2002 Kia Rio

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2001 Kia Rio

This 2001 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2005.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 7
Pros:
  • Lowest-priced new sedan in the country
  • Generous manufacturer warranty
  • Mainstream, pleasing looks
Cons:
  • Small tires reach limits quickly
  • Too early to tell on long-term durability
  • Base model is pretty basic

If there were awards in the auto industry for the biggest surprise, I bet the 2001 Kia Rio could win easily.

What's surprising isn't that this front-wheel-drive four door is the lowest-priced new sedan in the United States, with a starting price including destination charge of under $10,000.

What is surprising is that most Americans probably wouldn't guess the price is this low, simply by looking at the Rio and driving it.

Remember the Aspire?
The Rio is new for the 2001 model year. It's based on the former Ford Aspire, an unimpressive and easily forgotten little car that Kia built for Ford to sell in this country in the mid 1990s.

Thankfully, I didn't see a lot of Aspire similarities in the new Rio.

Unlike the plain, cheap-looking Aspire, the Rio has mainstream styling that—with the exception of the Rio's 13-inch wheels—doesn't project a cheap image.

Though the Rio isn't plush, it does come with a few nice touches—a standard, pull-down right armrest for the driver, for example, and a four-cylinder engine that includes double overhead cam technology.

Better yet, Rio comes with Kia's new-car warranty that, among other things, covers the powertrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles and provides free roadside assistance for five years, regardless of mileage. This compares with the industry norm of five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty and three-year/36,000-mile roadside assistance.

Nice look
I was pleasantly surprised by both the interior and exterior styling of the test Rio.

The driver seat came standard with manual height adjustment. There also were adjustable and lockable front head restraints and a sizable, well-positioned dead pedal. These are items that aren't necessarily found in other cars, especially entry-level models.

While the Rio's seats didn't wear the richest, softest fabric, windows had manual cranks and outside mirrors had manual controls, I did find the lively seat fabric design, the placement of matching fabric on the doors, and the well-laid-out, simple, white-on-black gauges had a mainstream feel.

There's nothing fancy here. The Rio's instrument cluster lacks a tachometer, the center console is open and exposed, and the glove box doesn't include a lock on the door.

Carpeting is a bit better than the material used to line the trunks of some cars, and inside door handles are tiny and plastic. The Rio's rear parcel shelf is covered by plastic, not a cloth-like material.

Not a wind-up car
Driving the Rio was a pleasant surprise. This lightweight, 2,200-plus-pound car moves along well in city traffic and doesn't seem to struggle to keep up with others once it's at highway speeds. Mountain roads do take a toll, however.

Power comes from a new 1.5-liter four cylinder that uses a double overhead cam and can generate 96 horsepower. Torque is 98 lb-ft at 4500 rpm.

I know the numbers don't sound impressive. But the subcompact Rio doesn't appear to need a big engine, and its specs are about in the middle of its low-priced competitive set. For example, the 2001 Suzuki Swift hatchback has a 79-horsepower 1.3-liter four, and there's a 105-horsepower 1.6-liter four cylinder in the 2001 Daewoo Lanos sedan.

Modern transmission, too
The Rio's automatic transmission, which was in the test car, isn't a cheap, three speed sometimes found in low-priced models.

It's a four speed that's managed electronically and includes an overdrive on/off button to prevent the transmission from searching and going back and forth between gears when you're in hilly terrain.

I felt shift points from this automatic and noticed how boomy the engine got when the transmission waited to upshift and the revs got high.

The fuel economy rating for the automatic model is 25 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

No sporting ride
The Rio requires some work at the steering wheel to navigate a slalom, since the steering feels loose and sloppy. I tired quickly in these maneuvers as a result.

I also noticed that the small tires quickly reach their limits.

But in more normal, everyday driving, this sedan turned nimbly into parking spots, rode with a more stable feel than I expected, and even managed minor road bumps easily. I did notice some bounce, though, on uneven pavement in this 94.9-inch-wheelbase car.

There's an independent MacPherson strut suspension with a stabilizer bar at the front and a torsion axle with coil springs at the rear.

Meager sound insulation
The Rio's ride is somewhat noisy. Sounds from passing semis made their way inside the passenger compartment.

Trunk space of 9.2 cubic feet is more than the 8.8 cubic feet in the Lanos sedan.

The Rio is taller than Lanos and Swift, so front-seat headroom of 39.4 inches surpasses those other low-priced cars.

In the back seat, Rio's headroom is just 0.2 inch shy of the 37.8 inches in the Lanos, and at 5 feet 4 inches, I didn't have my head touching the ceiling. I appreciated the fact that when I sat in the Rio's back seat my head wasn't under the rear window glass, as it often is in other small cars.

Rear windows roll down nearly all the way.

A wagon in the works
The Rio includes the government-required frontal airbags but doesn't offer side airbags, even as an option. Anti-lock brakes are optional, and the middle person in the back seat gets a lap belt only.

Buyers do need to select options, such as air conditioning, AM/FM radio with cassette player and even power steering, in order to get a Rio with traditional accoutrements found on other cars. But prices of these features aren't out of line. Air conditioning is $750, for example, and other Kia options are less than that.

It's too early to tell how Rio will hold up long-term. Kia's Sportage SUV and Sephia reportedly didn't receive high marks in J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study, released in May 2000.

Watch for further Rio developments. The sedan is being joined by a station wagon in summer 2001. Kia promises it will be the lowest-priced wagon offered in the United States.

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BB05 - 4/24/2014 10:54:42 AM