2006 Kia Rio Review

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Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
September 15, 2005



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.

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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 Seattle, are reason to expect bigger things from the bigger new Rio sedan and the vaguely Renault-looking Rio5 hatchback. For 2006, both Rios gain more space from a longer wheelbase and wider track, a better ride, and more horsepower from their gas-sipping four.


Catching no buzz


2006 Kia Rio5

2006 Kia Rio5

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.


The typical four-cylinder rasp is absent, and so is the typical rental-car ride and handling of the smallest cars. The Rio ’s suspension layout is simple, straightforward MacPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam rear axle, with front and rear anti-roll bars. So outfitted, the Rio and Rio5 feel a bit like a BMW 3-Series after a gastric bypass, with light feedback in the steering (at least in the power-steering cars we sampled) and a pleasant responsiveness that will catch former SUV drivers totally off guard. Now, it’s difficult to make a car this compact swallow bumps in the road, but the Rio manages most road rash with civility.


It’s when trying to stuff it to the four-adult maximum that the Rio betrays its caste. With the driver seat back in a proper position, the back seat is almost devoid of legroom. Room for a child car seat? Yes. A Piston, Hawk, or Nugget? Not likely. The trunk is 30 percent larger than before, though, and maybe that’s the way to mass transportation with willing friends.


To its greater defense, the Rio’s interior is softly styled, with a dash-colored faceplate on the radio and a sculptured dash covered in light, open-grained plastic.


2006 Kia Rio5

2006 Kia Rio5

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.


The Rio’s defining feature may be the package of safety gear Kia stitches into each one. There are six standard airbags, including full-length side-curtain airbags, making it the least expensive vehicle you can buy with so many crash cushions. The base car is pretty stark, but LX four-doors and the SX five-door can be outfitted with the automatic transmission, power steering, anti-lock brakes with rear discs, and a power package.


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.



2006 Kia Rio/Rio5
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

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