2012 Kia Rio Performance

6.0
Performance

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.

On the economy-car scale, it's quick and light to the touch, but the Rio's performance by absolute standards is just average.
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.

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