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

The Rio’s trip computer was showing a fuel consumption average of 9.1 L/100 km after a week of city driving in mild (but certainly not warm) early December weather. That’s a so-so number for a little car, especially considering the Rio’s Natural Resources Canada figures of 6.8 L/100 km in the city simulation and 4.9 L/100 km in highway testing. Those numbers are wildly optimistic, though; that Accent, which I tested in warmer September weather, averaged 7.8 L/100 km in the city; a Suzuki SX4 and Chevrolet Cruze Eco managed 8.2 and 7.4 L/100 km respectively, in early summer heat; and I saw 8.1 in a Fiat 500 in August. It’s worth mentioning that the Accent I tested had more than 3,000 km on its odometer, while the Rio only had about 1,300 km on it when I picked it up, so the discrepancy could have had to do with the engine not being fully broken in. Car manufacturers are putting on a good show with fuel-saving gas-engine gimmicks, but I’ll believe in them when I see one that works, outside of a thrifty diesel or hybrid powertrain.

In spite of having much in common with the Hyundai Accent, the Rio goes over the road much differently than that car. The ride is firmer – a touch too firm – and as a result, its handling feels sharper, though the steering and brake feel don’t encourage too many hijinks. Road noise is prevalent, but the chunky Gislaved winter tires on my tester own some of the blame for that.

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

What proved most interesting about my week in the car was that, while the Rio has the same torsion beam rear suspension as the Accent, my Rio tester exhibited none of the weird sideways hop over rough roads that annoyed me so badly in the Hyundai. Could be that Kia uses better dampers (aka shock absorbers) to go with its firmer springs, or my Rio’s smaller wheels (it had the base 15-inchers, while the Accent I drove had heavier(?) 16-inch wheels), or some combination of the above.

A less-impressive feature shared with the Accent is the split-folding rear seats, which don’t fold flat. The cargo area is the same deep well the Accent hatchback has. It’s a good-sized space, but the relatively high liftover to get stuff in, and then the reach down into the trunk to remove it, requires an interesting contortionist act when dealing with heavy items.

Interior space is good, particularly in terms of rear seat headroom. The front seats are comfortable, and the seat warmers (standard in all but the basic LX model) heat up quickly.

That base model is worth $14,095. My tester, an LX+, starts at $15,595 and adds fog lights, seat heaters, cruise control, air conditioning, keyless and Bluetooth. Notably, all Rios include power windows and locks, and satellite radio. My tester’s only option was the automatic transmission, which is pricey at $1,300 and, with freight, bumped the price to $18,550.

The Rio is still far less glamorous than its name suggests, but this third-generation version is a very solid car, even in the relatively basic form my tester came in. Its more conservative styling will age better than the mechanically-similar Accent’s looks, and, more importantly, the Rio’s (apparently) better-sorted suspension makes for a more competent feel over the road. All that remains to be seen is whether this car can live up to fuel consumption ratings that don’t seem to reflect the car’s potential in real-world driving.

Pricing: 2012 Kia Rio5 LX+
  • Base price: $15,595
  • Options: $1,300 (Six-speed automatic transmission)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,455
  • Price as tested: $18,450

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Kia Rio

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    Crash test results
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  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
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