Pros: Impressive standard and optional equipment; 40 mpg; reasonable sticker price; advanced engine technology

Cons: Only base model offers manual transmission; not very quick; resale value getting better but still not at Honda or Toyota levels

What's New: The Rio SX for 2013 gains standard paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, while the 5-door models get revised flip-type rear-seat release handles. Kia's Integrated Stop and Go system (ISG) is now included with the Eco package.

With the 2013 Kia Rio and Rio5, small and inexpensive doesn't necessarily translate into boring, barren and uncomfortable. That's because Kia has become the master of building frugal subcompact cars with big car features and performance. In the Rio, you'll find a sporty-looking little car with a long list of standard features that are generally optional on other cars in this price range, if they offer them at all. You can choose between the Rio sedan (4-door) or Rio5 hatchback (5-door) models, and even the most basic LX version includes such cool features as a 4-speaker stereo with USB/iPod port, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, air conditioning and a 6-way adjustable driver's seat, all for less than $15,000. The EX and SX trims bring even more to the table, at a price starting around $17,000.

More impressive than the Rio's low price is the technology packed under the hood. Kia has equipped the Rio with a gasoline direct-injection engine and an advanced 6-speed automatic transmission (a 6-speed manual is standard). GDI technology is very expensive to produce and install, and is more often found only on expensive luxury brands. The result is a remarkable 40-mpg highway fuel economy figure. The Rio and Rio5's advanced design, impressive fuel economy and low price haven't just attracted our attention. The resale-value guidebooks have noticed too, elevating the Rio's once anemic resale value to fairly respectable levels, though still not as good as those for the Honda Fit or Ford Fiesta.

Comfort & Utility

Although small on the outside, the 2013 Kia Rio and Rio5 are anything but cramped on the inside. You might not use terms like "cavernous" to describe the Rio's rear-seat accommodations, but the amount of headroom and legroom are suitable for most adults, assuming the front seats aren't pushed all the way back. You'll find more rear-seat space in a Honda Fit or a Nissan Versa, but you won't find the same cool features and low price. The Rio's 13.7-cu ft trunk is also on the smaller side, but the 60/40 split folding rear seats can be dropped down for more space.

You also could opt for the Rio5 with its big hatchback opening. Up front, legroom for tall drivers is pretty good, and the height-adjustable driver's seat and tilting wheel make it easy for drivers of all shapes and sizes to find a comfortable position.

As we mentioned earlier, the Rio and Rio5 come nicely equipped as is, but move up to the EX trim and you'll get power locks, windows and mirrors plus cruise control, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, upgraded audio with Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth and premium fabric on the seats and doors. The range-topping SX adds 17-inch alloy wheels, power folding outside mirrors, UVO voice-activated information and entertainment system (allowing voice control of Bluetooth and iPod music and playlist selection), a backup camera, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a soft-touch dash. Options for the SX include leather seating, heated front seats, push-button start, a power sunroof and navigation. Many of the SX's features can be added to the EX through the EX Convenience package, including the power-folding side mirrors, UVO information and entertainment and rear camera display.

Technology

It's amazing that an entry-level car with a price topping out at around $20,000 offers so many upscale features, some of which (like power folding side mirrors) aren't even available on many $40,000 luxury cars. The coolest technology in the Rio and Rio5 can be found on the SX model, which offers Kia's Smart Key technology as part of the SX Premium package. With Smart Key, the driver need only have the key fob in their pocket or purse to unlock the doors and use the push-button starter to bring the engine to life. The UVO information and entertainment system lets you use voice commands to call friends, listen to voice mail and call up music from an iPod, cell phone or the stereo's own Jukebox hard drive. Other noteworthy features include a backup camera and a large LCD view screen for the audio system.

One last perk worth mentioning is the Rio's 5-year/60,000-mile vehicle warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, still one of the best in the business.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Both the Kia Rio and Rio5 derive their power from a 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection 4-cylinder engine that makes 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. That may not sound like much, but in a car as small as the Rio that's teamed with a modern 6-speed automatic transmission (the 6-speed manual is available only on the base LX), it's enough to deliver a performance that feels fairly peppy. The 1.6-liter is very willing, but it's also a bit loud at full throttle. Yet, on the open highway, the Rio's 36-mpg fuel economy will make that loudness music to your ears. Expect around-town figures to be slightly lower at around 28 mpg. When equipped with the Eco Package, Kia's ISG (Idle Stop and Go) is standard equipment. This feature shuts the engine off at idle and restarts it once the accelerator is depressed.

Safety

Every Rio and Rio5 comes standard with front, front side impact and front and rear side curtain airbags. Also standard are 4-wheel ABS, electronic traction control and electronic vehicle stability control. The federal government rates both the Rio and Rio 5 with four out of five stars for safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not yet tested the 2013 Rio.

Driving Impressions

Keeping in mind that this is a small commuter car, we are very impressed by the way the Rio rides and handles. The LX and EX versions have smaller 15-inch wheel and tire packages that help keep the cabin a bit quieter and certainly deliver a softer ride than the SX trim's 17-inch wheels. But the smaller wheel and tire combo also delivers only average cornering ability, with lots of squealing when the tires are pushed hard and an almost constant need for stability control. The SX does a bit better, delivering more grip and a more stable driving experience. No Rio is particularly quick, but we do like the LX's 6-speed manual and wish it were available on the sporty SX. Since it is not, most will find the 6-speed automatic with manual shift control almost as fun and certainly as efficient, since both manual and automatic achieve identical fuel economy ratings.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Sonic - The Sonic is about the same size as the Rio and Rio5, but it can be equipped with a turbocharged engine that makes it much more fun to drive. The Rio, on the other hand, has a better warranty, better fuel economy and offers more in the way of advanced technology and audio options.

Honda Fit - The Fit offers more interior room, but its boxy hatchback styling isn't as handsome as the Rio5's, and its warranty isn't as long. Although the Fit's resale value is superior to the Rio's, the Rio gets better fuel economy and has a more powerful engine than the Fit.

Nissan Versa - The Versa may not win any beauty contests, but it will walk away with best in class for interior room and comfort honors, as well as lowest base price. The Rio may not have as big a back seat, but it does have more features, gets better fuel economy and has a longer standard warranty.

AutoTrader Recommends

The choice between Rio sedan and Rio5 hatchback is strictly up to you. From a visual standpoint, we like the sedan's proportions, but for functionally the 5-door hatchback is the more logical choice. Whichever model you pick, we'd opt for the EX, which has all the features you'll need. With the $1,000 Convenience package--which adds the SX's UVO information and entertainment system, power folding mirrors and a backup camera--the price is still well under $20,000.

In November 2012, Kia and Hyundai adjusted the fuel economy ratings on some 2011-2013 models. This article has been modified to reflect the accurate EPA ratings.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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