By KBB.com Editors
Consumers on budgets have learned that finding a new sedan for under $12,000 is not easy. And finding one with standard front and rear side-curtain airbags and a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty leaves only one option: The 2008 Kia Rio. The Rio's bargain-basement price doesn't come at the expense of styling or fuel economy. The handsome little four-door is quite the looker, and those willing to spend a bit more cash can equip this little entry-level econobox with such upscale features as power windows, AM/FM/CD stereo and heated outside mirrors. The Rio has also made great strides in refinement over previous models, with more precision in the gearshift, less vibration from under the hood and a higher quality feel both inside and out.You'll Like This Car If...
If you're seeking a fuel-efficient small car that is affordable, stylish, roomy and well equipped, the 2008 Kia Rio makes a great choice. Those worried about long-term reliability can take comfort in the Rio's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.You May Not Like This Car If...
If finding a car with the highest fuel efficiency, best resale value and strongest customer satisfaction survey responses are more important than a low sticker price, purchasing a Nissan, Scion or Honda may be a better choice.What's New for 2008
A five-door LX model is added to the Rio line (covered in a separate review), while all LX models receive a new auxiliary audio input jack.Driving It Driving Impressions
Ride comfort and easy maneuverability head the list of Rio merits. Even when the pavement gets troublesome, the Rio's suspension absorbs considerable roughness. Steering is light, but the Rio is delightfully nimble in urban environments, tracks adeptly on straightaways and is easy to guide into turns. Through curves the body doesn't lean as much as might be expected. Performance is improved but is no more than adequate with the mannerly automatic transmission. Although the engine gets seriously buzzy when accelerating, it quiets nicely at speed. A low cowl and sizable rear glass help create nearly unobstructed visibility.Favorite Features
Six Standard Airbags
If Kia can put side-impact airbags and curtain-type airbags into every Rio, one wonders why other automakers have made these important safety features optional -- if available at all.
Unlike some small cars with automatics, the Rio goes through the gears promptly and easily, with no awkwardness or lurching. Shifts are barely noticed, in fact, though the manual transmission can deliver slightly more spirited acceleration.
Although five passengers can squeeze into the Rio, longer-legged folks might not be comfortable in the backseat. Rear head- and foot-room are adequate, but the rear seat is hard and reclines excessively, and the center occupant straddles a tunnel. Front occupants get ample space on supportive and well-cushioned seats. The Rio's trunk has grown to 11.9 cubic feet and, with the LX trim, can be expanded thanks to the 60/40 split-folding rear seat. The Rio5 is a bit more useful, thanks to its large hatch opening and folding rear seats. Helpful extras include a dashboard slot that can hold a parking ticket, plus a hook that can carry a purse.Exterior
Although designed in South Korea, the Rio's European-influenced appearance imparts a sporty and youthful character into an entry-level automobile. It's bigger than one might think, given its sub-compact status, and it has a better-tuned suspension and a wider track than the last model. As a result, the Rio delivers a smooth ride with somewhat sporty handling. The Rio rides on 14-inch steel wheels and the upper-level LX is equipped with full-wheel covers and wider tires, while the SX can be equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels.Notable Standard Equipment
The 2008 Kia Rio features a 1.6-liter engine, five-speed manual transmission, body-colored bumpers, auto-off headlamps, rear defroster, variable wipers, height-adjustable driver's seat, tachometer, dual sun visors with vanity mirrors, dual cup holders and front, front side-impact and full-length side-curtain airbags. The LX trim adds air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with CD, auxiliary audio input jack, power steering, full wheel covers, tilt steering wheel, 60/40 split-folding rear seat and rear-seat adjustable headrests. SX models include 15-inch alloy wheels, sport seats with red trim, fog lights and a rear spoiler.Notable Optional Equipment
Options for the Rio include a four-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS), dual heated power mirrors, power windows, power locks with remote keyless entry, front tweeter upgrade and a rear spoiler.Under the Hood
Kia has raised the power of its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which drives either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Although Kia has made major improvements in noise, vibration and harshness, the Rio's engine is still buzzy at high speed and lacks the smoothness and refinement of its Japanese competitors. Fuel economy is excellent, and it's EPA-rated at 35 miles per gallon on the highway when equipped with the four-speed automatic.
1.6-liter in-line 4
110 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
107 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/32 (manual), 25/35 (automatic)
The 2008 Kia Rio sedan's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starts around $11,500, while the LX stickers for a little over $13,000. An automatic transmission adds another $850. A look at the Fair Purchase Price shows the Rio is actually selling for about $400 over dealer invoice. Be sure to check the Fair Purchase Price before you buy to see what other people in your area are currently paying for their Rios. The Rio's resale values are on par with those held by the Hyundai Accent and Suzuki Reno, but far below those expected for the Scion xD and Nissan Versa.