Young drivers are Kia's core demographic, and the all-new 2012 Rio Sedan continues to target these consumers with improvements and features that are sporty, modern and savvy (both technologically and environmentally) - just like the Rio's audience. To further emphasize the focus on youth and athleticism, Kia, in its sixth year of NBA sponsorship, introduced the car to a squad of automotive journalists during the NBA All-Star Game weekend in Orlando.

The Rio has been redesigned to mimic young shoppers' aesthetic preferences and personalities while still fitting comfortably in their price range. Kia overhauled the Rio's exterior, interior and available options while keeping its price in line. The 2012 model starts at $13,400 and tops out at about $21,000.

The car's exterior is sharper and more sophisticated than the previous generation, with sleeker and more aggressive lines. The car also sits on a longer, wider and lower platform, providing a sportier look to match its enhanced performance.

Kia shaved 29 pounds off the 2011 engine weight and moved to a 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder (both the manual and automatic transmissions are six-speeds). The result is a speedier, snazzier vehicle. With 123 lb-ft of torque and 138 horsepower (up from 107 lb-ft and 110 hp in the 2011 model), the Rio amps up quickly and handles nicely at moderate speeds, even if it also maxes out fairly quickly.

As for fuel economy, the Rio is certainly efficient - we achieved 38 mpg, respectable for a small car in this class, but not good enough for membership in the 40 mpg club. We noticed that the Rio reached its maximum efficiency while using  cruise control on straight, flat roads. However, our Rio had been driven just a few hundred miles, and the fuel economy will likely improve as the engine is broken in.

The interior of the Rio varies greatly by trim, but all models include satellite radio capability and USB portals, which have become mandatory for young drivers. As an added convenience, a compartment in the front console just happens to be a perfect fit for an iPhone.

For less than $14,000, you can get into a bare-bones, 6-speed manual transmission LX. The jump to an EX, which includes power locks, keyless entry, steering wheel controls, cruise control and Bluetooth, increases the price by about $3,000. The EX is also available with a convenience package, which adds UVO powered by Microsoft, a 4.3-inch color touchscreen with backup camera and leather wrapping.

For about $20,000, you can upgrade to the SX - the flagship model and the one we drove. The SX comes with leather wrapping, UVO powered by Microsoft, 17-inch wheels, touchscreen and backup camera. The SX is also available with a premium package, which contains almost all of the features available for the Rio, including navigation, heated front seats, push-button start and a moonroof.

Although it's bigger than its predecessor, the 2012 Rio is not exactly roomy. The car easily accommodates a smaller person - at 5'2", I fit comfortably in both the driver's and passenger's seats with plenty of back seat space remaining - but with a taller driver, such as my 6'2" driving partner, there is virtually no room for a back seat passenger or considerable cargo.

The 2012 Rio's price and feature range is wider than most of its competitors (Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Spark, Suzuki SX4, Mazda 2 and Honda Fit), which gives shoppers more options. The Rio will especially appeal to young shoppers looking for the most recent and desired premium features at a very affordable price. Environmentally conscious shoppers will also appreciate that the Rio uses seat foam made from 100 percent biodegradable castor oil, and 85 percent of the car's materials are recyclable at the end of its lifespan.

The Rio is on sale now.

author photo

Whitney Homans is a writer and content designer at AutoTrader.com where she combines her lifelong love of words with the automotive industry. When she's not writing, Whitney enjoys practicing yoga and cheering for the Georgia Bulldogs.

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