Kia’s entry-level offering is coming up on a major overhaul and so it enters 2005 with relatively few changes. All models now come with ABS, and the base S model receives power steering. A new “Anniversary Edition” slips in between the RS and top-end LS model. The body style is still divided into a four-door sedan and the four-door hatchback Rio RX-V, which is really more mini-station wagon than hatch.

With a base price of $12,995, the Rio S matches the Hyundai Accent two-door hatchback and the two-door Echo Hatchback as the lowest MSRP in Canada. But the Rio has four doors to their two, and the base Echo has manual steering to the Rio’s new power-assist.

All Rio models have a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that is shared with the Hyundai Accent. The base S includes a five-speed manual transmission, 14-inch wheels, CD player, cloth seats, floor mats, rear window defroster, fixed intermittent wipers and dual manual remote mirrors.

The RS adds a tilt wheel, driver’s seat height adjuster and folding armrest, remote trunk release, and variable intermittent wipers. A four-speed automatic can be optioned.

The new Anniversary Edition replaces the 2004 package of the RS with air conditioning; along with the cold air, it includes keyless entry, a tachometer and fog lamps.

The top-line LS adds an automatic as standard equipment, along with power windows and heated mirrors, a fade-out interior lamp, rear seat folding armrest and a trunk net.

The Rio RX-V hatchback comes in two well-equipped lines; the base model includes 14-inch alloy wheels, CD player, driver’s seat lumbar support, dual vanity mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, dual manual remote mirrors, driver’s side folding armrest, 60/40 folding rear seat, cargo cover, fog lamps, spoiler and fixed intermittent rear wiper. The RX-V Convenience adds power windows, heated mirrors, fade-out interior lamp, remote keyless entry, a trunk net, and in lieu of the rear spoiler, a roof rack.

Kia is trying to establish itself as a car company that sells desirable vehicles, not just rock-bottom price tags. The new across-the-board ABS is part of the company’s strategy to build numerous safety features into lower-priced cars. A five-year, 100,000 km bumper-to-bumper warranty is an added bonus, too.

Still, the Rio isn’t really an overall winner in its present guise. The interior appointments are better than expected, with surprisingly comfortable seats. But the little engine is sluggish, especially when hooked to the automatic or in the heavier RX-V, and it’s noisy, especially when it’s cold. Little quality issues tend to pop up, too. The redesign due in mid-2005 on the all-new 2006 model will undoubtedly address most concerns, but until then, the better-built Toyota Echo, or the Chevrolet Aveo and its sister car Pontiac Wave sell at competitive prices.

The Rio is built in Sohari, South Korea.

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