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2012 Kia Rio Review by Larry Nutson +VIDEO

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SEE ALSO: Kia Buyers Guide

TWEET: 2012 Kia Rio Review By Larry Nutson - The 2012 Rio Is A Surprise and Delight

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

It was pure coincidence that I was driving a 2012 Kia Rio during media preview week for the 2012 Chicago Auto Show. I say coincidence because the all-new Rio was making its first appearance at this show.

Kia unveiled the all-new 2012 Rio sub-compact sedan at the New York International Auto Show in April 2011. And a month earlier, in March, the Rio hatchback sibling had been unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show.

Watch TACH's exclusive Kia Rio promo video

It was fitting with both making their Chicago debut that MotorWeek, one of television's longest-running and most respected automotive programs, announced its 2012 Drivers' Choice Awards at the Chicago Auto Show with the all-new 2012 Rio subcompact topping the Subcompact Car category.

Also noteworthy is Rio’s state-of-the-art 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder Gamma powerplant honor as one of Ward's "10 Best Engines."

It looks like a lot of folks have been surprised and delighted. Thus, it’s easy to understand why in 2011 Kia Motors recorded its 17th consecutive year of market share growth, in part to the largest increase of any major brand in perceived quality and the industry's highest brand loyalty ranking.

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Kia's design studios in Irvine, California conceived the all-new European-inspired Rio sub-compact sedan and hatchback. The Rio exhibits Kia’s highly sculpted sloping shoulder lines and wedge-shaped exteriors. The profile is athletic and somewhat aggressive. I liked the Rio’s overall exterior appearance and believe it will attract both genders.

To this point, the Rio 5-door has been honored as "Best Hatchback" by as part of the websites first annual "Vroomies Best Cars of the Year" awards. was launched in 2011 and is dedicated to helping women make intelligent car-buying decisions.

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So why was I surprised and delighted? From the outside not only did I like the design of surely what is the best looking Rio ever, but the short overall length of the SX 5-door hatchback at a tad over 159 inches is very big-city friendly. On the inside two features stopped me in my tracks immediately. One is the power-fold feature to the outside mirrors and the second being the rear-view camera and in-dash display. Both are standard equipped on the SX with a comfortable $17,700 MSRP. And to think that I recently drove a $70,000+ luxury sedan that didn’t have power-fold mirrors!

Some of you may ask why do I like these features, Well, living in Chicago requires very frequent parallel parking in a tight space that is also very often located on a narrow side street. Not “parking-by-feel” to save the finish on the rear fascia and folding in the traffic-lane outside mirror lest a passing trash or UPS truck take it with them is required.

The Rio is available in three trims – LX, EX and SX – and powered by a 138 horsepower 1.6-liter Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) four-cylinder with the choice of either a six-speed manual transmission on the LX or six-speed automatic on the EX and SX. That’s best in class power while delivering a class-leading EPA fuel economy rating of 30 city mpg and 40 highway mpg from both transmissions.

Coming in 2013, Rio will offer ISG technology which helps to reduce fuel consumption and improve fuel economy by turning the engine off when the vehicle is not in motion – such as at a stop light or in traffic – and automatically restarting when the driver releases the brake pedal.

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The LX ($13,400 for the sedan and $13,600 for the 5-door) trim includes body-color door handles and side mirrors, rear wiper and washer, multi-reflector headlamps and 15-inch steel wheels with 185/65R15 tires, while the Rio 5-door also comes with a standard rear spoiler to improve aerodynamics. The EX trim brings additional standard conveniences, including power door locks with keyless entry and a chrome front grille surround. The SX trim offers standard 17-inch wheels with 205/45R17 tires, fog lamps, LED accent lights and rear combination lamps, dual chrome exhaust tips, power-folding outside heated mirrors with turn signal indicators and, unique for the Rio 5-door, projector headlamps.

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On the inside, standard on the LX trim is a driver's seat height adjuster and six-way adjustable driver's seat, tilt steering column, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, trip computer, electric power steering, 60/40 split folding rear seats and a cargo cover for the hatchback. The EX trim includes standard power windows with automatic up/down on the driver's window, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth wireless connectivity with steering wheel-mounted voice activation controls to enable hands-free operation for compatible mobile phones and a sleek metallic finish throughout with leatherette door trim. The SX trim offers standard metal pedals, metal-finish trim, a Supervision meter cluster, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual map lights, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, UVO powered by Microsoft4 voice-activated infotainment system with rear camera display.

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The new Rio’s longer wheelbase (101.2 inches) greatly enhances passenger room and comfort, offering more front and rear headroom and legroom. Cargo space for quick weekend getaways or trips to the grocery store is very adequate at 13.7 cubic feet for the sedan and 15.0 cubic feet in the hatchback. By the way, the fuel tank holds 11.4 gallons which makes for better than 450 miles of highway cruising.

Safety doesn’t get any short thrift with six airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability control, hill-start assist and tire-pressure monitoring.

The 2012 Rio is covered by Kia's warranty which offers 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty and a five-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty. A five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan also is part of the vehicle coverage.

Go shop a Kia Rio. You’ll be surprised.

Larry Nutson