2012 Kia Rio5 LX+
2012 Kia Rio5 LX+. Click image to enlarge

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Manufacturer’s web site
Kia Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2012 Kia Rio

Second opinion, by Greg Wilson:
2012 Kia Rio LX+ with manual transmission

I’m lucky to be able to say I’ve been to Rio de Janeiro twice. It’s a fantastic city, literally lined with beaches and full of pretty, pretty people. Like many places outside of North America, it’s also an pricey place to drive: gas is expensive, and so are the vehicles themselves, especially those that aren’t assembled in Brazil’s massive manufacturing sector.

The Kia Rio is ostensibly named for the city (the word means “river” in Spanish and Portuguese), and though it’s not an extremely popular car in Brazil, it’s representative of the kind of vehicle that most motorists there might be able to afford.

Subcompacts like the Rio are also popular in Canada, and while the Rio itself has been a success here, that’s been more the result of aggressive pricing than of the car being anything more than average. The 2012 model year brings with it an all-new Rio, though, and as per Kia’s usual, it’s a far stretch better than the car it replaces.

2012 Kia Rio5 LX+
2012 Kia Rio5 LX+
2012 Kia Rio5 LX+. Click image to enlarge

A 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection serves the Rio’s motivational needs. It’s shared with the Hyundai Accent and Veloster and, in the Rio (as in the Accent), can be matched with a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

My Rio tester came with the automatic, whose gear ratios seem well-suited to the engine’s power delivery. Kia has problems getting its electronic throttle programming right, though. While they’ve long since fixed the jumpy throttle that proved so annoying in a couple of Fortes I tested in 2009, my latest quibble is with the way this car’s engine tended to surge as the transmission moved through its gears. Hold the throttle steady from a stop and the car will pull away smoothly through first and second, and then feel like it’s trying to run away with you in third gear. Okay, I exaggerate, but the sensation is there, and it takes some getting used to. This situation was less frustrating than what I experienced in a recent test of the 2012 Versa a few weeks ago, but annoying all the same.

This car’s 1.6-litre motor is a pleasant runner, and despite getting a bit buzzy in the 2,000 to 3,000 rpm range, it gets smoother as the revs climb so that it sounds happy enough when pushed hard. And you do have to push it hard to get meaningful acceleration out of it, even though its 138 horsepower and 123 lb.-ft. of torque are relatively big numbers for a small motor like this.

When specified with the automatic, the Rio gets an “active eco” drive mode that encourages lower fuel consumption by softening throttle response and forcing the transmission to upshift sooner. It’s not unique to the Rio, nor is the negative effect it has on the car’s driveability. I like the idea of technology that aims to help me save fuel, but it’s a rare carmaker that has nailed this sort of thing in a conventional (as in, a non-hybrid, non-electric) vehicle. From where I stand, what’s going to help me drive as efficiently as possible is a car that allows me, through the use of my right foot, the most precise control of what’s happening to the fuel being squirted into the engine.

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