2001 Kia Rio New for 2001, the Kia Rio subcompact sedan fills a gap in the economy car segment vacated by Japanese, American and European automakers. Ranging in price from $11,995 to over $16,000, the Rio offers a standard 96 horsepower 1.5 litre four cylinder engine with excellent fuel economy, a surprisingly smooth (optional) four-speed automatic transmission, a five passenger interior, and popular options like CD player, air conditioning, and power windows. Two things are missing from the option list though: a folding rear seatback and anti-lock brakes.

New Kia on the block is a good value

Over the past decade, most Japanese, American, and European automakers have abandoned the subcompact economy car market. Inexpensive cars like the Ford Aspire, Nissan Sentra Classic, Mazda 323, Subaru Justy, Dodge Omni, Plymouth Sundance, and Toyota Tercel have all disappeared, and either not replaced, or replaced with more expensive models. The VW Golf, the only European small car available in Canada, went upmarket the last time it was redesigned and now starts at close to $19,000. The only Japanese company still producing a sub-$13,000 subcompact is Suzuki, which offers the subcompact Swift.

The hollowing-out trend continues for 2001 when the Chevrolet Metro/Pontiac Firefly and Honda Civic hatchback will be discontinued, and not replaced. (Honda still offers a more expensive sedan and coupe).

This has provided an opportunity for South Korean carmakers, Hyundai, Daewoo and Kia to fill the entry-level market segment, a market that is much more important in Canada than it is in the United States. A few years ago, only Hyundai offered a small subcompact, the Accent, but now Daewoo and Kia each have their own subcompacts, the Daewoo Lanos and Kia Rio.

Who is Kia?

Kia may be unfamiliar to many Canadians, but they have been making cars in South Korea since 1974. Kia previously manufactured the Ford Festiva/Ford Aspire hatchback for Ford from 1987 to 1995. In 1998, they were bought by Hyundai, and in 1999 entered the Canadian market on their own. They now have approximately 90 Kia dealers across Canada, mostly in Ontario and Quebec.

Rio’s range from $11,995 to $15,895

The Rio is Kia’s smallest and least-expensive model. Suggested retail prices for the Rio range from a base price of $11,995 to $15,895 (plus freight and Excise tax) for a fully-equipped LS model. Rio’s come only in a four-door sedan bodystyle – a hatchback is not offered.

The base Rio S model doesn’t offer power steering or an optional automatic transmission, but it is otherwise well-equipped. Standard features include a 96 horsepower 1.5 litre four cylinder engine, a 5 speed manual transmission, non power-assisted rack and pinion steering, 175/70R-13 inch tires, dual airbags, AM/FM radio, intermittent wipers, cloth seats and cloth door inserts, centre console, front cupholders, dual vanity mirrors in the visors, rear defroster, dual outside mirrors, tinted glass, and front and rear mudflaps. Dealer-installed air conditioning is available as an option.

The Rio RS, which will probably be the most popular trim level, starts at $12,795. The RS adds the following features to the S model: power steering, tilt steering column, cassette player, driver’s seat height adjustment, right-side folding armrest for the driver’s seat, wheel covers, body-coloured mirrors, door handles and side mouldings, chrome grille, rear lip spoiler and remote trunk release. A four-speed automatic is a $1000 option on the RS. Dealer-installed air conditioning is also available.

Top-of-the-line Rio LS models, which begin at $13,695, substitute a CD player for the cassette player, and add power windows, power door locks with central locking, and a tachometer. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional and a factory-installed air conditioning system is a $1200 option.

Equipped with optional A/C and automatic transmission, Rio LS models go for $15,895. Add $450 freight and $100 Excise tax, and the total comes to $16,445..plus GST and PST.

A good urban/commuter car

The Rio’s standard 96 horsepower 1.5 litre DOHC 16 valve four cylinder engine is not exactly a powerhouse, but the Rio weighs only 970 kg (2134 lb.), so acceleration is acceptable around town with good launch characteristics. With just 98 ft-lb. of torque at 4500 rpm however, throttle response at highway speeds is rather slow, so it’s best to plan ahead if you plan on passing that lumbering RV in the lane ahead of you, particularly if you’ve got passengers on board.

During acceleration, the engine is rather noisy up to its 6500 rpm redline, but while cruising, it’s acceptably muted. On the highway the engine turns over just 2600 rpm at a constant 100 km/h, so long drives are comfortable.

I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the optional 4-speed automatic transmission changed gears – it’s difficult to find a smooth-changing automatic transmission in cars with engines under 1.6 litres. A handy overdrive button on the shift lever allows the driver to hold the transmission in 3rd gear while climbing or descending hills.

Fuel consumption is excellent, a function of its small engine and light curbweight. With the standard 5 speed manual transmission, city fuel consumption is 7.7 litres per 100 km (37 mpg), and with the 4-speed automatic transmission, city fuel consumption is 8.4 l/100 km (34 mpg). Fuel consumption on the highway is 5.8 l/100 km (49 mpg) with the manual transmission, and 5.9 l/100 km (48 mpg) with the automatic transmission.

I found the Rio’s ride comfortable for a small car – the body feels tight and the suspension (front MacPherson struts/rear torsion beam) is not too stiff. Handling is nimble, in part because of the Rio’s small size and tight turning circle. All Rios comes with standard 175/70R-13 inch tires which are adequate for city driving, but a bit small for sporty driving. Unfortunately, 14 inch tires are not offered, even as an option.

The standard front disc/rear drum brakes are adequate for this size and weight of car, but anti-lock brakes are not available on the Rio.

Overall, I thought the Rio makes an excellent urban commuter car – it offers good fuel economy, the engine is powerful enough, it’s easy to drive and easy to park, outward visibility is unobstructed, and the ride is comfortable.

Interior above-average for its class

My test car was a fully-equipped LS sedan with air conditioning, CD player, power windows and power door locks. The interior is nicely finished for an economy car with two-tone cloth seats and matching cloth door inserts, and a simple, attractive dash layout. The instruments are traditional round gauges with white numerals on a black background, and the centre dash area contains (in descending order) an open storage tray on top of the dash, hazard warning buttons, radio/cassette/CD player, a coin holder and digital clock, and heater/air conditioning system with rotary dials. Below that is an ashtray and ligher/power point, and two pull-out cupholders.

2001 Kia Rio Dash
I noticed that there was no lock/unlock button for the power door locks – you have to pull up on the driver’s door lock stem to unlock the other passenger doors. From the outside, turning the key once in the driver’s door lock will unlock or lock all the doors at once.

Front passengers have adequate headroom and legroom, and RS and LS models have a manual seat cushion height adjuster. While the driving position is quite good, I felt the seat cushion on the driver’s seat was a bit hard.

The rear three-person bench seat has adequate headroom and legroom, though a lot depends on how far back you position the front seats. The front seats are raised which allows more room for rear passenger’s feet under the front seats – a good idea. There are three rear seat belts, but the back seat is really only wide enough for two adults. The rear of the centre console has two pull-out cupholders for the use of rear passengers.

For safety, the Rio has four three-point seatbelts and a centre lap belt for the centre rear passenger. The front seatbelts are height-adjustable for comfort, and there are child seat anchor points in the rear seat.

The Rio’s 9.2 cu. ft. trunk is roomy for a small car, and has a low liftover height, and a carpeted flat floor. However, a folding rear seatback is not available, even as an option, limiting cargo-carrying capability.

Good value

The Rio’s base price of $11,995 is inexpensive when you compare it to comparable four-door sedans in its class. The Hyundai Accent sedan starts at $13,245, the Daewoo Lanos sedan at $13,300, the Toyota Echo at $14,175, and the Suzuki Esteem at $15,495 (all 2000 prices).

However, because the Rio is an unknown entity from a relatively unknown carmaker, it’s future resale value will probably be lower than other better-known cars. This is a concern if you intend to trade it in or sell it after two or three years, but if you keep it for five years or longer, resale losses would be minimal.

As a newcomer, the Rio’s reliability is also a concern for buyers. Kia made a smart move by matching its competitor’s warranties: bumper to bumper three year/60,000 km and five year/100,000 km powertrain warranties. This gives owners peace of mind for at least five years.

With a low price, a good warranty, plenty of features, and contemporary styling, the Rio is certainly a tempting package for entry-level buyers.

Technical Data:

2001 Kia Rio LS sedan
Base price (S) $11,995
Price as tested (LS) $16,445
Freight $450
Type 4-door, 5 passenger subcompact sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.5 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valve
Horsepower 96 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 98 ft-lb. @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic (std. 5-speed manual)
Curb weight 970 kg (2134 lb.)
Wheelbase 2410 mm (94.9 in.)
Length 4215 mm (165.9 in.)
Width 1675 mm (65.9 in.)
Height 1440 mm (56.7 in.)
Trunk space 290 litres (9.2 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City 8.4 l/100 km (34 mpg)
  Hwy 5.9 l/100 km (48 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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