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Kia Rio 2012: New style, stellar gas mileage for handsome subcompact

The 2012 Kia Rio, now in its third generation, is a subcompact available as 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback and featuring either a 5 or 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic matched with a 138-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine.

Available in three levels — the base LX trim, the midlevel EX, and top-line SX, Rios have electric power steering, air conditioning and satellite radio as standard equipment. Surprisingly, the Rio LX and Rio SX are priced lower in 2012 than the previous year's models. The 2011 Rio lineup was not nearly the same quality, largely because of a staid exterior and interior design.

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

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

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 car with a base price of less $18,000 — 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? That's an unqualified yes.

As a compact, the Rio’s smaller gas tank (11.4 gallons) can provide a slight inconvenience. But with its rating of 30 mpg in city driving and 40 mpg on highways, the Kia should travel at least 325 miles on a tank, which is more than many cars in many classes.

Kia Rio 2012: New style, stellar gas mileage for handsome subcompact 1

Likes:

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

Small front corner windows. Adds a wider viewing range.

Rear window defogger and wiper.

Premium Package (Navigation, push-button start, power tilt/side sunroof, leather-trimmed and heated seats) well worth $2,200. Navigation system, specifically, is superior to many systems in cars twice the price.

Dislikes:

Slightly underpowered on steep climbs.

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: 30 (city), 40 mpg (highway)
Government Safety Ratings: Not tested.
Horsepower: 138.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $17,500.00
Manufacturer's Web site: www.kia.com
Price As Drive: $20,545.00
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:

"Rio's main virtue is absence of vice. That's impressive: It's hard for a low-price car to rise above the prickly annoyances cost-cutting usually imposes, such as a suspension that clunks over bumps. Or controls that are crude to operate. Or steering that's either numb or over-boosted." — USA Today.

"The size and price range categories the 2012 Rio plays in are highly competitive, and standing out can be a real challenge. But the Rio 5-door pulls it off with a combination of power, fuel economy, value, and great looks." — Motor Trend.

With its faster rake, steep shoulder lines and frowning front end, the new Rio 5-Door is light ages ahead. It looks pretty good. The added width, along with the car being lower and having shorter overhangs, helps." — Road and Track.

What The Wife Says:

"I like the look inside and out. I did notice a possible blind sport over my right shoulder.  The navigation is extremely easy to use comnpared to other systems.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

"There's lot of competition in the $20,000 price range. Those overlooking the Kia's new style, loaded standard equipment list, best-in-the-industy warranty and quality of workmanship are making a mistake."

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