2004 Kia Rio

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2001 Kia Rio

This 2001 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2005.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 6

Bottom Line:

Surprisingly good for a low-dollar economy sedan.
Pros:
  • Least-expensive new car
  • Slick styling
  • Sophisticated engine
  • Superb warranty
Cons:
  • Little standard equipment
  • Rubbery shifter
  • Questionable resale value

There are lots of folks without the money—or who don't want to spend the bucks—to buy a new car. That's where the new Kia Rio comes in.

The $8,895 Rio is the least-expensive car offered in this country, but is better in many respects than other low-cost entry-level autos. For one thing, this front-drive South Korean sedan looks good. For another, it has solid, careful construction and a sophisticated engine. This is no technological throwback.

Impressive Warranties
Importantly, the subcompact Rio has a 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile warranty for the powertrain. There's also a 5-year/unlimited-mileage roadside assistance plan.

Considering all that, who needs a used Honda or Toyota?

All that warranty goodness comes from South Korea's Hyundai. It happens to own Kia and offers the same sales-boosting warranties here for Hyundai nameplate models. Of course, Hyundai doesn't top the charts for trouble-free operation, and neither does Kia.

Moreover, the Rio has highly questionable resale value. It's best to buy it as a long-term car; drive it for ten years or so and then throw it away.

Limited Standard Equipment
The Rio started out at $8,595, but got a $300 price increase early in the year. Too bad it didn't get more equipment at the same time. Be forewarned: The Rio has a small amount of standard equipment, including a console, rear defroster, dual outside mirrors and power brakes. You don't even get power steering or a radio.

Variety of Options
However, there are options. For instance, an AM/FM/Cassette costs $320—and a CD player is available. A $380 upgrade package includes power steering, tilt steering wheel, full wheel covers, body-side moldings, and visor vanity mirrors.

Don't want to shift the standard 5-speed manual transmission? Then order the $875 4-speed automatic transmission. Air conditioning is $750, and anti-lock brakes cost $400.

But some economy cars don't even offer anti-lock brakes and can be had only with a 3-speed automatic. Add all Rio options—including the $85 body-color rear spoiler—and you're still looking at a low-cost car.

Solid Construction
And it's a decent car, at that. The Rio feels solid and has good fit-and-finish, inside and out. There are no squeaks or rattles. You never get the feeling that you'll have to hold your breath waiting for something to fall off.

The appearance of the slickly styled Rio doesn't scream "cheap" when you roll up in it. And it has four doors and a regular, fairly good-sized trunk, instead of a cheapo 2-door hatchback design possessed by the old economy cars.

Fairly Roomy
There's decent space for four average-height adults in the fairly quiet interior. Four 6-footers even fit if the driver doesn't shove his seat back too far, but have little room to spare.

The front seats offer good side support in curves, and there are handy storage pockets in the front doors. But radio controls are too small and the offbeat upholstery pattern in my test car caused eyebrows to be raised. Climate controls are decent, and gauges can be easily read.

No Tachometer
However, there's no way in the world to read the tachometer because there is no tachometer. That's a serious omission for a car with a high-revving 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. A Rio driver must learn to shift by the sound of the engine, at least when the Rio has the manual transmission.

The lack of a tachometer shows cost cutting. However, there are four—not just two—washer jets to help keep the windshield especially clean.

Rubbery Shifter
The manual is needed to get the best performance because of the Rio's small-displacement engine, but that transmission has a rubbery shifter and vague shift gate. The clutch has a light action but long throw.

The power steering is a little slow, but the ride is decent. As for the brakes, they're controlled by a mushy pedal and need the anti-lock system for decent emergency stopping distances.

Skinny Standard Wheels and Tires
Handling is acceptable if you don't push the Rio hard. Its standard 13-inch wheels and 70-series tires definitely handicap braking and handling.

Don't think twice about ordering the $275 14-inch alloy wheels and 65-series tires, which put more rubber on the road for better handling and braking.

Slow Passing on Highways
Despite its small size, the stout, willing engine is a strong point. It generates 96 horsepower with dual overhead camshafts and 16 valves. It provides lively acceleration—to 60 mph. After that, acceleration slows a lot. A 65-75 mph passing maneuver on a crowded 2-lane road can cause nervous moments.

The engine gets buzzy when asked to work hard and isn't especially fuel-thrifty, considering its size and the Rio's near 2,300-pound curb weight. It provides an estimated 27 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway.

So there you have it—a plucky, inexpensive little car with a wonderful warranty that doesn't look or feel cheap. For many motorists, that will be more than enough.

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BB06 - 9/20/2014 1:39:56 AM