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2006 Kia Rio LX Review

2006 Kia Rio(select to view enlarged photo)


SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Kia

2006 Kia Rio LX

Is America ready for small cars? Gas is $3 a gallon and looks only to rise in the future, making the feeding of a 12 mile per gallon SUV for commuting or running most errands a major financial investment. On the other hand, subcompact cars can get great gas mileage, but they are uncomfortable and cheap, in the most pejorative sense of the word. Right?

Right only if your experience of subcompact ``economy cars'' stopped after the oil crises of the 1970s. Small car evolution has continued in Asia and Europe, where fuel prices are far higher than here. A fine example of the latest in small cars is the all-new 2006 Kia Rio.

Although there has been a Kia Rio since 2001, the new one is the same only in name. In the past few years, Kia has been growing its lineup from low-grade entry-level compacts and subcompacts to become a full-line manufacturer, with a minivan, midsize SUV, and even the semi-luxury Amanti sedan. But not only has it has not forgotten its roots, Kia has applied technology and features used in its more expensive models to the new Rio.

Like the larger Spectra, the Rio is offered in both sedan and five-door hatchback Rio5 body styles. The sedan comes in base and LX grades, with the LX adding standard amenities like air conditioning and available options including power windows, mirrors, and door locks and four-wheel antilock disc brakes at a very reasonable cost. There is only one grade of hatchback, SX, which is equivalent to the LX sedan. All models share a common drivetrain, a 1.6-liter, 110-horsepower four-cylinder twincam engine with variable valve timing matched to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

I first drove a new Kia Rio when the car was introduced to the press in Washington state last summer, where I had the opportunity to drive both the sedan and Rio5. While superficially similar, they should appeal to different markets. The Rio5 is sportier, and takes well to a manual transmission and enthusiastic driving. The sedan is perhaps a little more mature, and with the automatic, well-suited to urban and suburban errands as well as the daily commute. It's economical in operation, but don't mistake it for an econobox (a truly disparaging term if there ever was one) of the past. It's a comfortable modern car in every way, and above its modest station.

APPEARANCE: Form follows function in the Rio's chunky proportions, but the car is styled in a pleasing manner, with a look popular in Europe and Asia. Rounded in basic shape, angular highlights on the hood, corners, and edges add visual interest, as do large flares around the wheel arches and large, bright headlights. The wheelbase is long for its size, giving the Rio sedan short overhangs, especially in front. And the passenger cabin is large and high, although not taken to extremes. Dark textured plastic strips on the bumpers and sides contrast with most body colors and protect against minor parking lot damage.

COMFORT: The Rio's long wheelbase and large, high passenger cabin are beneficial to interior space, which is greater than in some popular compacts. It also rivals the class above in the high quality of materials used, textured synthetic cloth for upholstery and door trim and a rubber-like material for the rim of the tilt-adjustable steering wheel. The two-tone color scheme looks to be out of a luxury car, not an economy car. The front buckets offer good support and comfort, and the driver's cushion is adjustable for height. Although there is no covered console box, there are a number of other convenient storage spaces, including a large non-locking glove box and two different compartments in the instrument panel to the left of the steering wheel. There are even slots in the visors and instrument panel for bills and parking or toll ticket stubs, definite commuter-friendly features. The rear seat has good space for two on the outside, with adjustable-height headrests. The car is a little narrow for true five-seat duty, but the same could be said of most small sedans. The rear seat back folds 60/40 to help carry items that are too large to fit into the trunk, but that shouldn't often be necessary as the trunk is large for the car's size.

SAFETY: Like all recent Kias, the 2006 Rio has six standard air bags - dual front, front seat-mounted side, and full-length side curtain. The front bags deploy with variable force, depending on whether the seat is occupied, whether the seat belt is buckled, seat position, and the severity of the impact. The Rio's unibody structure includes a safety cage around the passenger compartment, with side reinforcement, and front and rear crumple zones. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are available for a very reasonable price.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Kias have been among the best small cars in the ride and handling departments, and the Rio continues this. There is no secret to this, merely good design and engineering and first-quality construction. Vastly increased chassis rigidity improves both noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) as various parts don't move against each other, and ride and handling as it allows a softer suspension tuning for comfort with no loss of handling ability. Use of NVH-reducing materials and techniques found in more expensive cars also helps keep the Rio's passengers in a quiet and comfortable environment - the door frames are triple sealed and there is even a sound-insulating pad over the engine. The chassis layout is standard for the class, transverse front engine and front wheel drive with independent front suspension by MacPherson struts and a torsion beam rear axle. In common with other recent Kias, the suspension is tuned in a very European manner. It feels soft and comfortable, not at all like a sub-$15,000 (loaded) ``economy car,'' yet high-quality dampers and, on my test car, good H-rated tires allow enthusiastic driving. Go ahead and work the suspension, it likes it!

PERFORMANCE: With 110 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 107 lb-ft of torque (at 4500 rpm) from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, a 2,400-lb Rio is not going to break any dragstrip records, especially with the optional four-speed automatic transmission. But it has no problem keeping up with the flow of traffic and returns over 30 mpg while doing so, even with mostly city driving. It is vastly improved in both acceleration and fuel economy from the first-generation Rio. Continuously-variable valve timing helps to spread the power band and make the engine very automatic-friendly, and the transmission shifts quickly and quietly. With an automatic, it should be a fine commuter; with the manual, it can be a lot of fun for not a lot of money.

CONCLUSIONS: Don't confuse the all-new 2006 Kia Rio with the old car of the same name.

2006 Kia Rio LX

Base Price			$ 13,295
Price As Tested			$ 14,705
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve inline
				  4-cylinder with continuously
				  variable valve timing
Engine Size			1.6 liters / 97.6 cu. in.
Horsepower			110 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			107 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		98.4 in. / 166.9 in.
Curb Weight			2,403 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.8
Fuel Capacity			11.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P185/65 HR14 Hankook Optimo H418
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 4-channel antilock brakes (optional)
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		29 / 38 / 31
0 to 60 mph				est. 10  sec

4-wheel antilock disc brakes			$ 400
Power Package - includes: power windows, 
 door locks, and mirrors, remote keyless
 entry, tweeter speakers			$ 400
Carpeted floor mats				$  70
Destination charge				$ 540