Small cars can be inherently fun to drive because of their diminutive size, short wheelbase and relatively light weight. The Kia Rio5 SX is one of those cars. While not exhibiting the sharp handling of a MINI Cooper, the champ of small car performance in North America right now, the Rio5 SX does a decent job of turning a trip to the grocery into an enjoyable ride. While its performance prowess may be enough for the average consumer, can the little car from Kia stir the blood of an enthusiast? Let's see…
The Kia Rio5 SX comes standard with a 1.6L DOHC four-cylinder engine with continuously variable valve timing that
produces 110 hp and 107 lb-ft. of torque. That?s more horsepower than either the Scion xA or the Chevy Aveo LT 4dr
hatchback (See an Edmunds comparison of all three
here). At 2,447 lbs, the car does weigh about 100 lbs. more than the other two, but it still carries that weight
Acceleration can best be described as subdued until the CVVT kicks in at what seems to be somewhere around 4000 rpm. Shifting the 5-speed manual in gears one and two is best done at or around 4000 rpm where the 1.6L exhibits a bit of a surge. Shifting before that point will land you in the next gear with little power to be found until the tach rises to four grand.
Spending life at those lofty revolutions would be fine for many four-cylinder cars, but in this segment it?s often raucous and noisy up there. The Rio5 SX is no exception, despite the list of NVH improvements Kia claims to have made. While we found accelerating to 4000 rpm to provide the most adequate acceleration, doing so made departing a stoplight sound like leaving the christmas tree at a drag strip. There is power to be had in the Rio5?s 1.6L, it just dwells deep within the powerband where a mechanical cacophony awaits.
The 5-speed manual in the car is about what we?d expect from this class. Its throws are fairly long and vague, but the takeup from the clutch is firm. A little heel-and-toe action can also be had, although we?re fairly certain the pedals weren?t intentionally spaced for that kind of activity.
As mentioned before, the Kia Rio5 SX we?re testing has the optional ABS package that includes rear disc brakes. It?s a $400 option, but one well worth the price as braking was excellent. The pedal feel is firm and makes you feel in complete control when you?re braking late to catch the inside line of that entrance into Wal-Mart?s parking lot.
Handling should be the number one priority for automakers producing small cars, as big engines aren?t that fun to have if a car can?t maintain its composure in the bends. Also, once a small engine gets up to speed, a good handling, lightweight car can maintain that speed better than larger vehicles with bigger engines. Sure, this is stuff that engineers from Lotus and BMW consider more than ones from Kia, but this company claims it wants to be considered the sporty one next the more mainstream Hyundai. That?s fine by us, but they?ll need to tighten up the damping and perhaps go with 16-inch wheels instead of the 15-inchers that both of their competitors also wear.
The Kia Rio5 SX certainly is one of those small cars that are fun to drive, but it?s more by virtue of its nature than its designer?s intentions. We?d like to see a sports package on the car that includes larger wheels, a stiffer suspension and perhaps a tighter shifter with shorter throws. Some more grunt on takeoff wouldn?t hurt, either. At the same time, the Rio5 has to wear many hats and a racing helmet just isn?t one of them. Shoppers in this price segment realize that they?re buying practical, efficient transportation. If they happen to get a small car that?s not a bore to drive like the Kia Rio5 SX, then that?s just icing on the cake.