Test Drive: 2006 Kia Rio5 car test drives kia
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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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One of the major difficulties with being an auto reviewer is keeping everything in perspective. It’s easy to get into a vehicle and criticize it for not having enough features or using a plastic-heavy interior, because we don’t pay for the cars we drive and it’s easy to forget their price sticker. We often fall into the trap of forgetting that readers are shelling out their hard-earned dollars to put their butts into the driver’s seat.

So it might be tempting to fault the Kia Rio5 for what it doesn’t have, and overlook what it does. It doesn’t have anti-lock brakes or cruise control, and the five-speed manual, while smooth and pleasant enough to drive, can feel rubbery if you’ve recently been shifting higher-end sports sedans. But it’s one of the least-expensive four-door hatchbacks available – only the Korean-built Chevrolet Aveo/Pontiac Wave undercut it, admittedly by a hefty $1,500 – and you’re getting a fairly decent runabout for the money.

The Rio5 starts at $13,695, which gives you 14-inch wheels with full covers, tilt steering, tachometer, anti-theft engine ignition immobilizer, CD/MP3 stereo, 60/40 rear seats and a driver’s seat height adjuster. Adding a Convenience Package takes it to $15,395, which includes air, power windows, power mirrors, power locks with keyless entry and heated seats; my Sport tester was $15,995, which builds on the Convenience items with 14-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, fog lamps, “sporty” seat cloth, leather-wrapped wheel and shifter knob, and metal grain interior accents.

Test Drive: 2006 Kia Rio5 car test drives kia
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All prices are for the five-speed manual; adding a four-speed automatic is another $1,000. (Should you prefer sedan styling, prices are $13,295 for the base model and $14,995 for the Convenience Package.)

The Rio5 is completely redesigned for 2006, and it’s a good makeover; the old hatchback had nice styling, but its driveline was underpowered and unrefined. Like the old model, the new engine is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder, but variable valve timing lifts horsepower from 104 to 110, and torque rises three lb-ft to 107. That’s enough to make this little car feel fairly peppy, especially when you can run the gears out a little longer with the five-speed. The engine still has a growl to it, though, and it drones at highway speeds.

Test Drive: 2006 Kia Rio5 car test drives kia
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The five-speed manual has long throws and a light clutch; enthusiasts will long for a more precise feel, but then, many people buying entry-level cars are relatively new drivers, and the Rio’s transmission is very forgiving.

Suspension is MacPherson struts up front and a torsion bar with coil springs in the rear; handling isn’t up to that of its Japanese competitors such as the Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit, but most entry buyers don’t push their vehicles hard enough to notice much of a difference, and assessed on its own merits, it’s still relatively nimble and takes corners smoothly. Swapping the all-seasons for real winter rubber will help considerably in nasty weather, too.

Test Drive: 2006 Kia Rio5 car test drives kia
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On the highway, the Rio5 does all right for itself, and kept its cool when I had to make a quick lane change to avoid a driver who thought his mirrors were there for show. On city streets, only the nastiest potholes knocked the Rio5′s wheels off course. Brake pedal feel is about average for the segment, and the sponginess I noted on previous generations is gone; in tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists of Canada (AJAC), the Rio averaged a 100 km/h-to-zero stop in 45.89 metres (150.5 feet) – acceptable, but 2.53 metres longer than the Toyota Yaris.

The Rio is a sister car to the Hyundai Accent, which is also all-new for 2006. The Rio and Accent are both available in four-door sedan and four-door hatchback bodystyles, but the Accent is also available as a two-door hatch while the Kia is not. The four-door Hyundai Accent5 hatchback, by the way, is $550 more than its Rio5 cousin.

The top-of-the-line Accent sedan boasts four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and six airbags, but it’s the only one that does; everything else, including all Hyundai and Kia hatchbacks, come with disc/drum brakes, two airbags, and no available ABS. No model comes with cruise control either, and while inner-city drivers probably won’t miss it, it could be an issue for those who spend a lot of time on the highway.

Test Drive: 2006 Kia Rio5 car test drives kia

Test Drive: 2006 Kia Rio5 car test drives kia

Test Drive: 2006 Kia Rio5 car test drives kia
Click image to enlarge

Inside, the Rio5 looks fairly upscale for the price: the Sport interior features red stitching on the seats, door panels and steering wheel, and the metal accents dress it up considerably. Having grown in size, the Rio now has more interior space, and legroom both front and back is surprisingly generous given the compact footprint. Controls are intuitive and easy to reach. That said, I prefer a control that turns off the fan, rather than the vent mode as the Rio does. The stereo is also easy to operate, as are the handles for the dash-mounted vents. Kia makes much of its seat heaters, claiming that it’s the least-expensive car to have them; they only have one setting, but they warm up quickly.

With the rear seats upright, the Rio5 offers a 69 cm-long cargo area, more than enough for a week’s worth of groceries. Remove the head-restraint, flip the seat cushion forward and fold the seatback, and it drops flat; there’s a 10 cm-high rise from the cargo floor, but the area overall opens to 126 cm.

The warranty is a nice one: five years or 100,000 km on just about everything, with Roadside Assistance thrown in. That can be an important consideration, since Kia traditionally doesn’t command high resale value. Buy it for your son or daughter to take to university, or get one as a secondary runabout for the household, and let the dealer fix anything that goes wrong until 2011.

The Rio5 doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not: it’s not a tuner car, it’s definitely not a sports car, and it’s not meant to compete with higher-end hatchbacks like the Audi A3. It’s basic transportation, but it’s well done for the price – even if I didn’t take the money out of my wallet to say so.


Technical Data:

Base price $15,995
Options none
Freight $995
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $17,090 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact hatchback
Layout Transverse front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine 1.6-litre inline 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 110 @ 6000 rpm
Torque 107 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Tires P185/65R14 Kumho all-season
Curb weight 1114 kg (2457 lbs)
Wheelbase 2500 mm (98.4 in.)
Length 3990 mm (157.1 in.)
Width 1695 mm (66.7 in.)
Height 1470 mm (57.9 in.)
Cargo capacity 447 litres (15.8 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg Imp)
  Hwy: 6.2 L/100 km (46 mpg Imp)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Assembly location Sohari, South Korea