Review and photos by Paul Williams
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Charlevoix, Quebec – Kia Canada’s President and CEO, Bill Porter, continues to wear a smile, and it gets wider all the time. “With the current high gas prices, and a spike in the number of Canadians buying small cars,” he says, “you can’t have a more timely introduction for the new Kia Rio.”
He’s got that right.
At a starting price of $13,295 for the Kia Rio EX sedan, and powered with a new gas-sipping 1.6-litre engine, the 2006 Rio is another home-run for Kia (following the impressive new Sportage which also made it around the bases).
The 2006 Rio comes in two versions: a four-door sedan and a five-door hatch called the Rio5. Both receive the new four-cylinder, 1.6 litre, 110 horsepower, dual-overhead camshaft engine with variable valve timing, which returns 7.4/6.2 L/100km, city/highway with the five-speed manual transmission, and 8.1/5.7 L/100km with the four-speed automatic.
Standard features include 14″ steel wheels with wheel covers, tilt steering column, tachometer, delay-out interior lamp, body-coloured door handles and side mirrors, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with four speakers, 60/40 split rear seats, height adjustable driver’s seat, and a five-speed manual transmission (four-speed automatic adds $1,000).
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To be fair, the low opening price doesn’t reflect the Rio that most people will buy. The volume seller will be the Rio with a “convenience package” that adds air conditioning, remote keyless entry, power heated mirrors, power windows and door locks, and heated seats.
But that’s not going to set you back too much more. At $1,700 the convenience package brings the price to $14,995 (the similarly equipped Rio5 costs $15,395), and for that, you’ll get one of the nicest sub-compacts on the market, along with a five-year, 100,000-kilometre warranty.
If you want a little extra pizzazz, a new-for-2006 Sport Package adds special upholstery, metal pedals, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and gearshift knob, rear spoiler, fog lamps and alloy wheels for $600 (must be purchased with the convenience package). However, the sport package is only available on the Rio5.
The Korean-built 2006 Rio is a completely new vehicle compared with the outgoing model. There’s more headroom, legroom and shoulder room, especially for rear seat passengers. Kia says that the Rio has more interior volume than compact cars such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
We had an opportunity to put over 600 km on the 2006 Rio, driving through the hilly terrain of Quebec’s Charlevoix region (north of Quebec City). The weather ranged from the expected crisp, sunny autumn days to the unexpected: flooded roads and torrential rain.
The Kia people obviously planned for sunny days to show off their new car, but the rain-soaked pavement and slippery roads gave us an unintended, but useful contrast nonetheless.
We can tell you, for instance, that the windshield wipers (including the rear one in the Rio5) do a good job of maintaining visibility, and the defroster keeps the inside of the glass clear of condensation in cool, foggy conditions. Traction on the slippery roads was excellent, and navigating a flooded road was achieved without issue (although we don’t recommend you habitually drive through floods!).
“Quiet and smooth” are the two adjectives that quickly come to mind when behind the wheel of the new Rio. The car feels solid and well built. According to Mr. Porter, “This is an area the Koreans have really been working on for the new generation of Kia vehicles.”
It shows. Doors that “thunk” closed, no rattles, squeaks or vibrations, and an overall appearance of tidiness and precision throughout characterize the new Rio.
The twin-cam engine is a willing little unit that happily accepts third-gear downshifts at 80 km/h while accelerating through corners or passing a slower vehicle on the hilly Charlevoix roads. Its 110-hp is more than enough to zip you around town, remembering that this is a sub-compact vehicle, and lighter than compacts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
As mentioned earlier, its interior volume is actually comparable to compact cars, which is certainly a distinguishing feature in this segment. It is narrower than compact competitors, but hip and shoulder room are fine, and there’s no feeling of being cramped. Even the back seat gives good legroom.
Criticisms are few, but nothing’s perfect. The 14″ wheels are a bit small these days, but tires for them may save you some money when they need to be replaced. The Sport Package includes a very nice looking steering wheel that unfortunately obscures the multi-function controls on the steering column, and blocks the trip odometer reset button (I had to use the manual to find it). The alloy wheels in the Sport Package are again 14″ (plus-one or plus-two would be better).
Cruise control is not available in any trim level, and has been deleted due to Kia research that indicates customers prefer the heated seats. Kia’s thinking is that this is most likely to be a city car, where cruise control is rarely used anyway.
Another omission is anti-lock brakes. I know features like this raise the price of a car, but the 2005 Echo Hatchback came with standard ABS and Toyota somehow kept the low starting price (it’s not standard on the new Toyota Yaris, however).
Finally, while the design is appealing and attractive, it still hasn’t evolved into a signature Kia “look.” It’s getting there, though.
The new Rio is a very good package, streets ahead of the model it replaces. The new colours are bright and bold, and buyers will no doubt enjoy driving this sporty subcompact past the SUVs and big cars lined up at their local gas station.
At a glance: 2006 Kia Rio and Rio5
- Price: $13,295 (EX sedan five-speed) – $16,995 (Rio5 with Sport Package, automatic)
- Notable: All-new exterior and interior design; new twin-cam engine with variable valve timing; generous interior volume; generous warranty
- Available: On sale now