That wave includes the new Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and Honda Fit, along with all-new versions of the Chevrolet Aveo and Hyundai Accent. These subcompacts are smaller than compact cars, such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, but the newest subcompacts excel at space utilization and some are offering premium features.
Indeed, subcompacts have never been better and the new Kia Rio sedan and Rio5 hatchback are perfect examples. In addition to being inexpensive, they are stylish little cars with spacious interiors. They deliver sprightly performance, great fuel economy and agile handling. The Rio models come standard with six airbags, a safety feature normally associated with expensive luxury cars, not subcompacts.
The Rio is available as a smart-looking four-door sedan or the stylish Rio5 five-door hatchback.
The stigma attached to owning a small car in America is becoming a thing of the past and the latest iteration of the Kia Rio is among the reasons why that's happening. Kia has substantially improved the quality of its cars with the newest models, according to J.D. Power and Associates latest Initial Quality (IQS) numbers. The Rio is EPA-rated 32/35 mpg City/Highway.
Kia Rio ($10,570); LX ($12,445); LX automatic ($13,295); Rio5 SX ($13,500); Rio5 SX automatic ($14,350)
The sedan has a solid looking front end with a strong nose and big headlights that give it a purposeful appearance. The crease along the side of the car below the big windows ends up wrapping around the trunk, giving the sedan more the look of a European sports sedan than that of a Korean econobox.
All models come with hefty body-color side moldings that do not detract too badly as they align nicely with the wrap around edges of the front and rear bumpers. The fender flares actually look a shade too big on the base and LX models, which have skinnier tires. The fender flares fill out much better on the Rio5 SX with its lower-profile tires and 15-inch wheels.
The Rio5 looks taller than the sedan but it is actually the same overall height. It's a couple of inches shorter in height than the Chevrolet Aveo and Scion xA, its closest rivals. The rear of the Rio5 is distinctive with backup lights that wrap around the taillights and almost look like part of the body. The C-pillar curves down to the taillights and the tailgate has full width gals making the back more attractive than on many hatchbacks.
The seats are on the soft side and don't offer the lateral support we'd expect on a sports sedan. Those of us with larger frames, however, will not fault the seats for that.
Rear seat legroom is better than the numbers suggest because passengers can place their feet under the front seats thanks to the generous open space below them.
Big storage pockets in all four doors along with a reasonable size glovebox provide places to stash stuff. The rear seatback folds down in a 60/40 split for added versatility in all but the base model. According to Kia, the total interior volume of the Rio is greater than that of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla even though they are officially in the next size up segment. In practical terms, they are all pretty close. The Rio5 has a cargo carrying a capacity of almost 50 cubic feet with the seats folded down which is substantially more than in other hatchbacks of this size.
Minor touches such as the metal pedals, leather wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob on the Rio5 SX will appeal to sporty drivers. Most drivers will probably not consciously notice these things but they will certainly help instill a better feeling about the car for them.
We spent time in an LX automatic and a Rio5 SX manual. We enjoyed shifting the manual as it definitely makes for a more sporty experience. However, the LX with the automatic transmission was no slouch. Cars in this class traditionally suffer a big performance and fuel economy hit with an automatic, but the new Rio confirms that modern transmissions have largely addressed these deficiencies.
Kia claims it is making its cars more sporty and athletic than the Hyundai Accent, the Rio's sibling. The Rio is far from being a sporty car, but the SX handled nimbly without too much body lean or sloppy handling. The LX with its skinner 14-inch tires was not quite as secure, although most drivers would not complain.
The power steering, which stiffens up as the engine speed increases, felt taught with just the right amount of feel dialed in. We did not try a base model, which comes without the power steering.
Unlike subcompacts of the past, the all-new 2007 Kia Rio is a car you can be happy living with. We found the Rio5 SX the most enjoyable with its hatchback versatility and sporty/luxury touches. The Rio comes with a comprehensive set of passive safety features. Even the base model includes six airbags. It also includes a generous five-year/60,000 mile warranty coupled with a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie is based in Santa Barbara.