REVIEW: 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door SX Grabs Your Attention

You can forget almost everything that you remember about the first two generations of the Kia Rio. The latest all-new Rio subcompact is stylish, chocked full of cool features and gets up to 40 mpg on the highway.

You can forget almost everything that you remember about the first two generations of the Kia Rio. The latest all-new Rio subcompact is stylish, chocked full of cool features and gets up to 40 mpg on the highway. Kia gave us the keys to the all-new third-generation 2012 Rio 5-Door SX for the weekend. Normally most people would never think about taking a Kia to The Hamptons for the weekend, but thanks to its stylish and sporty exterior, this Rio did not scream “economy car” like the first generation.

The all-new 2012 Rio is offered in both five-door and sedan versions. On the outside the Rio’s styling stands out compared to more conservatively styled competitors like the Nissan Versa. The five-door hatchback is not only the sportier looking of the two Rio models, but should also be the wiser choice if you live in the city. Its shorter overall length makes it easier to parallel park and the rear hatch makes it easier to throw all of your stuff in the back. Our Rio SX came standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust tips and LED lighting.


Just like the exterior, the interior of the 2012 Rio doesn’t disappoint. It’s also stylish, pretty quiet and its materials are on par with a class above the Rio. Our top of the line SX model came standard with Kia’s UVO infotainment system that is similar to Ford’s SYNC system. It also came standard with Bluetooth, a USB input jack, and Sirius satellite radio. Two things we weren’t expecting on a car costing only $18k, were a rear camera display and power-folding side mirrors. Buyers can also choose the SX Premium package, which adds a navigation system, leather seats, a push button start system, heated front seats and a power sunroof. Overall we were impressed with the Rio’s interior, we only wished that the touchscreen on non-navigation Rios was a tad larger (there’s lots of space around it on the dashboard) and that the audio system had more bass.


The 2012 Rio is powered by a 1.6L four-cylinder engine with 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft. of torque, which is more power than the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit offer. Buyers can choose from a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately the top SX model only comes standard with the six-speed automatic. The automatic-equipped Rio is rated at 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, although we averaged just over 33 mpg during our weekend trip.


To help drivers save even more fuel the Rio comes equipped with a Eco button on the dash, but unfortunately it reduces the Rio’s throttle response so much that it’s not enjoyable. Around the crazy streets of Manhattan the Rio’s suspension swallowed up most of the potholes that the city threw at it. Its six-speed automatic also seemed to always find the right gear and the sound of the four-cylinder engine was definitely more refined than the Kias we’ve tried to forget from ten years ago.


Although the Rio’s suspension was great for the city, once the speeds picked up on the highway, the Rio’s suspension and steering became a let down. The Rio’s electric power steering may be great for keeping you away from the gas pump longer, but its lack of any road feel was disappointing. The Rio SX comes equipped with a sport-tuned suspension, but our Rio SX 5-Door did not like being thrown into a corner. It’s suspension would do quite the opposite of what you wanted and quickly reminded you that the Rio is more suited for lower speeds than the track.

Overall the 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door SX showed that it can hold its own against competitors like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta with its stylish exterior and interior that didn’t scream “hey this is an economy car.” The only big thing that Kia needs to fix is the Rio’s suspension and steering, which currently makes it less fun to drive than the 2012 Honda Fit we tested a few months ago.

Stay tuned for our upcoming review of the 2012 Kia Optima Turbo.