2006 Kia Rio
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The revamped 2006 Kia Rio shows that economy cars are getting better because of an increasingly competitive market.
The small, front-wheel-drive Kia Rio has helped change some old thinking about "cheap wheels." While decent, it's lacked the refinement of most rivals. It mainly has made a name for itself since its arrival as an $8,895 sedan in late 2000 because it's been the lowest-cost car sold in this country for most of its life.
The Rio also has been backed by a long warranty from Kia's parent company, South Korea's Hyundai. Many buyers have figured that the Rio had to be at least fairly good if it had a 5-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The same long warranty has helped draw people to Hyundai-badged models, and Hyundai correctly predicted that the warranty would attract Rio buyers. Of course, the warranty would have meant nothing if Hyundais and Kias fell apart, but that hasn't been the case.
The new Rio couldn't have arrived at a better time for Kia because high gasoline prices have made small cars more popular this year. Kia expects that the small car market will grow by about 30 percent over the next two years—or probably more if gas prices become higher.
Horsepower of the Rio's small-but-sophisticated 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine is up from 104 to 110. The fastest acceleration is with the standard 5-speed manual gearbox because the engine is small, although the manual shifter has an imprecise action. Acceleration is average at highway speeds with either the manual or $850 4-speed automatic transmission, and engine revs are high above 65 mph even with the manual in overdrive fifth gear.
But Kia says the Rio's fuel economy is up 20 percent despite the additional horsepower.
Good Fuel Economy
The moderately handsome Rio is sold as a sedan with a conventional trunk in the $10,570 base and $12,445 LX trim levels—and as the sportier $13,500 Rio5 hatchback in SX guise.
Both Rio versions have increased width and height to provide roomier interiors, which comfortably accommodate four tall adults.
Newly standard are front-seat side airbags and full-length head-protecting side-curtain airbags. The wheelbase is longer to help provide a smoother ride, and there's a wider track for better handling and a more purposeful-looking stance.
Front seats offer only marginal side support in curves, but climate controls are large and audio system controls are mounted high for convenient use.
Stripped Base Sedan
A $600 Power package with power windows, door locks with remote keyless entry, power heated mirrors and tweeter speakers is offered for the LX sedan and Rio5 SX.
The LX sedan has standard air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD audio system, power steering with a tilt wheel and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat.
The Rio5 hatchback has all the LX features and adds 15-inch alloy wheels with wider tires for slightly better handling, fog lights, a rear spoiler, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, metal-grain interior trim and metal pedals.
The hatchback provides 49.6 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded forward, while Kia says the sedan's cargo area totals about 24 cubic feet with its rear seatbacks folded forward.
However, all versions have a comfortable ride for a small car. And the brake pedal has a linear action for smooth stops, although stopping distances are average.
The new Rio sedan and hatchback are expected to appeal to younger and slightly more affluent buyers, evenly split between men and women. They're still mainly for those on limited car budgets, but don't look or drive like economic hardships.