2009 Kia Rio Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 9, 2009

The 2009 Kia Rio doesn't quite measure up in the details, but it's a pretty good choice among subcompacts.

To bring you the most useful review of the 2009 Kia Rio, editors at TheCarConnection.com have driven the Rio, then supplemented their firsthand impressions with highlights from other reputable sources.

The 2009 Kia Rio is the smallest, most affordable model from the rapidly growing Korean brand. It comes as either a sedan or a Rio5 five-door hatchback version distinct from its cousin, the three-door Hyundai Accent.

Power is a relative term, but since the Rios are small, they feel quick on their feet. The 2009 Kia Rio and Rio5, both offered in LX and SX models, share a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 110 horsepower. It can be teamed with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic. Fuel economy for the new model year hits 25 mpg city, 35 highway for the automatic, 27/32 mpg for manual shift cars—good but not great numbers.

Other aspects of the driving experience are quite delightful, considering the price. The Rio handles reasonably well, brakes seem strong, and there's enough peppiness for most driving, aside from high-speed passes; the only exception is that the Rio's manual shift linkage can feel imprecise. The Rio SX versions have specific tires and suspension settings, and they feel slightly sportier. Engine noise is a problem across the line, and it finishes the otherwise satisfying driving impression on a slightly sour note.

Review continues below

But this is a subcompact vehicle, not an SUV, so the 2009 Rio should be used for four adults on shorter trips. The seats themselves are fairly comfortable, and the interior trim is of a good grade for this price class. Pleasantly, there is nothing cramped about the interior, and even the rear seating area offers plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room for an average adult male. On the Rio5, a fairly large cargo area tucks beneath the hatchback.

Kia scores four- and five-star ratings for crash protection in the 2009 Rio and Rio5, but side-impact protection lags with a three-star rating for passenger side protection. Six airbags—including side, curtain, and dual front airbags—are standard, while anti-lock brakes are optional.

While the base model of the Rio comes with few features, the 2009 Kia Rio LX models have a CD stereo, and they offer a Power Package that includes power locks, mirrors, and windows; keyless entry; and heated mirrors. The SX version gets sport tuning for its suspension, fog lights, and a spoiler. Newly available for 2009 is Sirius Satellite Radio. LX and SX models get a USB audio port.

7

2009 Kia Rio

Styling

The 2009 Kia Rio offers kicky, amusing styling that is several notches above its price tag.

Experts at TheCarConnection.com are fans of the styling of the 2009 Kia Rio. It's not amazing, but it's pretty impressive for the price.

The 2009 Kia Rio has two body styles to choose from: the Kia Rio four-door sedan and the five-door. Kelley Blue Book thinks it's "quite the looker," and J.D. Power says the Kia's "European-influenced appearance imparts a sporty and youthful character into an entry-level automobile." Cars.com touts the exterior features that give both Rios a decent amount of pizzazz: a black mesh grille, "swept-back" headlights, bumpers with black inserts, and black body-side moldings. According to Cars.com, the Rio's profile has what Kia calls a "subtle wedge shape, with sculpted arches at each fender."

Compared to earlier models, the Rio has a "higher quality feel both inside and out," says Kelley Blue Book. On the interior of the 2009 Kia Rio, this translates into good fittings and smart design choices. According to Edmunds, the cabin of the 2009 Kia Rio, especially in beige, has an "airy feel that is unusual for a car in this price range." Cars.com notes the "chrome dashboard accents" of the Rio SX.

6

2009 Kia Rio

Performance

The 2009 Kia Rio is no racer, but its fuel economy, steering, and road manners are all quite good.

The 2009 Kia Rio doesn't offer outstanding performance—but it's certainly better than expected.

According to Edmunds, "Every 2009 Kia Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 with 110 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque." Unfortunately, Car and Driver complains that it takes the 2009 Kia Rio "11.5 seconds to run to 60 mph, which certainly doesn't win any awards." Kelley Blue Book mentions that "Kia has raised the power of its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which drives either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission." Cars.com is more than pleased with the performance of this year's Kia Rio, saying, "Adding a few horsepower can make quite a difference in a small sedan."

Cars.com finds that the redesigned Kia Rio shows improvement over "its original performance, even with automatic transmission." The Rio Kia's automatic does provide swift, well-timed shifts; according to Cars.com, the automatic transmission in the 2009 Kia Rio works smoothly "without any lurching or noticeable gear changes," but Edmunds rates the automatic transmission as "slightly below standard" when it comes to acceleration. The 2009 Kia Rio's manual transmission is an appealing choice for those wanting a sporty vehicle, and Edmunds says, "As expected, the manual transmission makes the Rio more sprightly and fun to drive," noting that "a five-speed manual transmission is standard across the board, while a four-speed automatic is optional on all but the base sedan."

Car and Driver says that, surprisingly, the automatic transmission "gets better fuel mileage than the manual, in this case 3 more mpg, for a highway figure of 35," according to EPA city/highway estimates. Kelley Blue Book agrees, stating, "Fuel economy is excellent," especially its EPA-rated 35 mpg on the highway when equipped with the four-speed automatic.

"Steering is light in the Kia Rio," but "the Rio is delightfully nimble in urban environments, tracks adeptly on straightaways and is easy to guide into turns," in Kelley Blue Book's opinion. Edmunds adds that when "pushed through corners, the Rio responds with predictable body roll and unexpectedly crisp steering"; however, they also state "the suspension isn't as composed over broken pavement as we'd like," saying that "large impacts tend to shudder through the cabin." The Rio Kia LX and SX come equipped with front disc/rear drums; in addition, "4 wheel disc brakes" and "4 wheel ABS brakes" are available options on both models, according to Cars.com. Both models have rack-and-pinion, speed-sensitive steering. Kelley Blue Book finds that "even when the pavement gets troublesome, the Rio's suspension absorbs considerable roughness."

7

2009 Kia Rio

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Kia Rio could use more rear seat space—but most passengers will be comfortable.

Overall, most reviewers note that the 2009 Kia Rio offers plenty of interior space and remarkably good materials quality.

The Rio Kia seats five, and "seat comfort is very good for most body types, though drivers north of 6 feet tall may get fidgety after more than an hour behind the wheel," Edmunds says. And while a fold-down armrest is standard for the driver in the 2009 Kia Rio, Edmunds would "prefer a more traditional center console box that provides this feature for both front occupants along with handy storage space."

In the rear, "the back seat headroom is a bit tight for 6-footers," though legroom is "fully adequate and the tall bench provides good thigh support," according to Edmunds. Kelley Blue Book concurs, saying that the "front seats are roomy and comfortable in the Kia Rio, but the rear seat is hard and reclines excessively." Cars.com states, "Legroom even in the outer positions is marginal when the front seat is moved appreciably rearward"; additionally, "the hard rear seatback is reclined too far for true comfort" in the Kia Rio. Woe to the person in the middle, warns Kelley Blue Book, because "the center occupant straddles a tunnel."

According to Cars.com, "Increased exterior dimensions translate to more interior capacity in the five-passenger Rio. The 2009 Kia Rio's trunk is now 11.9 cubic feet." ConsumerGuide points out the rear seat doesn't lie flat; instead, "it rests above the level of trunk floor, and the opening is cramped." Other storage problems include the release, which "is awkwardly placed toward the center of the seats," and the "trunklid hinges dip into the load area," observes Kelley Blue Book.

When it comes to fit and finish, the 2009 Kia Rio gets mixed reviews. Edmunds says "the materials quality is generally above average, though some trim isn't up to Honda levels"; they specifically complain about "some cheap plastic trim." According to ConsumerGuide, "most cabin surfaces are hard plastic, and padded surfaces are pretty much out of the question." The reviewer admits, however, that "Rio equals some costlier cars for materials and assembly quality."

Engine noise in the 2009 Kia Rio is something of a problem. The engine can get loud in the Rio while being brought up to freeway speed; it becomes a smooth cruise afterward. As Kelley Blue Book explains, "the engine gets seriously buzzy when accelerating, it quiets nicely at speed." "The engine emits considerable buzz and blare when pushed hard," complains Cars.com. Car and Driver gripes that the four-speed automatic produces "a grinding sound at highway speeds, not our soundtrack of choice to accompany five-hour journeys." Edmunds, however, reports that "at 75 mph, the cabin is hushed."

6

2009 Kia Rio

Safety

The 2009 Kia Rio has mixed crash-test scores. Airbag availability is good, but it's unfortunate that the vehicle lacks standard anti-lock brakes.

Experts at TheCarConnection.com like the airbags that come standard in the 2009 Kia Rio—but crash-test scores are underwhelming at best.

The 2009 Kia Rio gets mixed results in governmental safety ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Rio a "poor" rating for rear impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issues a score of "acceptable" (the second highest of four) in frontal offset tests and "poor" (the lowest possible) in that agency's side impact test for the Kia Rio. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awards it five stars in front passenger, front impact protection, but only four stars in driver-side front impact protection. In side impact protection, the Rio garners only three stars.

ConsumerGuide lists an emergency inside trunk lid release as an "important safety feature." Another standard safety feature on the Kia Rio is "Child Door Locks," states Kelley Blue Book. All 2009 Kia Rio models come standard with front, curtain, and side seat-mounted airbags. Other standard safety features for the Rio Kia are occupancy sensors and front seat pre-tensioners.

Most safety features are standard on the Kia Rio, but "anti-lock disc brakes are optional on those higher trim levels as well," according to Edmunds. This is a lapse; the Kia Rio would be much safer with standard anti-lock brakes.

Cars.com states, "Visibility is unobstructed." Kelley Blue Book likes the fact that the "low cowl and sizable rear glass help create nearly unobstructed visibility."

7

2009 Kia Rio

Features

The 2009 Kia Rio offers some of the same features you'll find in competitors like the Honda Fit—but Kia hasn't quite caught up all the way.

The 2009 Kia Rio offers some features that aren't found on other subcompacts, but it's bested by competitors in its class.

On the base 2009 Kia Rio, "standard equipment includes an eight-way manually adjustable driver's seat, variable intermittent wipers and a rear-window defroster," notes Car and Driver. Additionally, Edmunds states that "those who prefer the five-door hatchback body style now have a cheaper way in, as the hatch previously only came in the top-dog SX trim level." Edmunds complains "cruise control isn't available." ConsumerGuide reports such comfort and convenience features in the base model as "cloth upholstery, front bucket seats w/height-adjustable driver seat, center console, tachometer, rear defogger, variable-intermittent wipers, automatic-off headlights."

The SX comes equipped with "Fog/driving lights," which is not an option on the LX, according to Cars.com. The LX adds popular features, including "wider tires, air-conditioning, power steering, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tilt steering wheel and a CD player with an auxiliary audio jack," says Edmunds.

Extra features in the Kia Rio LX and the Kia Rio SX include "air conditioning, a CD stereo with four speakers, a tilt steering column and a 60/40-split folding rear seat," according to Cars.com. They add that in the 2009 Kia Rio, there is now "an auxiliary input jack for MP3 players in the LX and SX. The cupholder design has also been revised, and there's a new center gauge cluster and redesigned shift knobs for both the automatic and manual transmissions."

Both the 2009 Kia Rio LX and SX have options for remote keyless entry and illuminated entry, power locks, and heated mirrors. Options for the Rio Kia SX include "the Power package (which adds full power features, keyless entry and tweeter speakers) and 16-inch alloy wheels," notes Edmunds. New for 2009 are standard USB ports on LX and SX models, as well as available Sirius Satellite Radio.

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6.6
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Styling 7.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 6.0
Features 7.0
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