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New Car/Review


Kia Rio (2001)

by John Heilig


MODEL:  Kia Rio 
ENGINE: 1.5-liter DOHC inline four 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 96 hp @ 5800 rpm/98 lb-ft @ 4500  rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed manual 
WHEELBASE: 94.9 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 165.9 x 65.9 x 56.7 in. 
STICKER PRICE:  $10,557 

Kia has established its reputation in the United States by offering small, inexpensive (some may call them cheap) sedans and a sport utility. I think the emphasis here is on the inexpensive. Kia automobiles and SUVs are designed to be the low-cost alternative to just about anything else on the road. And while they may not offer the most in amenities, they do offer good basic transportation and value for the dollar.

Take the Kia Rio, for example. Here is a car with a bottom line of $10,557. Who else offers a car with a sticker price this low? Not Ford. Not Chevy. Not even Hyundai any more. So if you're looking for a first car for your kids, or need a commuter and you're not interested in buying something that someone else rejected, this may be something to look at.

This price comes from a base price of $8,668 with the addition of air conditioning ($750), AM/FM stereo cassette player ($320), an upgrade package that includes power steering, tilt steering wheel, full wheel covers, body color bodyside molding, and dual visor vanity mirror ($300), and carpeted floor mats ($69). Freight and delivery adds another $450 to the price. An automatic transmission is priced at $875, but I wouldn't recommend it with the small engine.

The only major problem with the Rio that was delivered to me was its appearance. It was painted what Kia calls "Sunburst Gold," but it was more like puke green. It was a green/yellow that was really pretty disgusting. But, it was also a color that will be seen readily by someone driving a big behemoth down the highway, so the color may be a safety factor.

Rio is powered by a Kia-designed 1.5-liter double overhead cam inline four-cylinder engine that puts out 96 horsepower. Since the Rio only weighs a tad over 2,200 pounds, this is a decent power-to-weight ratio. And the performance showed this to be true. With a five-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, the Rio performed just as well as any subcompact car on the highway, or at leas the ones that I have driven.

I would have preferred a more precise gearbox, though. It was too wishy-washy for my tastes, and I was often wondering which gear I was headed for when I shifted. Fortunately, I didn't make many mistakes -- or at least didn't make any that damaged the car -- but I would have preferred a gearbox that inspired more confidence.

Front passengers sit in individual bucket seats that offered decent side support. This isn't a car that I'd go bashing around corners in, so I wouldn't need the kind of side support that a vehicle like the Subaru Impreza WRX offers, for example. Still, the seats were comfortable, and you had the added confidence of looking at dash-mounted airbags, offering the same level of safety as other subcompacts. Of course, you also have three-point seat belts and door-mounted side beams and all that other good stuff the government makes automakers put in their cars. The seats offer a high ride that is possible with the good height of the vehicle.

Rio uses a standard MacPherson strut-based front suspension with a torsion beam rear suspension and coil springs. This isn't the greatest for a smooth (or sporty) ride, but it is inexpensive and entirely adequate for the type of car the Rio is.

As a subcompact, the Rio also offers a 9.2 cubic foot trunk. This is larger than the Audi TT (roadster or coupe) and several other sporty cars, so it is a number one can live with.

Don't expect wood trim or leather seating with the Kia Rio; you aren't going to find them. This is a vehicle that's designed to be inexpensive and it fills the bill nicely. While it has its flaws, it's still one of the cheapest cars in America -- if not THE cheapest -- and is attractive for that reason alone. Certainly it isn't attractive for the paint job.