Kia Rio, 2012: Refining the top-of-the-line, entry level car

James Raia

Now in its 12th year and third generation, the 2012 Kia Rio subcompact debuted at the Geneva Auto Show in March and is just now appearing regularly around the country since its dealership unveiling in the fall of 2011.

The South Korean 4-door sedan and 5-door hatchback features either a 5 or 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic matched with a 138-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine.

For 2012, the Kia Rio and Kia Rio SX, both priced lower than 2011 models, are available in three levels — the base LX trim, the midlevel EX, and top-of-the-line SX. All have electric power steering, air conditioning and satellite radio as standard equipment.

Likewise, standard safety features include four-wheel ABS brakes, Hill Start Assist Control, and Electronic Stability and Vehicle Stability Control systems.

Kia Rio, 2012: Refining the top-of-the-line, entry level car 1

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

Since The Weekly Driver began in 2003, a few dozen vehicles have been tested during a round-trip route from Sacramento to the Monterey Peninsula. Discounting small excursions from Monterey to Carmel or Pacific Grove, the round trip is 400 miles.

It's a solid amount of miles to test a car and the trip also includes several driving scenarios. There are stretches of fast-paced Interstate driving when the flow of traffic often exceeds the speed limit. Likewise, two-lane highways, frontage roads and a hilly, oddly cambered stretch that climbs to the San Luis Reservoir then descents and winds its way to Gilroy are all part of the trek.

This time, I drove the Kia Rio SX, which like its siblings has a 1.6-liter engine and 138 horsepower. There's an impressive list of features for an entry level, $18,000 car — 17-inch alloy wheels, twin chrome exhausts, a sport-tuned suspension and LED accents for the head and taillamps, among other equipment.

With the exception of occasionally sluggish efforts on short, steep climbs, the 2012 Kia Rio excelled. Will it win a drag race? No. Does it perform well compared with vehicles in its class? Yes.

As a compact, the Rio’s smaller gas tank provided a slight inconvenience. I filled the tank after four days with the car. It has an 11.4 gallon gas tank, which I refilled just when the gas light first went on. I purchased 9.5 gallons after driving the car 268.8 miles. At $3.83 per galloon, the fill-up cost was $36.50.

There were just under two gallons left in the tanking, making my predominantly freeway-driving mpg average 28.29. That's just slightly above the car's listed EPA mpg average in city driving.


Attractive sport wheels. Adds classy touch to entry-level car.

Small front corner windows. Adds a wider viewing range.

Electric side mirrors retract with a button on the dirver's interior door panel. It's an unexpected standard feature on an entry-level car.

Rear window defogger and wiper.


Rear spoiler. What's the point?

Facts & Figures: 2012 Kia Rio SX

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 11.5 seconds.
Airbags (6): Front and rear head and dual front side-mounted airbags
Antilock brakes: Standard.
First aid kit: Not available.
Fuel economy: 27 (city), 36 mpg (highway)
Government Safety Ratings: Not tested.
Horsepower: 138.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $17,700.00
Manufacturer's Web site: www.kia.com
Price As tested: $17,700.00
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 10 years/100,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/100,000 miles; Roadside Assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles.

What Others Say:

"Without question, there's a level of refinement in the new Rio that you wouldn't have expected." —- AutoWeek.

"Good power for the class, a comfortable ride, fine practicality, and handsome looks inside and out are some of the qualities of this well-rounded package. Competitive EPA fuel economy estimates are a strong point as well. Small-car shoppers should be sure to add the 2012 Kia Rio to their list." —- Consumer Guide.

"The new 2012 Rio is an impressive econobox, one that shines is against its competitors. Kia, once again, gives more." —- Road and Track.

What The Wife Says:

"Some people have called it the car of the year. It does have a lot going for it for the price, like the inside controls of the side mirrors. And I like the small front side windows. It makes the car look bigger."

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

"Like the Honda Fit did a few years ago, the 2012 Kia Rio redefines the top level of entry level cars. Several prominent automotive sites have mentioned it as a contender for car-of-the-year honors. It's hard to disagree."

All images © James Raia-12/1/2011


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Article Last Updated: September 8, 2021.

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