2002 Kia Rio RX-V
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by Greg Wilson

The 2002 Kia Rio RX-V hatchback joins the entry-level Rio sedan in Kia’s lineup. With standard split folding rear seatbacks, the RX-V’s cargo area is about twice the size of the sedan’s trunk (which doesn’t offer folding seatbacks). Two RX-V models are available — a Sport model ($14,695) which includes alloy wheels, CD player and roof spoiler, and a RX-V model ($15,095) which includes air conditioning, power windows, and cassette player.

A great buy, despite its faults

Over the past decade, Japanese, American and German automakers have gradually abandoned the entry-level hatchback market in North America. Gone are previously-popular hatchbacks like the Ford Escort, Dodge Colt, Honda Civic hatchback, Toyota Tercel, Mazda 323, Nissan Sentra hatchback, Chevrolet Metro, and Suzuki Swift. Others, like the VW Golf, increased in price and content level to the point where they were no longer entry-level cars.

The new generation of hatchbacks introduced recently, such as the Mazda Protege5, Ford Focus ZX-5, Hyundai Elantra GT, Pontiac Vibe, and Toyota Matrix, are all well-equipped sporty models pushing $20,000.

Only the South Korean automakers, Kia, Daewoo and Hyundai, still offer inexpensive small cars in North America. Perhaps not coincidentally, Kia and Hyundai are enjoying rapidly increasing sales.

Kia's small car, the Rio, was introduced as a four-door sedan two years ago. For 2002, a new four-door hatchback Rio model was added - the RX-V. Two models are offered: the RX-V Sport which has an MSRP of $14,695 (this week's test-drive) and the RX-V with an MSRP of $15,095.

The Sport model differs from the standard RX-V model with its alloy wheels, rear rooftop spoiler, tachometer, and AM/FM/CD player. Kia says this model is aimed at younger buyers who are looking for an affordable and good-looking car. The standard RX-V model has air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette, power windows, power mirrors, central door locking, and roof rack. This model, says Kia, is designed for people with active lifestyles who are looking for a car (usually a second car) that has lots of space to accommodate their various hobbies.

The RX-V's only real competitors are the Hyundai Accent GSi hatchback ($14,495) and the Daewoo Lanos S hatchback ($12,600). However, those models are two-door hatchbacks (the RX-V is a four-door). Four door Accents and Lanos models are available only in a sedan bodystyle.

Smart styling

2002 Kia Rio RX-V
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While many hatchbacks look rather boxy and angular, the RX-V has smooth, rounded lines that give it a sporty, aerodynamic appearance. The nose of the car looks exactly the same as the Rio sedan's � it has a small chrome grille in the hood and unique covered headlights bordered on the inside by the edge of the hood. Unlike many entry-level cars which have black or grey bumpers, the RX-V has body-coloured bumpers and side mouldings. The RX-V's roof arches gracefully downwards towards the rear of the car and merges seamlessly with the rear window and rear hatch door. Sport models have an attractive roof spoiler that helps direct air down over the rear window to improve aerodynamics and prevent dirt and slush building up on the rear window. The RX-V's large taillights wrap harmoniously around the rear of the car. Only the RX-V's relatively small 14 inch tires and two holes in the front bumper where the fog lights are supposed to be detract from the strength of this clean design.

My car was painted in a bright mustard green hue which some observers described as a cross between 'baby poo and vomit'. Fortunately, the RX-V is available in other more popular colours such as red, black and grey.

Size-wise, the RX-V is a subcompact about the size of a Hyundai Accent hatchback, but a little taller. Though the RX-V looks longer than the Rio sedan, it is exactly the same length, width and height. However, its longer roofline provides more cargo room. Behind the rear seats, the RX-V has 296 litres (10.5 cu. ft) of luggage space compared to 290 litres (10.2 cu. ft.) in the sedan. With the standard 60/40 split folding rear seats folded down, the RX-V has 621 litres (22.0 cu. ft.) of cargo space. The Rio sedan does not offer folding rear seats.

Driving impressions

When it comes to straight-line acceleration, the RX-V Sport is not exactly a powerhouse. The RX-V's 96 horsepower 1.5 litre twin overhead cam four cylinder engine accelerates the 997 kg (2198 lb.) RX-V from 0 to 100 km/h in 11.7 seconds, better than a Daewoo Lanos (12.5 seconds), but about two-tenths of a second slower than an Accent Gsi, a second slower than a Nissan Sentra XE, and 1 1/2 seconds slower than a Honda Civic sedan. Also, the RX-V's 80 to 120 km/h passing time of 8.9 seconds is rather leisurely when compared with other subcompacts.

The engine revs evenly to its redline of about 6500 rpm, but at about 5000 rpm, it gets really noisy and vibrations start intruding into the cabin. Still, this car seemed quieter than an early production model I drove last year, and at engine speeds under 4000 rpm, the car is reasonably quiet. The only time you really need to rev it high is when accelerating onto the freeway.

The RX-V was tolerably quiet at freeway cruising speeds - a dull buzz eminates from the engine, but most of the noise is wind and tire noise. On the freeway in fifth gear, the engine revs at 3000 rpm at 100 km/h and 3500 rpm at 120 km/h.

2002 Kia Rio RX-V
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Fuel consumption is thrifty: 8.8 litres per 100 km (32 mpg) in the city and 6.7 litres per 100 km (42 mpg) on the highway when equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission. Fuel consumption increases by about five percent with the optional 4-speed automatic transmission.

I found that the RX-V's manual shift lever offered easy, medium length throws, but it had a vague, 'rubbery' feel. However, it wouldn't stop me from recommending the car.

I was surprised at how comfortable the RX-V's ride was. For a small subcompact with a 2410 (94.9 in.) wheelbase, the RX-V absorbs small bumps and lengthy undulations very well. The front suspension consists of MacPherson struts and the rear is a semi-independent setup with coil springs. Front and rear anti-sway bars are standard.

Handling is decent but not impressive - the RX-V feels a bit front-heavy when pushed and its rather narrow Kumho 175/65R-14 inch tires didn't inspire confidence. Its standard power-assisted engine-speed-sensing rack and pinion steering has good on-centre feel but it feels a tad heavy at speeds below 10 km/h. The Rio's small size and good visibility makes it easy to park and maneouver in city traffic, but on the other hand, it feels rather small and vulnerable when surrounded by overweight SUV's and pickup trucks.

The RX-V's braking performance is adequate but not outstanding. From 100 km/h to 0, the RX-V takes 51.3 metres (168 ft.), better than a Hyundai Accent (54 metres/177 ft.), but worse than a Civic (47 metres/154 ft.) and Sentra (44.8 metres/147 ft.) Bigger tires would probably help shorten braking distances a bit. Anti-lock brakes are not available on the RX-V - it would be nice to see it offered as an option. (Performance data supplied by Roadcompanion.ca and AJAC.org)


The RX-V's interior includes attractive patterned seat inserts and door inserts, but the seat fabric looks and feels like a vinyl/fabric combination. Fit and finish is generally pretty good except for the passenger airbag panel which looks like it's just stuck on to the dash.

2002 Kia Rio RX-V
The driver's seat is comfortable, although it may be too small for larger drivers. It includes seat cushion height adjustments, one for the front and one for the rear of the cushion. The driver's seat also has an on/off lumbar adjustment, and a handy right-side armrest for the driver.

For the driver, visibility to the outside is very good. The hood is almost invisible from the driver's seat, the side windows are large, there's a third side window to eliminate blind spots, and the rear window is not so high that you can't see the nose of the car behind you. Though there are three rear head restraints, the centre rear head restraint is smaller and lower so that it doesn't block vision through the rearview mirror.

2002 Kia Rio RX-V
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The RX-V's instrument layout is a mixture of good and bad. The gauges (which includes a tachometer on the Sport model) are large and easy to read. The light switch is on the left stalk and the wiper control, which includes a fixed intermittent setting, is on the left stalk - both are easy to use.

A tilt steering wheel is standard, but I found that any position below its uppermost setting obscured the top half of the instruments.

My test car had a Sony Xplode AM/FM/CD player with the single disc CD player behind the flip-down faceplate. The 65 watt sound system has four speakers and offers strong, clear sound, but it's difficult to operate because the control buttons are very small and hard to read. Also, part of the radio is obscured by the steering wheel which requires the driver to lean over to operate the controls.

In the centre of the control panel is a bright digital clock and a small coin bin. Below that are the three dials for the heating and ventilation system, and just below that is a pull-out ashtray and lighter/powerpoint. The two pull-out cupholders are positioned, sensibly, at the bottom of the centre console and there are another two open cupholders between the front seats at the back of the centre console. Other than a small glovebox, front door pockets, and a coinholder to the left of the steering wheel, there's not much storage space for front passengers.

To operate the rear wiper, there are two buttons on the left side of the dash - one for continuous wiping and the other for timed wiping with washer.

2002 Kia Rio RX-V
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The rear seat will seat two adults, but is a bit narrow for three adults. There's sufficient footroom under the raised front seats, and adequate headroom as well. There are three rear head restraints, three rear seatbelts, and three rear tether anchors. Also, there are map pockets on the back of the front seats, and the rear windows wind down about 80% of the way.

The rear hatch door, which includes a rear wiper, washer and defroster, has a latch to open it and two sturdy struts to hold it open, however the hatch has to be unlocked and locked with a key - there is no interior hatch release.

The cargo area is tall but narrow - the rear suspension housings take up some of the cargo area. The rear hatch opening is 965 mm (38 in.) wide and 737 mm (29 in.) tall, while the cargo area is 914 mm (36 in.) long to the back of the rear seats. With the 60/40 folding rear seatbacks folded down, the cargo area is 1625 mm (64 in.) long, however the rear seats don't fold down flush with the floor.

The cargo floor has a low-grade carpet but the side walls are grey plastic which can be scratched easily. There's a 12 volt power point in the trunk, and a standard sliding privacy cover to shield the contents from view. A temporary spare tire resides underneath the cargo floor.

Price and features

2002 Kia Rio RX-V
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The Rio RX-V Sport has an MSRP is $14,695. Standard equipment includes the 96 horsepower 1.5 litre four cylinder engine, a five-speed manual transmission, power steering, tilt steering wheel, 14 inch tires and alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers and mirrors, rear roof spoiler, dual airbags, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, AM/FM/CD with four speakers, rear cargo privacy cover, tachometer, height-adjustable front seats with right-side folding armrest, four cupholders, map lights, sunglasses holder, and dual visor mirrors.

For an MSRP of $15,095, the RX-V adds air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, and roof rack. A cassette player is substituted for the CD player, and steel wheels are substituted for alloy wheels. The rear roof spoiler is not offered on the RX-V model.

The inability of customers to mix and match options is a drawback: for example if you want a Sport model with air conditioning and power windows, you're out of luck.

At the time of publication, Kia was offering 0% financing for up to 36 months and low lease rates. The RX-V Sport lease rate starts at $229.29 for 48 months with $0 down, freight included. The standard RX-V lease rate starts at $242.83 for 48 months with $0 down, freight included. Cheap!

Perhaps one of its most attractive features is Kia's standard 5 year/100,000 km comprehensive warranty, 5 year/100,000 km powertrain warranty, and 5 year 24 hour roadside assistance warranty coverage. This is currently the best warranty coverage in its class, and for the consumer, takes a lot of the worry out of buying a newcomer like the RX-V.


A truly inexpensive four-door hatchback with a great warranty, the Kia Rio RX-V is a spacious small car with great gas mileage and a nice ride. However, it needs bigger tires, better brakes with ABS, improved noise insulation, and a radio that doesn't require a Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass to operate it.

Technical Data:

2002 Kia Rio RX-V Sport
Base price $14,695
Freight $450
Type 4-door, 5 passenger subcompact wagon
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.5 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC
Horsepower 96 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 98 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual (4-speed auto)
Tires Kumho 175/65R-14
Curb weight 997 kg (2198 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.)
Cargo capacity 296 litres (10.5 cu. ft.) rear seats up
  621 litres (21.9 cu. ft.) rear seats down
Fuel consumption City: 8.8 l/100 km (32 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.7 l/100 km (42 mpg)
Warranty 5 years/100,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 years/100,000 km

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