Pros: "Warranty, smooth motor steering, styling, brakes"
Cons: "Interior plastic, auto trans, handling"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I purchased my LX sedan this summer. It's a step up from their base model, but has no power accessories or cruise control.
I have always thought this generation of the Rio was a handsome car with a European flavour to its styling. From its rounded roofline to more angular body, it seems to voice a cheery hello when approached, yet is not so silly-looking as to be dismissed as another "beer can on wheels".
Inside, things are slightly more grim. Attractively styled, the materials are on the cheaper side, even on the door handle, a frequent touch point. Said plastics are also easily scratched. Fit, however, is pretty good, with no excessive or uneven gaps. There are also thus far no squeaks, rattles, or other indications of loosening trim. Gauges are concise, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to read, but Kia omitted even an engine temperature light, so it's more than a bit lacking in this department. One oddity is that the gauge cluster seems to be mounted at an angle vs. the steering wheel and column, so that it looks crooked and poorly assembled, even though from what I can tell this is exactly how it is designed to fit. One bonus is the separete indicator light to check a loose fuel cap - a nice touch compared to illuminating the check engine light for this common occurrence. Moreover, the few controls present in this car are laid out for easy use, and the switchgear works with convincing quality. The standard satellite radio is also a great feature. Seats are average though slightly lacking in support for drives over an hour, but are upholstered in a comely fabric mimicked on the thin-but-concise door panels. Visibility is excellent all around. Roomwise, it is adequate, no more and no less. The trunk is large for its class and is well laid-out to make maximum use of its volume, plus split-folding seats - not always present in this class of car - add yet more versatility.
All that is well and good, but how does it drive? This is another mixed bag. It rides firmly, bordering on downright stiff, and a full load of passengers and luggage does little to alleviate this. Handling should therefore be superb, and while it exhibits a measure of exuberance in normal maneuvers, the tail gets unsettled in bumpy corners or when applying mid-corner braking. Panic stops are dead straight with good ABS feedback and no drama whatsoever. The steering is nicely weighted and has a seductively smooth action to it. It also exhibits high-speed and crosswind stability which belies its low curb weight and tallish profile. Kia's 1.6l twin cam four with variable valve timing is one of the smoother fours I have driven, and is a willing partner with the manual transmission. It also has a pleasingly businesslike sound from inside the cabin not unlike that of some VW's, contrasted with the more whiny tone of many four-cylinder cars. Pair this motor with Kia's 4-speed autmoatic, however, and there's a lot to be desired. It saps the life out of the little engine, and the car becomes downright pokey. It feels as though it crashes into second gear, but other shifts are smooth. The gear ratios are pleasingly tallish and suitable for the car. Also much to my liking, it is relatively easy to keep the torque converter locked up for maximum fuel economy. Speaking of fuel economy, though my motor is not yet fully broken in, it has been disappointing, averaging in the high 20's and stuck in the low 30's in interstate driving even when keeping the speed down to 60mph - for comparison, this is down about 5-10mpg from my former subcompact.
One note: there have been no mechanical problems, but just shy of 7000 miles, one of the taillight assemblies apparently had a compromised seal and allowed condensation to form inside the lens. The service manager at my local dealer is a very pleasant individual and has replaced it under warranty, no questions asked. Kia's warranty is one of the best (read: longest) in the business, and adds significantly to the car's value quotient. Being the last year of the bodystyle, most of the major bugs should have been ironed out by now as well.
Overall, though it has its quirks, one has to remember this is on the bottom rung of the automotive ladder, and viewed as such, it delivers good value and a satisfying day-to-day competence. There may be more enticing vehicles out there, but buyers' remorse will not be a side effect of purchasing this vehicle."
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