It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow, the saying goes, and while the Kia Rio is at the top of its class in power and performance, in the overall automotive landscape, it’s not the fastest bush on the hill. Or something like that.
Still, as we noted in our first drive of the third generation Rio (we’re counting only those models sold in the U.S. under that name), the bantamweight Kia hatchback has the looks to qualify as a sports sedan. The Kia family grille is augmented by a large opening below it, and that—plus faux cheek grilles—gives the Rio an aggressive appearance that’s matched by the forward slant that along with the black panel under the rear bumper makes the Rio look like a sprinter in the blocks.
The subject of the current test is a 2013 Kia Rio5 SX in Signal Red with a black interior. Seventeen inch alloy wheels with black-painted inserts are standard on the SX, replacing the 15-inch steelies on the base LX or optional 15-inch alloys on the midgrade EX. The SX is available in only five colors, dropping the less exciting hues. Outside, the SX and the EX have chrome trim around the grille, and the SX adds fog lamps, LED accent lights and rear combination lamps, dual chrome exhaust tips, power-folding(!) outside heated mirrors with turn signal indicators and, only for the Rio 5-door, projector headlamps.
Expectations are raised.
Inside, the 2014 Kia Rio5 SX has the option of black. Or black. The lesser Rio5 trim levels get a choice of black or gray interior, though the four-door sedan has four fabric colors to choose from. The list of standard equipment, even on the LX, is impressive, including a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, tilt steering column, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, trip computer, 60/40 split folding rear seats and a cargo cover for the hatchback, though also something seldom seen anymore, hand crank windows.
Moving up to EX means power windows with automatic up/down on the driver’s window, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth with steering wheel-mounted voice activation controls for hands-free operation for compatible mobile phones, plus interior trim upgrades.
Our Kia Rio5 SX, if it had an automatic transmission, would have standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The SX also brings metal pedals, a “Supervision meter cluster” (providing average mpg, instant mpg, water temp, two trip meters, economy driving meter, average speed), leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual map lights, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, UVO powered by Microsoft4 voice-activated infotainment system with rear camera display based on the Windows4 Embedded Automotive platform.
The touch screen of the multi-information screen combines with hard button on either side for easy and intuitive operation, and actual twist knobs for radio volume and tuning. Everything has a solid, quality feel.
The front seats have a quality fabric and long ride comfortable with lots of headroom. Thanks to the five-door hatchback profile, there’s generous headroom in back as well. Toe room under the front seats provide more leg room than might be expected. The back doors are small, however, and require contortions for the average-sized adult to enter and exit.
The seatbacks fold for added cargo room—it’s what a hatchback is for—and although for 2013 Kia raised the floor of the cargo area and added underfloor storage, the seatbacks don’t lie completely flat. It’s not by much and it usually won’t be noticed until it’s time to load a really large box.
The run stuff starts under the hood, however. The engine for all Kia Rio models and trim levels is a 1.6-liter four with continuously variable valve timing and direct injection, sophisticated for an economy car. It’s rated at 138 horsepower at 6300 rpm, and 123 lb-ft of torque peaking at a relatively high 4850 rpm. Extracting the performance, then, means revving the little funbox under the hood.