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2006 Kia Rio Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Another Good Little Car
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Kia

I thought we could take our review of last week’s test car, the Hyundai Accent, change the name to Kia Rio and print it. But there were a few differences that need noting. The basics are the same though, a sub-compact, front-engine, front-wheel-drive, steel uni-body, 4-door sedan. Kia is now part of Hyundai so most of the elements are identical. They feel nearly the same but a few niggles distinguish one from the other.

The Kia and Hyundai siblings - third generation of the sub-compact platform that has gotten dramatically better with each iteration - look fresh, modern and not cheap at all. Styling is plain, conventional and inoffensive, but what would we expect for an entry-level sedan aspiring to be a good mass-market car.

Check under the hood and you’ll find a nicely finished, state-of-the-art 1.6-liter DOHC, 16-valve, CVVT (variable valve timing), 4-cylinder engine with 110-hp, mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. That little transverse front engine is pretty buzzy at higher rpms. Punch it to pass slower traffic (if you can find any) on the two-lanes and you’ll feel like you’re abusing the poor thing, but it gets around expeditiously. Remember, this car’s whole reason d’etre is to be economical. It weighs just 2400-pounds. The EPA estimates the mileage to be 29-city/38-highway with the automatic transmission. “With an 11.9-gallon capacity you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven filling this little tank,” I said about last week’s Accent, and that applies here, too.

Suspension is MacPherson struts with a stabilizer bar in front and torsion beam axle with coil springs in the rear. Power-assisted disc brakes in front and drums in rear are standard with four-wheel antilock discs front and rear optional on the LX. Standard are 14-inch wheels and tires. Our LX test car is fitted with 185/65R14 Hankook Optimo tires. (Ever heard of those? I haven’t.) Pushing it through our tight cloverleaf getting onto I-96 the Kia exhibited plenty of lean, but no squeal. Handling, in my humble opinion, is good for an entry-level little car. My father-in-law, a Buick lover, thought the ride was altogether too stiff and bouncy.

The base model Rio is priced at $11,310 (including the $540 destination charge). Our LX test car is $13,185 (including the same destination charge). The later includes engine-speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering, the slightly larger 14-inch tires, tawdry plastic wheel covers over the stamped steel wheels instead of the little cap covers, roof-mounted mini-pole antenna, AC, AM/FM/CD with 4 speakers, tilt steering column, 60/40-split folding rear seats, rear seat adjustable headrests. Optional on the LS and not available on the base model at all are the automatic transmission, four-wheel disc antilock brakes, power/heated outside mirrors, rear spoiler, tweeter speakers, power windows, and power locks with keyless remote.

The environment inside is comfortable and pleasant. Driving position is good but that little driver’s right-side arm rest is entirely superfluous. Only a very small, short person would be able to lean on it comfortably. I had rear seat passengers often again this week –both old folks. The rear seat belt caused both much grief. Is it really necessary for the receptacle for the center belt to be different from the other two? What difference does it really make if we’re clipped into the wrong receptacle two inches away? And the neck of the back seat receptacles could be stiffer making it easier to shove the clip in.

This Kia, like last week’s Hyundai, is really cute – short, stubby and rounded, with wheels nicely positioned out to the corners of the body. The idea is to maximize interior room while maximizing handling. Too short a wheel base on such a little car would make it lurchy. Pop the lid on the 11.9-cu.ft. trunk (a tad smaller than the Hyundai) and you’ll be surprised at the volume inside this small package. The trunk swallowed all that I asked and looks as if it could accommodate plenty of cargo.

Our test car is a sparkling silver metallic with gray cloth interior. The paint job is quite good with just a hint of orange peel – no more, in fact, than we have found on cars costing three times as much. Quality of materials and workmanship both inside and out is good. The two-tone interior is both pleasant to look at and comfortable to spend time in, and the controls are convenient and intuitive.

One of the ways the Korean manufacturers chose to establish themselves as legitimate, quality purveyors of automobiles was to warranty them longer than anyone else. After all, how can a manufacturer back the car to this extent if it’s really shoddy? A great decision I’d say. The new vehicle warranty covers the whole car for 5-years/ 60,000-miles and the powertrain for 10-years/100,000-miles. Rust-through is covered for 7-years/unlimited-miles. In fact, if you compare specifications with Rio’s closest competitors, Chevy Aveo, Toyota Yaris and Scion Xa, and you’ll find the only substantial difference is this powertrain warranty.

JD Power rated Rio in a tie for best initial quality for a sub-compact car. Here’s what I had to say about Rio’s sibling the Hyundai Accent last week: “There was a time not many years ago that this class of car would be notoriously timid in traffic, uncomfortable to drive and not very durable. Not any more. The economy-minded consumer could buy this car as a daily commuter car, even for a substantial commute, and be perfectly content. That is to say, after a week living with the Accent I think it’s a great little car.” That applies to Rio as well.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved