- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

In the austere realm of basic transportation, very few motor vehicles match the simplicity of Kia’s redesigned 2006 Rio. An option-free four-door entry model starts at just over $11,000, and arrives with manual steering, front disc and rear drum brakes without ABS, a five-speed manual transmission, manual windows/lock/mirrors, no air conditioning and no audio system. Base models also are extremely limited in options, with available floor mats and a cargo area tray providing the only variation. This Spartan approach is reminiscent of the old econoboxes of the past, some of which did not even include a passenger side-view mirror.

But have no fear; the new Rio arrives standard with a right-side mirror. In fact, the safety column is where this vehicle shines. All models include advanced driver and passenger front air bags, front seat-mounted side-impact air bags, full-length curtain air bags, three-point seat belts at all positions, front belts with pretensioners and an impact-absorbing steering column.

Two body styles and three trim models make up the Rio lineup. Base and LX models are sold in four-door sedan form, while the SX version arrives only as a five-door hatchback. All are powered by Kia’s 1.6-liter DOHC inline four-cylinder, with continuously variable valve timing. Output rates at 110 horsepower and 107 foot-pounds of torque in front of a five-speed manual transmission. LX and SX Rio’s may be optioned with a four-speed automatic, and four-wheel disc brakes that include ABS.

Outside of the sophisticated engine technology, most of the mechanical bits remain conventional. The suspension is a basic MacPherson setup in the front, with torsion beam/coil spring configuration in the rear. A front stabilizer bar is standard, and the brakes get power assistance.

Engine speed-sensitive power steering is standard with LX and SX models, but not base Rios.

The $12,985 LX four-door upgrades to 185/65R14 tires on steel rims, with full wheel covers (as opposed to the base’s 175/70R14s and center wheel caps). A four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system, roof-mounted antenna, air conditioning, tilt steering column, 60/40-split folding rear seat and adjustable rear headrest are also applied. Five-door SX models ($14,040) include 15-inch alloy wheels with 195/55R15 tires, a rear window wiper/washer, front fog lights, a rear roof spoiler and leather on the shift knob and steering wheel. Buyers of LX or SX versions should consider the $600 Power Package that adds power windows and locks, power heated mirrors, keyless entry and two more stereo tweeter speakers. For a sporty appearance, a body-color deck-lid spoiler accents optioned LX sedans.

Kia employs a contemporary design approach that signals “economy” in very few ways. The fenders flair boldly, the greenhouse feels smoothly executed from the A to C pillars and the lenses are sufficiently “jeweled” to identify the Rio as stylistically modern. Well-integrated exterior door handles, fender contours that continue into the headlight/taillight plastic and a front bumper/fascia area expose Kia’s effort in rendering thoughtful positive space. SX hatchback models show off a racy-looking back pillar that sweeps into the taillights.

Rio’s interior appears perfectly functional, featuring elements such a three-spoke steering wheel, dual gauge (left tachometer, right speedometer) arrangement, pocketed front-door panels, and three round HVAC controls. A subtle tension of convex and concave surfaces on the dash panel makes for visual stimulation.

Leaving the dealership having spent limited cash is not the only way in which buying a Rio is economical. Manually shifted models should achieve 32 miles per gallon city and 35 highway, while those fitted with automatics drop the city figure to 29 mpg but actually increases the highway mark to a lofty 38 mpg.

Kia’s impressive warranty further maximizes Rio’s frugality. A basic five-year/60,000 mile plan is supplemented by lengthy 10-year/100,000 mile limited powertrain coverage. Tire and Road Hazard assistance lasts one year or 12,000 miles, while 24-hour roadside assistance matches the basic five-year/60K extension.

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