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.
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.