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PERFORMANCE | 6 out of 10
During Edmunds instrumented testing, the Rio went from zero to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds.
We were surprised at how comfortable the car rides considering its small size, but the soft ride doesn't compromise its handling abilities. In sorting out the suspension, Kia's engineers used the Ford Fiesta as their benchmark to ensure some sporty footwork and, while we can say they got pretty close, we can't say they exceeded it.
Kelley Blue Book
Acceleration is peppy off the line, but the Rio loses steam the faster it goes. In fact, by 80 mph there isn't much left in the way of thrust, so do your lane jockeying early as we did.
I was surprised at how well road bumps were managed by the suspension, which uses McPherson struts in front and torsion beam in back. It wasn't a pillowy, soft ride, for sure -- I felt sensations from the road, but it was never harsh.
As in other new Kias, the Rio's ride is firm bordering on harsh, with a tendency to pogo over wavy sections of pavement.
Every 2012 Kia Rio has at least one thing in common: a 1.6-liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder with direct injection and a smooth, revvy demeanor. Like our favorites in the class--including the Chevy Sonic and the Rio's near-twin, the Hyundai Accent--the Rio's powerplant seems happy to go about its business, even if it takes nearly 10 seconds for it to push the subcompact to 60 mph from a stop. It's mostly muted and doesn't have much vibration associated with high engine speeds, though there's some ticking generated by the direct injection that could use a damper of its own.
Kia offers a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic on the Rio. They're equally good choices, though Kia thinks only about five percent of Rio drivers will take the manual box. Minus any fancy shift paddles or exotic performance modes, the transmissions simply help the pint-sized Rio turn in excellent fuel economy numbers.Ride and handling hardly compare with the old Rio. We're still bigger fans of the Sonic's cheerful scrabble under turbo power, and the Fiesta's electric steering leads in tuning, but the Rio acquits itself better than any small Kia has, and mostly above the mean for such a short-wheelbase car with a basic strut and torsion-beam suspension. On fairly smooth roads the Rio rides comfortably, with little of the bounding and crashing that truly small cars used to count among their worst traits. The steering loads up on weight quickly, with the usual electric-steering lack of feedback. The feeling of continuity between those two systems is what works best, even with the slight uptick in heft in the more sporty Rio SX.
On the economy-car scale, it's quick and light to the touch, but the Rio's performance by absolute standards is just average.