A day after Hyundai impressed show-goers with the new subcompact Accent, corporate sibling Kia unloaded the second shot of the Hyundai group’s double-barreled attack, announcing the new Rio in four-door and five-door configurations.
The sedan made its world debut, while the Rio5 hatchback was unveiled in American specification after debuting for other markets at the Geneva show.
Both models are propelled by the same direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine also seen in the Accent, and as in that car the engine is rated at an amazing 138 hp and produces 40 mpg on the EPA’s highway driving cycle.
City gas mileage is 30 mpg, with either the six-speed automatic or manual transmission, thanks in part to automatic engine stop/start technology. The chassis is 63 percent high-strength steel, which not only contributes to a placid ride and stable handling, but also contributes to what Kia predicts will be a 5-star National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety rating.
Though designed at Kia’s Irvine, Calif. studio, the influence of the company’s Frankfurt-based design boss Peter Schreyer (who joined Kia from Audi) is evident, as the Rio, like the Optima, would look at home in an Audi showroom. The crisp lines and flat-faced aluminum wheels cultivate a distinct Kia family resemblance with models like the Optima.
Available in LX, EX and SX trim levels, the Rio’s pricing starts at just below $13,000. While the LX is pretty basic, the EX adds amenities like power locks and the SX picks up 17-inch aluminum wheels and on the five-door Rio5, projector headlights.
In addition to the all-new Rio models, Kia has also updated the boxy Soul uber urban-mobile which kick-started Kia’s fortunes when it debuted two years ago. The 2012 Soul gains the new engine and transmissions used in the Rio, and to differentiate it slightly from the existing cars, adds projector beam headlights and LED taillights.
Kia also picked up an advertising award from Nielsen for its Soul television commercial with the animated hamsters. With fresh hardware and award-winning commercials, the Korean company is on a roll that will trouble the rest of the industry for the foreseeable future.
DAN CARNEY is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for MSNBC.com, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications. He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award. Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, DC.