2011 Kia Rio Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 15, 2011

The 2011 Kia Rio has a perky driving feel and roomy interior, though the lack of refinement, low safety scores, and dated styling limit its appeal.

The 2011 Kia Rio is now one of the most aged designs in this class, and it's looking passable but bland inside and out. The Kia Rio has changed very little in appearance and retains pretty much the same styling and design that was introduced for 2006.

Inside, the look sure isn't daring in any way either. It's basic but straightforward, and while it's not upscale, it's not chintzy either. The design is still sound, with the climate and audio controls and most other switchgear up high and within easy reach.

Considering the Rio's low price, the driving experience is surprisingly good, with a peppy feel in most respects. The Rio handles reasonably well, brakes seem strong, and there's enough gumption from the powertrain and 110-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine for most driving, aside from high-speed passes.

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The 2011 Kia Rio offers a well-designed interior, but it doesn't step outside its small-car roots or offer any packaging magic. There's space for four adults on board—or three kids across in back, in a pinch—but there's not a lot of legroom back there and the bench seat is rather hard. Front seats are a bit short but otherwise comfortable, with a good driving position. Across the model line, engine noise can be an issue; it's obtrusive during acceleration and when cruising at higher speeds.

Throughout the interior, materials and finishes are very impressive. At the time the Rio was introduced, its trims and overall cabin look were at the leading edge among the lowest-priced small cars, and they still stand up reasonably well today.

Because of lackluster crash-test scores, combined with the lack of key safety features on some trims, you'll want to think twice about the 2011 Kia Rio if safety is a priority. With 'poor' ratings from the IIHS and a three-star showing in the former, more lenient federal tests, the Rio's side impact protection clearly isn't impressive. And electronic stability control, which is now standard even on many inexpensive small cars, can't be had at all in the Rio.

While the base-model Rio strictly offers reliable transportation on a tight budget, the 2011 Kia Rio and Rio5 come well-equipped in their upper trims. The Rio SX model gets a sportier suspension, alloy wheels, fog lamps, and a spoiler, plus sport seats, leather trim, and Sirius Satellite Radio. LX and SX models have a USB audio port, and while there aren't officially any factory options, a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface is available at extra cost.

6

2011 Kia Rio

Styling

While the 2011 Kia Rio looks somewhat handsome but anonymous among small cars, its styling now stands out as a reminder of the brand's bland design past—among a lineup of otherwise fashion-forward vehicles.

The 2011 Kia Rio is now one of the most aged designs in this class, and it's looking passable but bland inside and out. The Kia Rio has changed very little in appearance and retains pretty much the same styling and design that was introduced for 2006.

While the Rio is handsome and inoffensive, it unfortunately looks a bit dated next to Kia's other new vehicles, which have nearly all been redesigned over the past year or two. Compared to the Soul boxy wagon, the Sportage crossover, and Optima sedan—all of which have Kia's new standout design attributes and much sportier flavor—the Rio seems downright boring. Still, the proportions are pert and simple, with lipped wheel wells and an arched theme that plays out especially nicely in the roofline and rear pillars of the Rio5.

Inside, the look sure isn't daring in any way. It's basic but straightforward, and while it's not upscale, it's not chintzy either. The design is still sound, with the climate and audio controls and most other switchgear up high and within easy reach.

6

2011 Kia Rio

Performance

While the 2011 Kia Rio isn't quick, it feels relatively peppy and responsive from the driver's seat.

The Rio's 110-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine might not sound so impressive, but because the Rio is such a light car, it's plenty. The Rio feels sprightly enough for most types of driving—especially in the city—especially with the five-speed manual gearbox (although the linkage can feel imprecise). A four-speed automatic is also available, and while the gaps between gears can be quite wide, the combination feels better than some peaky engines that have one more gear to work with.

Considering the Rio's low price, the driving experience is surprisingly good, with a peppy feel in most respects. The Rio handles reasonably well, brakes seem strong, and there's enough gumption from the powertrain for most driving, aside from high-speed passes.

7

2011 Kia Rio

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Kia Rio isn't very refined, but its interior accommodations are better than typical in this class of lowest-priced small cars.

The 2011 Kia Rio offers a well-designed interior, but it doesn't step outside its small-car roots or offer any packaging magic. There's space for four adults on board—or three kids across in back, in a pinch—but there's not a lot of legroom back there and the bench seat is rather hard. Front seats are a bit short but otherwise comfortable, with a good driving position.

Trunk space is actually impressive, too, and in the Rio5, a fairly large cargo area tucks beneath the hatchback. In either model, though, ride quality can be pitchy on some types of freeway surfaces, and Rio SX models have different tire and suspension settings, aimed at producing a sportier feel, that bring more road noise into the cabin without, from our prior impressions, really feeling that much sportier. Across the model line, engine noise can be an issue; it's obtrusive during acceleration and when cruising at higher speeds.

Throughout the interior, materials and finishes are very impressive. At the time the Rio was introduced, its trims and overall cabin look were at the leading edge among the lowest-priced small cars, and they still stand up reasonably well today.

4

2011 Kia Rio

Safety

Crash-test scores for the 2011 Kia Rio and Rio5 are unimpressive and critical safety features are lacking—so this is not a good pick if you're safety-conscious.

Because of lackluster crash-test scores, combined with the lack of key safety features on some trims, you'll want to think twice about the 2011 Kia Rio if safety is a priority.

Crash-test scores for the 2011 Kia Rio and Rio5 are far from great—and besides being one of the lowest-rated small cars for safety, its standard safety features are a solid step behind most

The Rio earns just 'acceptable' ratings in most test areas from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but it's one of few cars this year to earn a 'poor' score in side impact. And while it hasn't been tested in the new, more rigorous federal tests being introduced for 2011, the Rio earned a mix of four- and five-star results in the previous tests, with just three stars for side impact. We see a clear message to take away from this: the Rio's side impact protection isn't impressive.

There are six airbags standard on the 2011 Rio, including side, curtain, and dual front airbags. Active front headrests and anti-lock brakes are now standard on all Rio and Rio5 models, but electronic stability control still isn't at all offered.

One positive thing about the Rio and Rio5 is that outward visibility are good; thanks to a low beltline and ample rear window glass.

7

2011 Kia Rio

Features

Base Rio models keep it very simple, but the Rio and Rio5 LX and SX models come the way most shoppers expect.

While the base-model Rio strictly offers reliable transportation on a tight budget, the 2011 Kia Rio and Rio5 come well-equipped in their upper trims.

The base Rio sedan, which totals less than $13k with destination, is very simple in equipment; it includes manual winding windows, no air conditioning, and no tilt steering (no power steering at that). Step up to the LX and you'll get what most people now consider the minimum, with A/C, tilt steering, power steering, and split-folding rear seats, and you'll set the stage for Power Package that includes power locks, mirrors, and windows; keyless entry; and heated mirrors.

The Rio SX model gets a sportier suspension, alloy wheels, fog lamps, and a spoiler, plus sport seats, leather trim, and Sirius Satellite Radio. LX and SX models have a USB audio port, and while there aren't officially any factory options, a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface is available at extra cost.

8

2011 Kia Rio

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Kia Rio isn't a high-mileage standout, but it's quite green and fuel-efficient.

Relative to the market as a whole, the 2011 Kia Rio is a very green choice. But with EPA ratings of 28 mpg city, 34 highway with the five-speed, 27/36 mpg with the automatic, the Rio's ratings are good but not stellar next to other small cars. In previous driving experiences with the Rio, we've seen figures in the mid to upper 20s in mixed conditions.

All automatic models now come with an EcoMinder light to help you drive in a fuel-efficient manner.

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April 21, 2015
For 2011 Kia Rio

Very good value for the price (Rio 5 sport edition)

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I am very happy with this car, Rio 5 sport edition, manual transmission, fun to drive, specially after 15 years of using an automatic van that was better adapted for my family. Now that the children are gone... + More »
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6.0
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Styling 6.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 4.0
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Fuel Economy 8.0
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