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2008 Kia Rio5 SX Review

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    2008 Kia Rio5 SX

    In an automotive context, don't practicality and economy exclude a pleasant driving experience? After all, the best fuel economy means the smallest, lightest car, unless you want to pay a premium for a hybrid. And not only are small cars small, and cramped, they're slow, noisy, and uncomfortable. Right?

    Wrong! It's not the early 1980s any more. While small cars with small engines are still the best way to get the furthest on the least amount of ever more expensive gasoline - basic physics won't be repealed any time soon - such cars today do not necessarily merit the pejorative term "econobox". Comfort and refinement standards have increased considerably since much attention was paid to the class by mainstream American buyers during the gasoline crises of the 1970s and `80s. If small cars have been largely ignored here, they have continued to be popular in Europe and Asia, where fuel prices have always been considerably higher and space is at a premium.

    And, interestingly from an American viewpoint, in small car lines today, hatchback models are considered sportier. Such is the case with Kia's subcompact Rio line, which includes both sedan and hatchback variants. The second-generation Rio debuted for model year 2006, in both sedan and Rio5 hatchback form. The sedan section covers basic, inexpensive transportation with the $11,515 base model. The LX adds popular amenities including air conditioning and a good audio system, with the SX getting sportier interior and exterior trim to top out at just over $15,000 with a four-speed automatic transmission, or a little over $14,000 with a five-speed stick. The Rio5 version debuted as the premium model in the line, available only in SX trim. For 2008, an LX model has been added. It drops the fancier interior trim, exterior foglamps and spoiler, and replaces the SX-spec 15-inch alloy wheels with 14-inch steel rims at a savings of almost $1,000 - $13,500 or so with the stick, $14.4 with the automatic.

    Competitive prices, but not the bargain basement. Kia, if you haven't looked recently, is no longer merely an entry-level basement dweller. It's a full-line manufacturer, with offerings from the Rio through some very well-equipped, and well-made midsized sedans and SUVs that are now pushing the $30,000 barrier and feature design and build quality as good as any competitor at that level. The Rio, at half that price, is made just as well. No skimping, and no sloppy work hidden away anywhere.

    All Rios share a platform that is conventional for the subcompact class, with a transversely-mounted engine driving the front wheels, independent strut suspension, and a torsion beam axle in the rear. Power is from a 1.6-liter, 110-horsepower four-cylinder engine, which is plenty for its sub-2500 pound curb weight and provides performance and fuel economy competitive with anything in the subcompact class. Where the Rio distinguishes itself is where all Kias shine - with careful suspension tuning, for ride comfort and handling levels not normally associated with its lowly position in the automotive food chain.

    I've just finished a very enjoyable week with a Rio5 SX. It had some key options that really did enhance convenience, safety, and the driving experience, and added merely a $1200 premium. For the "bang for the buck" factor, the Rio5 is hard to beat. And the hatchback body style allows easy hauling of cargo or sports equipment with no penalty for people space.

    APPEARANCE: With either Rio body style, there is no reason to give up style. They are pleasant, contemporary designs with a strong European influence, and are more conservative than some of the Japanese competition. As with other cars that come in both sedan and hatchback variations, the Rio5 has the look of "a sedan with a fanny pack". Underneath, they are the same, and share wheelbase, width, and track measurements. From the windshield, maybe even the B-pillar, forward, they are identical. But the Rio5 is nearly ten inches shorter, with the sedan's trunk exchanged for a roof that slopes gently back to a point just over the rear wheel and then drops into the tailgate. All Rios have the same friendly face at the front, with a smiling rounded grille flanked by large, bright headlights. The body features a combination of rounded shapes and sharp, well-defined character lines, with the short, high, space-efficient proportions that are current in the small car classes. The Rio5's taillights have a white strip at their tops, a feature common in current Italian style.

    COMFORT: A low budget does not mean sacrifice of comfort or space, and for a small amount more convenience is also available in the Rio5. In SX trim, it's stylish in the current small sports manner, with grippy, contrast-colored textured cloth on the seats and door inserts, leather (with red stitching) on the steering wheel rim and shift knob, metal-look trim on the center stack, and metal-and-rubber pedal covers. Function still beats fashion, as there is no glare from the top of the dash, and the instruments are likewise protected. Instruments and controls are easy to see and use. Front seat comfort is better than expected for the price and class, and the rear has more room than is found in some expensive compacts. In both trim levels, the rear seatback folds 60/40 for cargo duty, and access through the large hatch is simple. A cover hides anything in the cargo area with the seat up. Power windows, mirrors, and door locks (with remote keyless entry) are included in the reasonably-priced the Power Package. The standard AM/FM/CD audio system now has an auxiliary input jack.

    SAFETY: Small and inexpensive doesn't equate to unsafe. All Rio models offer dual front and seat-mounted front side airbags, full-length side-curtain airbags, three-point harnesses for all seating positions, and a tire pressure monitoring system. An antilock brake package that includes four-wheel disc brakes is available in LX and SX models.

    RIDE AND HANDLING: Small and inexpensive needn't be uncomfortable or boring, either. The Rio has a solid unibody structure, and its MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension is tuned in the European manner, with long travel, relatively soft springs and correctly-matched shocks for good ride compliance and good handling characteristics. With the 16-inch alloy wheels (instead of the fifteens that are standard on the SX) you get V-rated 45-series tires with good grip and quicker turn-in, for a sportier driving experience. Yes, it corners on its door handles, with plenty of roll when pushed, but the Rio5 gets down the road with more verve than is usually found for under $20,000. It's also quieter inside than most low-budget cars, for a more upscale driving experience.

    PERFORMANCE: With 110 horsepower out of 1.6 liters (at 6000 rpm) and 107 lb-ft of torque (at 4500) the Rio5 isn't going to race any supercars. But that's competitive with the other cars in its class, and with less than 2500 pounds to pull around, it's enough for an entertaining and reasonably economical driving experience, especially with the standard five-speed manual transmission. For optimum performance, just keep it over 4000 rpm, and keep working the gearshift - small-displacement driving 101, really. It's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow, as the old saying goes. And the Rio5 has no problem keeping up with traffic, and responds well to being driven enthusiastically. EPA mileage is 27/32, and I got 28 in a mix of city and highway driving. 30 should be easy with a little less weight on the right foot.

    CONCLUSIONS: The Kia Rio5 combines style, a versatile and comfortable interior, and an entertaining and economical driving experience.


    2008 Kia Rio5 SX

    Base Price			$ 13,870 (14,495 w/destination)
    Price As Tested			$ 15,695
    Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve inline
    				 4-cylinder with variable intake cam
    Engine Size			1.6 liters / 98 cu. in.
    Horsepower			110 @ 6000 rpm
    Torque (lb-ft)			107 @ 4500 rpm
    Transmission			5-speed manual
    Wheelbase / Length		98.4 in. / 158.1 in.
    Curb Weight			2438 lbs.
    Pounds Per Horsepower		22.2
    Fuel Capacity			11.9 gal.
    Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
    Tires				P205/45 VR16 Kumho KH16
    Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc (opt with ABS)
    Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
    				  semi-independent torsion beam axle
    Drivetrain			transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
    EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
        city / highway / observed		27 / 32 / 28
    0 to 60 mph				est 9  sec
    Power Package - includes:
     power windows with driver's one-touch auto down.
     power door locks with remote, power mirrors,
     tweeter speakers				$600 
    16-inch alloy wheels		 		$200
    Antilock 4-wheel disc brakes			$400
    ( requires 16" wheels & power package)
    Destination charge ($625) included in base price)