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Review of: 2016 Kia Rio 5dr HB Man SX w/UVO


2016 Kia Rio SX: Easy to like, tough to love

By Chris Chase

Jun. 20, 2016

Having spent my formative years riding around in small cars — my parents owned Honda Civics from the day I was born until I was nearly 18 years old — I harbour a fondness for the “econoboxes” that make up the bottom end of the auto marketplace. Small cars are a lot nicer now than they were when I was a kid, but whether they’re also better depends on which characteristics you focus on.

Pros & Cons

  • + Styling
  • + Manual shift responses
  • + surprisingly spacious interior
  • - Suspension noise
  • - Not much low-end torque
  • - No cutting-edge technology
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  • Walkaround

    For 2016, Kia has given its Rio a styling refresh whose most notable addition is a new rear bumper that makes the car look wider, but not necessarily more handsome.

    The Rio’s basic design is one of the first drawn by Peter Schreyer. Kia hired him away from Audi, where his most memorable work was the original TT. Now the head of design for Kia and its parent company Hyundai, Schreyer’s influence can be see all over both Korean brands’ cars. This third generation of Kia’s subcompact Rio has aged well and to my eyes, would still look fresh were it launched today.

    My tester was an SX MT model, making this the most lavishly equipped version you can get with a manual transmission, at $19,695.

  • Interior

    Interior quality is one of the Rio’s strong suits, especially considering its affordable starting price. Materials are of decent quality and everything fits together nicely; the speedometer’s “floating” needle is a design trick borrowed from upscale cars. Other nice touches include the big toggle-type switches that activate things like defrosters and air conditioning; they’re easy to use without taking your eyes off the road.

    Although this is Kia’s smallest model, the back seat offers decent space for adults, and the deep, spacious trunk’s only drawback is a high lift-over.

  • Tech

    Notable tech that comes standard with SX trim includes intelligent keyless entry with push-button start, Kia’s UVO infotainment system, and a backup camera and six-speaker stereo that are also included in the mid-range EX model. Navigation is the only other piece of tech that can be added, but only if you’re also willing to give up my tester’s manual transmission.

  • Driving

    The Rio is a mixed bag when judged from the driver’s seat. On paper, the 1.6-litre engine’s 137 hp looks impressive, but what that doesn’t tell you is that little of the 123 lb-ft of torque is available until the engine is spinning north of 3,000 rpm. In other words, don’t let that horsepower figure get your hopes up: the Rio feels only marginally stronger than, say, a Nissan Versa, whose own 1.6-litre is rated at just 109 hp.

    The six-speed manual transmission is satisfying to use, with its light shift action and a clutch that’s easy to modulate, despite offering little clue as to the mechanical work that’s happening at the business end of its connection to the powertrain.

    But any of the drivetrain’s positive traits are let down by a disappointing suspension. Even the SX’s sport-tuned suspension provides a comfortable ride, but is easily upset on mildly imperfect roads, provoking an unsettling side-to-side motion that is particularly disturbing if you happen to hit a rough patch in the middle of a higher-speed turn. Part of this flaw is due to the SX’s big, heavy 17-inch wheels; the base model’s 15-inch wheels play better with the suspension.

    Against official fuel consumption estimates of 8.8/6.4 L/100 km (city/highway) with the manual transmission, my tester averaged about 9.2 L/100 km in a week of city driving.

  • Value

    Despite the Korean auto industry’s reputation for topping the value charts, its competitors are beginning to catch up. Honda’s Fit, whose third generation was new in 2015, now nearly matches the Rio for available convenience and comfort features, and comes in a few hundred dollars less expensive in fully-optioned form.

    At that point, the Rio has a heated steering wheel, where Honda leaves it out in favour of its LaneWatch blind spot monitor.

    And Honda is one of the few automakers that doesn’t make an automatic transmission standard in the top-end EX-L Navi version of the Fit.

    In this particular comparison, the Rio does feel more substantial than the Fit, but the Honda is much better-composed on all kinds of road surfaces.

  • Conclusion

    At its introduction in 2012, the third-generation Rio was one of the more striking subcompacts you could buy, and it was a stunning value compared to the rest of the field at that time. But that unsophisticated suspension was a problem back then, too, and while the Rio remains an attractive car both for its looks and generous list of features, the car’s underpinnings make it hard to love.

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