The technology trickle-down effect is a good thing. It’s what drove the veritable arms race in the consumer camera industry and allows mere mortals like you and me to spend surprisingly little money and have the hardware to capture sensational images and video footage. Heck, even the cameras in our smart phones are capable enough that some pro-level photographers have admitted to using them for published news stories.

In the auto industry, the same is true. Well, not entirely. Most of us can’t use our cars to shoot pro-grade photography (though some cars have enough cameras mounted these days they almost drive themselves), but they do paint a pretty clear picture of how quickly key features permeate through cars. Want to know what features were the hot-button items in luxury cars a few years ago? Just look at today’s entry-level machinery and you’ll see.

Take our Kia Rio 5-door tester, for example. Trimmed barely above the bottom rung of the Rio family hierarchy, this Rio still sports the following necessities for the modern motorist: a half-dozen airbags, Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats, remote keyless entry, a six-speed automatic transmission and satellite radio, to name a few.

For those really wanting to look like big shots without spending the big bucks, the top-trim Rio SX adds LED lights front and back, leather seats, rearview camera, automatic headlights and wipers, a cooled glove box and even power-folding side mirrors. All this on a car that’s still under twenty grand!

So Kia is giving consumers a lot of kit for their investment with the Rio. No big surprise there, they’ve been doing that throughout their whole model range for years. What’s equally impressive is that the Rio is now mechanically a solid machine too.

Not that long ago driving any economy subcompact car like the Rio was akin to some sort of torture practice – possibly used by the CIA. Cramped, bumpy and noisy, those little cars were the most elemental means of point-A-to-point-B automotive transport one could find. With Kia’s cheapest car, the driving experience is not too bad at all.

The Kia Rio shares its engine and transmission (and much of what’s under the skin) with its Hyundai Accent cousin, and since costs are amortized over two models, there is a lot of value for your mechanical dollar here too. The 1.6L inline-four-cylinder engine produces 138 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque, both of which are excellent figures in the class and help the Rio to feel quite lively zipping around town. At highway speeds, caution is wise before attempting daring passing maneuvers, but again, there’s sufficient oomph for most sensible motoring needs.

2015 Kia Rio 5 LX+2015 Kia Rio 5 LX+ dashboard2015 Kia Rio 5 LX+ centre stack2015 Kia Rio 5 LX+ media ports
2015 Kia Rio 5 LX+, dashboard, centre stack, media ports. Click image to enlarge

The six-speed automatic in our Rio dutifully went about its business without drawing much attention to itself – just as most folks would want it. The ratios are well spaced and enable the Kia’s engine to churn at less than 2,500 rpm at 120 km/h. We’ve driven mid-size sedans that buzz away much higher than that and the low revs at highway speeds help the Rio be a quieter and more relaxing place to collect kilometres.

Those low revs also help Kia’s smallest car deliver decent fuel efficiency too. With a rating of 6.4 L/100 km highway and 8.7 city (7.6 combined), the Rio may not deliver the best efficiency numbers in the subcompact class, but make no mistake, this is still a very fuel-friendly machine. During its time with us, wearing snow tires and suffering a fair bit of stop-and-go traffic, we still saw mid-sevens for an overall average.

Steering feel is decent for the Rio, lending it a bit of a playful nature often found in these subcompact cars. The combination of diminutive mass and compact dimensions makes subcompacts nimble enough to dart through small gaps in traffic, but the Kia stands out for its stiff suspension, keeping it flat and stable when doing so.

The four-wheel disc brakes with ABS (standard on all trims of Rio) provide decent stopping power and good pedal feel.

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