2003 Kia Rio Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Cinco wagon is a great alternative to a used car.
All-new last year, the Kia Rio is a nice little four-door sedan with a high roofline that gives it surprisingly good headroom. The Rio sedan's retail price starts at $9,095. Its price and warranty make it a tempting alternative to a used car.
For 2002, Kia has added the Cinco five-door microwagon to the Rio line. to the Rio line. (Cinco is Spanish for five.) Not a hatchback, the Cinco reminds us from a rear-quarter view of a Saab wagon, and that's not bad. At $10,385, it's a great way to get 24.8 cubic feet of dirty laundry home from college. It feels stable at high speeds and is an enjoyable car to drive.
Rio is available in sedan and Cinco wagon body styles. Both are powered by a spunky 1.5-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard.
Rio ($9,095) is offered as the low entry price sedan. Equipped with the optional automatic transmission, it retails for $9,970.
Options include an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission ($875), air conditioning ($750), four-wheel anti-lock brakes ($400), a rear spoiler ($85), and a choice of an AM/FM/cassette ($320) or AM/FM/CD audio systems ($395). Options are limited, as Kia wants to keep the Rio as strictly an entry-level car and keep it priced that way.
Rio sedans come with an Upgrade Package ($380), which includes power steering, tilt wheel, dual covered vanity mirrors and body-color side moldings.
The uniquely styled Rio Cinco ($10,385) comes standard with an AM/FM/cassette stereo and the upgrade package, making it a better value when compared with a similarly equipped sedan. It's design doesn't lend to adaptability of a spoiler, so you don't get that option, but you can upgrade to the CD player ($125).
The Rio is a conventional subcompact in most regards, though it has a tall roofline for adequate headroom for front and rear seat passengers.
The Rio sedan is cute enough to be a Pokemon character. Perhaps it's the large headlights paired with the diminutive grille that triggers a subconscious psychological response and, like a kitten or a puppy, makes you want to hug this little car.
That said, it's a very clean design. The hood is smooth and wraps down to meet the front fenders and the large one-piece plastic bumper cover that sweeps back to the front wheel openings, sculpted to include a lower radiator opening and a pair of brake cooling scoops. The sides are simple as well, curving out at the shoulder line and adorned only by a beltline molding that connects the front and rear bumper lines. The roofline is arched from A-pillar to C-pillar, the highest point at the B-pillar, accentuated by the black-out trim around the side windows. The door handles are bodycolor, but the black outside rear-view mirrors are a jarring note. The rear has a one-piece bumper cap that, like the front, reaches to the wheel opening. Taillights are large and wrap around to match the contour of the rear decklid. The trunklid is high, but is cut down to the rear bumper for an easy liftover into the trunk. All in all, it's an admirably restrained design that fits the 94.9-inch wheelbase very well.
If the Rio sedan is cute, the Rio Cinco wagon is cuter. Its compact dimensions, identical to those of the sedan, allow it to slip easily into parking spaces.
The seats in the Rio and Cinco are comfortable and supportive, better than some of the other seats in this class. There are a lot of adjustments on the driver's seat, but the knobs are hard to turn.
Interior fit and finish appears to be of good quality. The seats are full cloth and there are matching cloth inserts in the door panels. The glove box door is nicer than on some much more expensive SUVs.
The Kia's interior is straightforward, with no surprises or fancy features. The Cinco gets a tachometer. Otherwise, instrumentation is limited to a speedometer, fuel and temperature gauge set into a panel that elbows down into a center console with the audio and ventilation controls. Audio controls are large and easy to use. Ventilation controls are straightforward rotary dials with a fresh air recirculation lever. It's similar in design to Japanese compacts.
Forget power windows and mirrors. In keeping with its low-price mission, the Rio doesn't even get these as options. So you're looking at wind-up windows. The mirrors don't even have remote adjustment. The right-hand mirror wouldn't adjust as wide as we'd like. The handbrake is located on the console between the seats. Power door locks ($95) are an option, however.
There are dual airbags and the Rio's body was designed for-and passed-the demanding European offset crash standards as well as, of course, all U.S. frontal and side-impact tests.
Although there are five seatbelts, no more than four standard size adults will fit reasonably in the Rio, and knee room will be at a premium for grownups in the back as well (though headroom is sufficient for anyone whose legs will fit). Young families, however, will be able to fit three young 'uns, booster seats and all, in the back. Three-point belts are provided for outboard passengers only, however, with a lap belt in the center. There are dual depowered airbags up front and the front shoulder belts are height adjustable.
The back seat in the Rio Cinco wagon is surprisingly comfortable with plenty of headroom and shoulder room. There's adequate foot and leg space, particularly when there's a little cooperation from the front-seat occupants.
The Cinco's rear hatch opens easily, lifting high and out of the way. The cargo area is small by SUV standards at 24.8 cubic feet with the seats up, but that's a lot more space than the sedan's 9.2 cubic feet. The rear seats in the Cinco fold down to increase cargo capacity to 44.3 cubic feet. That's a lot of laundry or a bunch of groceries. The seats don't fold flat, however, and the headrests must be removed before folding the seats down. A nice cargo cover is provided to shield valuables. Like the sedan, the Cinco comes standard with a rear window defroster.
Under the hood is a nifty little four-cylinder engine, called MI-Tech by Kia. With four valves per cylinder, dual overhead cams and tuned intake and exhaust manifolds, the 1493 cc powerplant cranks out an impressive 96 horsepower at 6000 rpm with a muscular 98 pounds-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. With less than 2300 pounds of Rio to haul about, that promises lively performance.
On Kia's Hwasung test track we were able to hit 100 mph with four people aboard a Rio, and by jettisoning a couple we were even able to get there surprisingly quickly. Rio felt stable and secure, despite its shortish wheelbase. Some high-speed cruising between Phoenix and Sedona showed that the Cinco is stable at 75-85 mph, though a bit less so when going over 90 in stiff crosswinds.
Naturally, most drivers won't go that fast, but it shows what the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine can do and that it's more than capable of handling around-town and Interstate driving. At 75, there's a steady muted thrum from the four-cylinder engine, but no more wind noise than cars costing much more. Even at those speeds, engine and wind noise didn't prevent conversation. The engine only gets loud when pushed to higher revs and even then it's more earnest than strained. It's apparent that Kia has put effort into reducing engine vibration. This is not pocket rocket, however. At northern Arizona's higher altitudes, there was no much power on the long, fast grades. Switching on the air conditioning adds a noticeable load on the engine.
We drove cars with manual and automatic transmissions. The manual on the Rio was somewhat notchy but sufficiently precise in operation, the clutch light. The Cinco's five-speed gearbox felt smooth and was fun to shift.
The automatic shifted smoothly and it doesn't seem to sap much power from the little engine. There is a slight fuel economy penalty for the automatic, though it's not enough to fret about. The EPA rates the Rio sedan and Cinco wagon at 27/32 mpg with the manual transmission. With the automatic, the sedan gets 25/31 mpg, while the Cinco rates 25/30 mpg.
Response from the rack-and-pinion steering is quick. Lane-change maneuvers at a track didn't upset the Rio. Cornering, as one would expect for this class of car, was a safe and predictable understeer. The Rio leans in corners but not severely. The suspension seems tuned more for comfort than sport. The power assisted rack-and-pinion steering isn't overboosted and provides plenty of feedback so the driver knows how hard the front tires are working.
The Rio's turning circle is a mere 30.8 feet and that's tight, folks. With its spunky engine and short overall length, the Rio will squirt in and out of places bigger cars can only wistfully gaze upon. As an urban warrior, where agility ranks higher than overall might, the Rio reigns supreme.
Surprisingly, the Cinco wagon actually weighs 6 pounds less than the sedan. And its weight distribution is better-balanced (59/41 percent compared with the sedan's more front-heavy 63/37 percent).
Optional 14-inch alloy wheels come wrapped with P175/65R14 tires. Standard equipment is a 13-inch steel rim that is a half-inch narrower and fitted with a 70-series tire. We recommend the optional alloys and for more than the aesthetic appeal of fancy wheels. Though we didn't drive with the base wheel and tire combo, our experience suggests that the wider wheels and lower profile tires will provide better handling and braking stability.
Our test car did not have the four-sensor/four-channel anti-lock braking, an option desirable not only for the obvious additional braking control but also for the large rear discs which replace the standard rear drum brakes.
Kia Rio is an efficient and reliable car for not a lot of money. It's a fuel-sipping set of wheels that someone else hasn't already owned. It's a great first car, offering practical transportation and great fuel economy.
Rio Cinco adds the practicality of cargo-carrying capability. If you sometimes find yourself moving stuff around, then this is a great little setup.
Kia offers free roadside service as part of its 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty. Then there's a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. We're expecting an all-new Rio for the 2003 model year.
Rio ($9,095); Rio Cinco ($10,385).
Options As Tested
r conditioning ($750); alloy wheels ($275); power door locks ($95); ABS ($400); floor mats ($69).
Rio Cinco ($10,385).
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