Tuesday, October 07, 2008

2008 Kia Rio Review


Introduction

In the rather unexciting subcompact car segment, traits such as reliability and refinement take precedence over head-spinning styling and tire-spinning performance. And in that respect, the 2008 Kia Rio has the bases more than covered. Pleasant to drive, stocked with features, solidly built and boasting that long (10 year/100,000-mile) powertrain warranty, the current-generation Rio is something the dodgy first-gen Rio wasn't -- very competitive in its class.

This year, the Kia Rio lineup expands via the addition of the Rio5 LX. Those who prefer the five-door hatchback body style now have a cheaper way in, as the hatch previously only came in the top-dog SX trim level. The Rio family now consists of three sedans (base, LX and SX) and two hatchbacks (LX and SX). With its Euro-flavored good looks that seem inspired by Renault, the Kia Rio hatchback offers an extra dash of style compared to the more mainstream sedan, along with the practicality of its roomy cargo hold.

In the budget ride ($11,000 to $15,000) price segment, we're fond of the 2008 Kia Rio as well as its sibling, the Hyundai Accent. However, in light of the Rio's varying trim levels and pricing structure, our recommendation is somewhat split. If low cost is of utmost importance, the base Rio measures up favorably against its more direct rivals such as the Chevrolet Aveo. Move up to the higher trims, however, and you will find more desirable choices available like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2008 Kia Rio is a subcompact available as a sedan and four-door hatchback. The sedan comes in base, LX and SX trim levels, while the Rio5 hatchback comes in LX and SX trims only.

The base sedan is bare-bones in most respects. The LX adds popular features that include wider tires, air-conditioning, power steering, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tilt steering wheel and a CD player with an auxiliary audio jack. The sporty SX versions add foglights, 15-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, metallic interior accents, drilled metal pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a black-with-red-accents cabin theme.

Options include the Power package (which adds full power features, keyless entry and tweeter speakers) and 16-inch alloy wheels for the SX.

Powertrains and Performance

Every 2008 Kia Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 with 110 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard across the board, while a four-speed automatic is optional on all but the base sedan.

With the automatic gearbox, acceleration is slightly subpar. A Rio5 SX we tested took 11.5 seconds to run to 60 mph. However, the automatic does provide swift, well-timed shifts. As expected, the manual transmission makes the Rio more sprightly and fun to drive. Although the engine can get noisy under full throttle, it's relatively smooth and cruises quietly once up to freeway speeds.

Fuel mileage ratings for 2008 stand at 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with the manual and 25/35 mpg, respectively, for the automatic.

Safety

Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on all Rios. The LX and SX trims also come with adjustable rear headrests. Antilock disc brakes are optional on those higher trim levels as well.

In government frontal-impact crash testing, the 2008 Kia Rio scored four stars (out of five) for driver protection and five stars for passenger protection. In its side-impact test, the Rio earned four stars for front-occupant protection and three stars for the rear. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing yielded a score of "Acceptable" (the second highest of four) in frontal offset tests and a score of "Poor" (the lowest possible) in that agency's side-impact test.

Interior Design and Special Features

The Rio's cabin, especially in beige, has an airy feel unexpected in this price segment. The materials quality is generally above average, though some trim isn't up to Honda levels. Seat comfort is very good for most body types, though drivers north of 6 feet tall may get fidgety after more than an hour behind the wheel. A fold-down armrest is standard for the driver, but we'd prefer a more traditional center console box that provides this feature for both front occupants along with handy storage space. In back, headroom is a bit tight for 6-footers, but legroom is fully adequate and the tall bench provides good thigh support.

Driving Impressions

The 1.6-liter four provides decent low-end pull and the manual-transmission version offers enough thrust to merge into highway traffic with ease, although the engine gets noisy at higher rpm. Precise gates and a smooth clutch make shifting the manual gearbox enjoyable. The automatic isn't as peppy, though its gearchanges are smooth and relatively quick. The 2008 Kia Rio's ride is smooth and stable, and even at 75 mph, the cabin is hushed. The suspension isn't as composed over broken pavement as we'd like, though, as large impacts tend to shudder through the cabin. Pushed through corners, the Rio responds with predictable body roll and unexpectedly crisp steering.

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