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2012 Kia Rio5 SX Ride and Review By Dan Poler

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2013 Kia Rio 5-Door

MORE INFO: Kia Buyers Guide

By Dan Poler
Colorado Bureau
The Auto Channel

Introduction: 2012 Kia Rio5 SX

I know what you’re thinking. Probably the same thing we were when the little car was dropped off. Oh great, a Kia Rio. It’s probably going to be another econobox. Basic. Uninspired. Forgettable. Right?


From the first moments of driving the Kia Rio5 SX, there was an inescapable question we had to ask ourselves: When did the Kia Rio become FUN?

Completely redesigned for 2012, the Rio5 hatchback has more power, better economy, and more interior space. The SX trim includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a rearview camera, power-folding mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and Kia's "Uvo" voice-activated interface for electronics features.

Exterior Appearance

The 2012 redesign did wonders for the Rio5. The car has a cute, friendly appearance to it, the tiger nose making it immediately recognizable as a Kia. LED’s for daytime running lights, mirror-mounted turn signals, and stoplights are a nice touch of distinctiveness for this segment.

Interior Comfort and Styling

When you first sit in the driver’s seat, you’ll find it to be comfortable and supportive, although interior seating fabrics do look a little on the cheap side. The rest of the interior materials are nice, however, with a padded, leather-look material used throughout.

It’s hard to have a lot of storage space in a car this size, and the Rio5 is no exception. What storage there is, however, is well laid out. The trunk is an interesting arrangement – somewhat more deep than long – but it works well, and the rear seats fold down should additional space be required.

The dash uses Kia’s mix of black, white, and red, and is easy to read and understand. The information display nested in the speedo presents a lot of information in a clear and concise manner.

The Uvo entertainment system isn’t just good, it’s great. As manufacturers transition to touchscreen-driven systems to combine more and more features into less space, they can become challenging to operate, especially so when driving. The Uvo system manages to avoid this with big physical buttons and a well-laid out touchscreen that doesn’t become overly cluttered with information. In particular, the backup camera and cell phone controls provided by the Uvo system are top notch.


Here in Colorado, we’re in Pickup Truck Country. It can be hard to feel comfortable in a low-slung subcompact vehicle surrounded by trucks. Even so, the Rio5 feels solidly built and robust in such an environment. The car has been crash tested with acceptable results. All of the standard safety features are present, including traction control, ABS, and front and rear head airbags. Buyers in it for the long haul will appreciate Kia’s excellent warranty coverage (5/60 basic; 10/100 powertrain; 5/60 roadside; 5/100 rust).

One challenge in the Rio5 is the expansive rear blind spot. Looking right over your shoulder reveals … Not much at all. This can be a challenge in passing and in parallel parking.

Ride and Handling

The SX trim brings the Rio5 a “sport tuned” suspension – code for “harsher”. The stiffer shocks certainly transmit more of the feeling of the road, and you’ll notice seams in concrete, but not to the point of annoyance. The ride is generally comfortable.

The electric power steering is somewhat dull, without much feedback in the wheel. It’s a disconcerting feeling to have the power steering still active after you remove the key, as well!


Ah, the good stuff. As mentioned in the introduction, the Rio5 SX is fun to drive. More fun than a sub-$20,000 car rightly should be. It’s not any one thing; it just feels … Good! The GDI setup atop the 1.6L engine is good for 138 HP at 6300 RPM, and you’ll probably not be winning any drag races, but who cares? The engine is responsive and quick to accelerate, the 6-speed automatic transmission doesn’t need to hunt to find a solid spot, and the brakes are nicely responsive. At just a touch under 2,500 lbs, there’s not a lot of weight to haul around, and the (positively enormous for this size car) 205/45R17 V-rated tires make solid contact with the road. We found ourselves wishing for a manual variant for the transmission to add to the feeling, but sadly, one is not available in any but the base Kia trim, an oversight which we hope Kia will rectify.

The Rio5 carries an EPA highway fuel economy rating of 40 mpg, and in reality we were not able to get anywhere near that. It could be because we were just having too much fun, but we averaged 32 mpg combined in our time with the car. The car does feature an “Active Eco” mode which can be enabled to dull performance for the sake of economy; we did not find it to make a significant difference in fuel economy.

Performance on the highway is good. The Rio5 handles well and doesn’t hunt to find a gear. Power is there when you need it for some left-lane action.


Although the SX package adds quite a bit of cost to a base Kia Rio5, it’s also what makes it such a pleasure to drive, and adds features hard to find on cars costing thousands of dollars more, while still well under the $20,000 mark. Touches like power folding mirrors and the excellent backup camera system make this a great choice for city dwellers.

During a test drive, a colleague remarked, “this Kia will put the Japanese manufacturers on notice” – perhaps so, and maybe even beyond. The Germans should be on notice, too. Given the career history of Kia’s chief designer, Peter Schreyer, it’s not surprising to see the VW GTI as inspiration. All considered, the sporty little hatchback provides tons of features, good performance, and good economy, all at a great price.


Kia Rio5 SX
Base Price: $13,600.00
Price as Tested: $18,545.00
Engine Type: Gas Direct Injection 4-Cyl
Engine Size: 1.6L
Horsepower: 138
Torque (lb-ft): 123
Transmission: 6-Speed Shiftable Automatic with Active Eco System
Wheelbase / Length (in): 101.2 / 159.3
Curb Weight: 2483
Pounds per HP: 18
Fuel Capacity (gal): 11.4
Fuel Requirement: Regular unleaded
Tires: Hankook Optimo H426 - 205/45R17
Brakes, front/rear: Ventilated disc / solid
Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / Torsion beam
Ground clearance (in): 5.5
Drivetrain: Front wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - MPGCity / Highway / Observed: 30 / 40 / 32
Towing capacity (lb): N/A
Base Trim Price: $17,700.00

Options and Charges
Carpeted floor mats: $95.00
Delivery: $750.00
Price as tested: $18,545.00