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—Small cars are suddenly in again, as surely as $3 gas is newly unappetizing to folks stuck in four-year notes on full-size trucks and SUVs. And it’s not just smart compact cars like the MINI that make sense in the era of $65-a-barrel oil. At those prices, the virtues of quieter efforts like the 38-mpg Kia Rio ring true and clear too.
Even before prices stepped into the stratosphere, Kia says, the compact-car market was heading for bigger things. Some two million small cars are sold annually in the States, and big brands like Honda and Nissan are set to get back into the pool, with new entries slotting beneath the Civic and Sentra. Throw in a sub-Focus Ford and the inexpensive Chevy Aveo and Cobalt and Scion fleet and it’s a growing group not obsessed with size as much as it is fuel economy, equipment, and most importantly, price.
All of these factors, Kia execs
told us as we squirted around urban and suburban roads around
Catching no buzz
Both Rios use the same 1.6-liter four with variable valve timing, 110 horsepower, and 107 pound-feet of torque to execute their civic-minded duties. Even connoisseurs will like this smooth powerplant. Size works to its advantage; it’s not buzzy at all like larger four-cylinders can be, and with the lean weights of either model, power is ample enough for passing in the middle gears. The biggest smiles, however, will come from its 38-mpg highway economy rating and its nearly 450-mile driving range – longer than Tiger Woods, longer than a Toyota Prius, and short of a Jetta Diesel, among the best in the eco-car class. A four-speed automatic with decently staged gears and good response actually gets better gas mileage than the shiftier five-speed manual gearbox.
2006 Kia Rio5Enlarge Photo
The typical four-cylinder rasp is
absent, and so is the typical rental-car ride and handling of the smallest cars.
It’s when trying to stuff it to
the four-adult maximum that the
To its greater defense, the
Of all the Rios, our most favorite was the rounded-off Rio5. Offered in SX trim, it gets 15-inch wheels, a small spoiler, some metallic trim and fog lights for a mere $13,500. Available with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission, it looks the least like it’s searching for a parking spot at T.J. Maxx and acquits itself as nicely on scenic two-lanes as it does through urban chores.
2006 Kia Rio5Enlarge Photo
At $11,110 for the base Rio — or even $12,985 for the LX or even $14,040 for the five-door SX — cars like these should be on the shopping lists for more househusbands, students, and interstate-less townies. It’s a four-wheeled Vespa compared to the HUMMER H2s that ply most soccer fields and Target parking lots. And more and more, it’s a logical alternative to an empty wallet.
Base price: $10,570 (base); $12,445 (LX); $13,500 (Rio5)
Engine: 1.6-liter in-line four, 110 hp/107 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 166.9 x 66.7 x 57.9 inches (Rio5: 158.1 in long)
Wheelbase: 98.4 inches
Curb weight: 2365-2487 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 32/35 mpg (manual); 29/38 mpg (auto)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes optional
Major standard equipment: Eight-way driver seat; rear defroster; intermittent wipers (LX adds air conditioning; AM/FM/CD; power steering; tilt steering)
Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles