For 2006, Kia is launching their redesigned Rio compact, and their timing couldn’t be better. With big spikes at the pump now more than anytime in the last two decades, consumers are seriously considering small-car economy. But with a host of better known fuel-sippers also hitting the market, what has Kia done to set the Rio apart?

For 2006, Kia has charged the completely redesigned Rio subcompacts to go head-to-head with established models like Scion xA, Chevrolet Aveo, and the new Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit. While introduced in 2001 as a cheap, basic, almost disposable car, the new Rio is a more upscale yet still extremely affordable effort that makes no apologies for its past. Available as a 4-door sedan, or a Rio5 5-door hatchback, Rio trims include base sedan, LX sedan and SX hatchback.

Now built on the same front-wheel drive platform as parent Hyundai’s Accent, the new gen-Rio stretches its wheelbase over 3-inches to 98.4. Along with more overall width and height, it now boasts best in class passenger space.

Our test Rio5 SX hatchback, in bodacious Sunset Orange, gets a Euro-inspired sportier appearance that includes a black mesh grille and sweeping headlights, with a slightly wedgy profile, lots of glass, sculpted fender arches, and rear spoiler. Unlike the sedan’s standard 14-inch steel wheels, our spiffier hatch comes with 15-inch alloys.

Benefiting from its stretched exterior, our Rio5’s cabin is impressively roomy and well done. The artful gauges have big red pointers, and oversized stereo controls look sourced from Toyota. Add in aluminum-look trim, leather wrapped steering wheel, and metal-trimmed pedals, and it’s a nice place to sit. The front cloth bucket seats have enough comfort and support for moderate trips. Height adjust and fold-down armrest also aid driver comfort.

The base sedan is fairly stripped, with the LX and SX adding CD-stereo, air conditioning, and power steering. We appreciate the storage slot and bag hook. But the standard crank windows and manual locks and mirrors speak volumes about the Rio’s value leader mission.

A 60/40-split folding rear seat is standard in LX and SX. Tall folks will find headroom is fairly tight, while leg room is decent with deep wells behind the front seat backs. Flip the rear seat on the Rio5 and cargo expands from a big 15.8 cubic feet to a huge 49.6 cubic feet. The Rio sedan has 11.9 cubic feet of trunk space.

Kia also serves up a bountiful safety package for all Rios. Front side impact and front and rear side curtain airbags are standard. The Rio is the least expensive car that can make that claim. The Rio gets its juice from a slightly stronger 1.6-liter twin-cam Inline-4, now with variable valve timing. It cranks out 110 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque.

Still, our Rio5 with its standard 5-speed manual took an econo-car-like 9.4 seconds from 0 to 60. The quarter mile was met in 17.2 seconds at 82 miles-per-hour. The 4-speed automatic is even a bit slower. Manual shifts were long and rubbery but we never missed a gear. The clutch was super soft, yet gearing is well spaced, without dropping too much power between shifts.

Disk/drum brakes are standard, but we recommend the optional all-disc ABS system which produced good stops from 60 of 128 feet. Pedal feel was somewhat spongy, but overall performance was class adequate. Suspension hardware is basic struts up front and a solid torsion beam in the rear. In corners, the front-drive Rio responds well despite lots of safe understeer.

Almost fun to drive, the Rio really loosens up in aggressive lane changes. And Rio’s not-so-class-soft suspension helped to keep body roll reasonable. The optional power steering is quick, light, if somewhat vague. On the open road, the Rio also behaves very well for its class. Ride quality is smooth and stable from town to highway, and despite some engine buzz, it’s relatively quiet.

EPA estimated fuel economy ratings for our Rio5 manual roll in at 32 city/35 highway. Our 5’s test loop gave up a reasonable 30 mpg in mixed driving.

So have you got the itch to downsize? Well, the base Rio sedan starts at $11,110. The LX garners $12,985. While the Rio5 SX hatchback fetches $14,040 to start. And all come with Kia’s generous 5-year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper, and 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranties.

There you have it. Faced with a sea of mechanical and functional rivals, Kia has indeed found ways to steal a piece of the spotlight from its subcompact competitors. With smart looks, a very roomy interior, and can-do attitude, the Rio, in hatchback or sedan, is a grand small car.



  • Engine: 1.6-Liter Twin-cam Inline-4
  • Horsepower: 110
  • Torque: 107 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 9.4 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 17.2 Seconds @ 82 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH: 128 Feet
  • EPA: 32 City/35 Highway MPG
  • Mixed Loop: 30 MPG