. The Rio SX also has 17-inch tires as opposed to the 18-inchers the test Accent used.

Braking is the same on each with four-wheel discs, something lesser small cars still don’t have, instead opting from drums on the rear wheels. Stability and traction control are standard.

Like the Accent the Rio delivers good gas mileage. I averaged 31.3 mpg, exactly what I managed in the Accent, both in about 60% highway driving. The Rio is rated 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway by the EPA, again identical to the Accent.

Pricing is a little higher on the flashier looking Rio than on the Accent. The tested SX hatch starts at $17,700 while an EX model starts at $16,500. However there is an LX entry model that begins at $13,600, while the Accent’s hatch begins at $14,695 with the higher-end SE listing at $15,895. The four-door Accent is priced at $12,545, while the Rio sedan starts at $13,400.

2012 Kia Rio, car reviews, savageonwheelsWhat you get inside the Rio is a more serious looking black interior with dark gray cloth seats that feature a sculptured pattern of dashes. The steering wheel and shift lever are leather wrapped and there is pewter look trim around the floor shifter, door releases and trim encircling the climate controls.

The SX includes a tilt/telescope steering wheel with radio, cruise and trip computer and phone controls on the hub.

Gauges in the black soft-touch textured dash have white numbers but there’s a raised red digital gauge centered in the speedometer. This gauge includes the odometer, trip computer and outside temperature gauge. Overall the look is sportier than the handsome Accent’s dash.

2012 Kia Rio review, car reviews, savageonwheelsMid-dash is a screen with a large digital clock and the radio readouts. It’s easy to read, but you can only view three preset channels at once and when you press the touch-screen to activate one channel, all the others disappear from view. Not a great system. There also are two small volume and tuning knobs, but all other buttons around the screen are large.

Below the radio screen are three large climate control knobs, plus some toggle switches for the rear window defogger and air recirculation. While everything looks good and feels good inside, the test car had an annoying rattle in the front portion of the roof. It was not the visors, which slide, unlike those in the Accent, and have lighted mirrors. The rearview mirror also wasn’t the rattle’s source. This sounded more like it was in the liner above the mirror. Odd!

2012 Kia Rio review, automotive reviews, savageonwheelsFront seat leg and headroom are good, but legroom is tighter in the rear seat, again compared to its cousin, the Accent sedan. Yet there’s also more cargo room under the hatch, 15 cubic feet, vs. 14 in the Accent sedan. Hatch models are roughly the same.

Seats are sportier and much better shaped and supportive in the Kia, but are equally firm to sit in as in the Hyundai. They are comfortable, but not as easy to slip in and out of than the Accent’s seats.

Outside, beyond the “electric blue” test car’s well sculpted hatchback lines, the test car included superb modern looking Hot Wheels-style wheels. This fully delivered the youthful look that many hatchbacks’ outward styling promise. Racy no, but fun and functional, yes.

Either the Rio or the Accent are fine driving compact cars with good cargo room, above average gas mileage and stylish interiors. Both should be on your short list when looking for an entry-level hatchback or sedan.

For me, I’d go with the Accent for the better ride, but opt for the hatch version of the Hyundai. More youthful drivers will likely be happier with the Rio. – Reviewed by Mark Savage

FAST stats:

2012 Kia Rio SX 5-door

Made in: South Korea

Engine: 1.6-liter GDI 4-cyl., 138 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/Active Eco

Weight: 2,483 lbs.

Wheelbase: 101.2 in.

Cargo: 15.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 30/40

Base Price: $17,700

Dealer’s Price: $17,268

Major Options:

Carpeted floor mats, $95

Delivery: $750

Test vehicle: $18,545

Sources: Kia,

Hits: Moderate cost hatchback, good looking with Hot Wheels-type wheels. Rio has decent handling & acceleration with a comfy sporty looking interior, good dash layout and tilt/telescope steering wheel with controls on hub and supportive seats. Good gas mileage.

Misses: Rattle in front roof area on big bumps. Small radio knobs.

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