The 2012 Kia Rio 5 is an economy hatchback that gives economy hatchbacks a good name. Cars in this segment have long been perceived as consolation prizes for those who wanted a new car but couldn't afford something better, but the new Rio is a genuinely desirable vehicle. It's the rare subcompact that doesn't make you feel like you're settling. Here are five reasons why the 2012 Kia Rio should be on your test drive list.

1. Cutting-edge style

The 2012 Rio is surprisingly good looking. Kia has been making major strides on the design front lately, no doubt about that, but we never thought its smallest hatchback would look this good. Do an image search for the previous Rio 5 if you're wondering why we're so surprised. This might be the most radical stylistic transformation in automotive history, an overnight shift from "not" to "hot."

2. Outstanding warranty

Are you hesitant to buy a Kia because of the brand? Don't worry; Kia understands and is one step ahead of you. The exceptional warranty coverage that comes with every new Kia is designed to ensure your peace of mind. There's bumper-to-bumper coverage the first 5 years or 60,000 miles, and that's just the beginning - the powertrain is covered for an incredible 10 years or 100,000 miles. You even get 5 years or 60,000 miles of roadside assistance.

3. Great value

Check out the prices on the 2012 Kia Rio. The manual-transmission model starts at just $13,600. No, you don't get power windows for that price, but you do get air-conditioning and an iPod/USB input. The automatic bumps the price up to a still-reasonable $14,700. Usually you have to pay extra for cars that look this good, but the Rio is actually one of the cheapest hatchbacks on the market. It's even cheaper than tiny city cars like the Scion iQ.

4. Awesome fuel economy

With the manual transmission, the Rio is rated at an extraordinary 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway. How about the automatic? There's no penalty for the added convenience; it's still 30/40 mpg. That's about as good as it gets for non-hybrid hatchbacks in 2012. And you don't have to buy a special "extra fuel economy" package to get this kind of efficiency; it comes standard on every 2012 Kia Rio.

5. Genuinely nice interior

We liked the Rio from the moment we plopped down in its driver's seat. The Rio is based on the Hyundai Accent, but where that car has a conventional, unexciting cabin, the Rio has gone decidedly uptown. We should mention here that one reason not to buy the base LX is that it gets a more stripped down interior - sit in an LX and a higher trim level back-to-back and you'll see what we mean. But no matter which trim level you choose, you'll be treated to an exceptionally inspired interior design with materials that wouldn't be out of place in a car costing thousands more. It's just one more way that the 2012 Kia Rio over-delivers for the price.

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Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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