- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

MODEL: Kia Rio

VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door sedan

PRICE-AS-TESTED: $10,564

MILEAGE: 27 city, 32 highway

Kia Motors of America is bucking the trend. Instead of making a more expensive car, its all-new Rio is about $1,000 less than others in its showroom.

The base price of the four-door Rio sedan is $8,595. Even with the few options on my tester, the price was only $10,564. That's less than half the price of the average sedan.

Since I like my comforts, I expected this test-drive week to be miserably long. I was wrong. Fact is, I was pleasantly surprised. The Rio didn't shortchange me one bit when it came to good, reliable transportation, nor was the ride uncomfortable. I enjoyed this little car since it is very easy to handle, maneuver and park. The Rio did all I asked of it as long as I wasn't unreasonable with my demands.

The Rio is comparatively lightweight; it weighs under 2,300 pounds. Its small, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine produces only 96 horsepower, but it gets the job done. Don't misunderstand the Rio is not a jackrabbit. The car takes time getting up to speed but eventually it gets up to 50, 60 and 70 mph. All that's required is a little caution and common sense when entering a freeway. This engine's strong point is in fuel economy. The Environmental Protection Agency listing is 27 city and 32 highway.

For big spenders, there is an optional automatic transmission for an additional $875. However, fuel economy suffers slightly: 25 city and 31 highway.

There were a few thoughtful features that I missed in the Rio. I had to wind the windows down, lock each door manually and use my ignition key to unlock the trunk. Even the side-view mirrors had to be adjusted by hand. The seats are neither powered nor heated. The tiny vanity mirrors on the sun visors aren't illuminated. Storage pockets are few and far between, and the list of what this car lacks goes on and on. Nevertheless, it has cup holders.

My point is, although the Rio doesn't measure up to cars costing twice its price, it exceeds most other cars in value. Kia offers value in ways I wouldn't expect: power steering, a tilt steering wheel, rear-window defroster, tinted glass, full wheel covers, body-side molding, air conditioning and an AM/FM stereo cassette radio. The radio and air conditioning are options, of course. Other options include anti-lock brakes, spoiler and floor mats.

Inside the car is sufficient roominess for four or five passengers to ride in comfort. The driver's seat has height adjustments, which is a valuable aid in improving visibility for those of smaller stature. The car even has a foldable armrest.

The main reason I enjoyed my test drive is the ease in handling this little car. The turning radius is very short, which translates into my ability to maneuver this 166-inch car into parking spaces that I would have to abandon in a larger car. The ride comfort is reasonable, the interior noise level is moderate, steering is exceptionally easy and the manual transmission is precise.

Kia is somewhat new to North America, but the company has grown at a rapid pace. There are now 580 dealers offering a variety of five vehicles in their showrooms. Those concerned about how well an inexpensive vehicle will hold up can take comfort in knowing that Kia has addressed that worry by offering a comprehensive customer-protection plan. The coverage includes a 10-year or 100,000-mile warranty for the powertrain, plus an extensive roadside-assistance program.

Those who are looking for an entry-level car and are bothered by the constant escalation in price can take heart that Rio has bucked the trend.

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