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Kia’s Rio SX sedan is an unique blend of economy and luxury like appointments

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Kia Rio SX sedan

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With Kia directing more of its emphasis on upscale models like the SXL Optima and Sorrento, as well as the near luxury Cadenza and new luxo rear-wheel drive V8-powered K900, it may be prudent to profile a model completely on the opposite side of the spectrum, the Kia Rio. After all, entry level and efficiency is what brought Kia to the dance in the first place.

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Of interesting note is that the model that the Rio receives its heritage from, the Pride, was derived from the non-US spec Ford Festiva, which was sold in North America as the Ford Aspire between 1994 and 1997. All were built at the Sohari Plant in Gwangmyeong, South Korea, where incidentally the Rio is now assembled. Kia’s humble beginnings in the US started with the 1994 Sephia sedan, followed by the Sportage SUV a year later.

The Rio serves as Kia’s smallest sub-compact offering, competing against such popular models as the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa, Mazda 2 and Chevrolet Sonic; even its kissin’ cousin, the Hyundai Accent, with which the Rio shares platform architecture.

The Rio comes as either as a 5-door hatchback or 4-door sedan, in three trim levels: LX, EX and SX. As far as a crowd favorite, the hatchback is a far more popular choice and is more comparable to its immediate competition; however the sedan competes very favorably to the equivalent Accent, Yarus and Versa models.

The test model featured here is the Rio SX sedan, which came in an attractive Signal Red with black leather appointments. Amenities for this trim level include a standard 6-speed automatic transmission, electric power steering, a UVO infotainment system, sports tuned suspension and 17-inch alloys.

Our test vehicle was actually a 2013 model, but virtually identical to a 2014 with only minor nuances. Additional plastic shielding has been added to the undercarriage for improved aerodynamics. Interior upgrades include a new water-temperature gauge and the Smart Key fob now includes a folding key for added convenience. All this reflects a mere $200 increase in the base price to a still very reasonable $17,900.

Our tester was equipped with a very short option list, yet lack for nothing. The SX trim adds 17-inch wheels and sport tuning; bigger front brakes; fog lamps; power-folding heated side mirrors; and LED tail lamp and headlamp accents. The SX also gets Kia's version of the Microsoft-powered voice controls sold by Ford as SYNC, though Kia’s version has fewer available voice commands for phone and audio.

The Premium Package (which increased slightly from $2,350 to $2,500) was the most significant. Besides the aforementioned push-button start with Smart Key, the package includes a 7-inch screen navigation system with SIRRUS traffic (replacing the UVO infotainment system), leather seating surfaces with heated front seats, and a power tilt/slide moonroof. Other options included an EC mirror with compass and Homelink ($350), carpeted floor mats ($115) and rear bumper appliqué ($75).

Total sum of the options came to $2,890 for our 2013 model, with a total window sticker of $21,340, including $750 for designation charges. A similar 2014 would equate to $21,740 (including $800 for designation charges).

The Rio comes with a single engine choice, a 1.8-liter gas direct injection (GDI) DOHC four-in-line with dual continuously variable valve timing. Rated at 138-bhp @ 6,300 rpm, 123 lb-ft of torque @ 4,850 rpm, it achieves an EPA rating of 27/37 mpg city/highway. An available Eco Package includes Kia’s ISG stop-start technology. The acronym stands for "Idle Stop and Go," which is a fuel-saving system that turns off the engine when the car is stopped and seamlessly turns it on again when the brake pedal is released. This eco-smart mechanism is good for an extra mile per gallon in town.

The Rio fits squarely in the subcompact class, with its 88 cubic feet of interior space, despite that the Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent actually have more volume because their boxier rear bonnets. The Rio sits on a 101.2-inch wheelbase, with an overall length of 171.9-inches, and trunk volume of 13.7 cubic feet, compared to 15 cubic feet of the hatchback. It lines up best alongside the Ford Fiesta and platform mate Mazda 2.

The Rio's front seats are surprisingly supportive for a vehicle of its class. The downside is that the rear seat is more confining with scant adult-sized knee or head room; this is where the Hyundai Accent fares better, providing more optimum space for four, not to mention a bigger boot.

For such a short wheelbase with a simplistic strut and twist-beam rear suspension, the Rio’s provides a well dampen ride. Despite the lack of feedback from the electric steering, the weight is dialed in at least to mirror the response rate of the suspension, and is noticeably stiffer with the sports suspension of the SX.

Surprisingly, the Rio SX is equipped with a dynamic vehicle control system expected on far more expensive models. The difference in the way that different manufacturers source and tune their Traction Control System (TCS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), and Vehicle Stability Management (VSM). Where some systems intrude, and some are transparent, the Rio’s Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) connects to the Electronic Speed Control (ESC) and steering system to automatically make steering corrections.

Kia offers one of the best warranties available, which includes a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty with 24-hour roadside assistance.

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