This year finds us looking at the new Kia Rio. To say that it has been upgraded is an understatement. The Rio is now toe to toe with the Honda Fit and the Ford Fiesta, and way ahead of the Toyota Yaris. The Rio and its cousin, the Hyundai Accent are now at the top of the very competitive subcompact segment.

Hyundai and Kia have made inroads by providing buyers with leading edge design, fuel economy, and performance without losing the value edge they have enjoyed.

The Rio’s new look is lively and fresh and looks as fun to drive as it really is. The interior has lost its “cheapo” look in favor of soft touch and easy to use controls. This might be an economy car, but it doesn’t look or feel like it. The fit and finish is better than I have ever seen on a Rio. The seats were actually comfortable for me on a long trip. This is a complete turnaround from the last Rio I drove.

All Rios for 2012 come with a peppy 138 hp, 1.6-liter I-4 and either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. EPA mileage numbers are a class leading 30/40 mpg for either transmission, without having to use any “Eco” models.

Ride and handling are hardly race car like, but they seem to provide a good feel and make the Rio fun to drive.

Safety wise, the 2012 Rio has the usual airbags everywhere, anti-lock brakes and stability control, as well as hill-start assist. A rearview camera is an option, as is Bluetooth.

The Rio starts a little over $14K with the automatic transmission about $1200 more. The Rio EX is nicer, and the $18,450 Rio SX is the top of the line sporty version. All of them are well equipped with the SX having a rear spoiler; tilt steering, and a great audio system that includes Kia’s version of the Ford SYNC system, USB ports, a nice NAV system, steering-wheel audio controls, push button start, and cruise control. All Rio models have Kia’s five-year, 60,000-mile warranty.

A few years ago, I would find it hard to say a lot of nice things about the Rio, but not anymore. This car deserves to be on anyone’s must check out list. Mike


Engine: 138HP 2.4 Liter I-4

Transmission: 6 Spd AT or MT

Highest MPG City/MPG Highway: 30/40

Trim Designations: Base, EX and SX

Base Price: $14k range

What I Liked: Value and upgraded interior

What I Would Change: Turbo?

Star Rating: 4.45 out of 5