2012 Kia Rio Review and Prices

Last Updated: May 13, 2011

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2012 Kia Rio Buying Advice

The 2012 Kia Rio is the best subcompact car for you if you want an exceptionally affordable fuel-sipper with surprising style and unexpected sophistication.

The fully redesigned 2012 Kia Rio four-door sedan and 2012 Kia Rio5 four-door hatchback march to the top tier of the class for power and fuel economy. These are the smallest and least expensive cars from Kia, the hot subsidiary of South Korean giant Hyundai. Fashion-forward styling, a state-of-the-art engine that automatically turns off and on during stops to save gas, and 30/40-mpg city/highway fuel economy are 2012 Rio highlights. So is an estimated base price range of $13,600-$18,500.  

Should you buy a 2012 Kia Rio or wait for the 2013 Kia Rio? Buy a 2012 Rio. The 2013 Rio isn’t likely to change in any way worth waiting for. The 2012 Rio launches a design that’ll look fresh for years and is already ahead of much of the competition for powertrain technology.

2012 Kia Rio Changes back to top

Styling: Seldom are cars transformed on the scale of the redesigned 2012 Rio sedan and hatchback. They go from dumpy ducklings to stunners. Gone are the cheap-looking, doughy shapes of the 2006-2011 Rios. The new cars, conceived in Kia’s California design studios, have aggressive, wedge-themed bodies with distinctive detailing and concise overhangs. Trendy large air intakes dominate the front view. The tails are pert and uncomplicated. The side mirrors are attached to the door panels as on premium cars rather to the base of the roof pillars as on budget cars. Simple but artsy touches, like toggle-style climate controls, give the cabin personality.

The 2012 Rios are longer, lower, and wider than the 2006-2011 generation and gain a significant 2.8 inches in wheelbase. The 2012 Rio sedan body is a foot-and-a-half longer than that of the 2012 Rio5 hatchback, but both ride a 101.2-inch wheelbase that’s among the longest in the subcompact class. That’s important because wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear axles – is key to a car’s interior space and stance on the road.

This is the same wheelbase and underskin architecture Hyundai uses for its redesigned 2012 Accent subcompact. Though the Accent has different styling – it’s busy with curves versus the plainer, creased flavor of the Rio -- both cars are among the largest, inside and out, in the subcompact class.         

Both the 2012 Kia Rio sedan and hatchback come in in three levels of trim: base LX, volume-selling EX, and sporty-tinged SX. The SX models are distinguished by 17-inch alloy wheels versus 15-inch steel or alloys on the LX and EX. SXs also have standard fog lamps, LED daytime running lamps and LED taillight accents, dual chrome exhaust tips, mirrors with turn-signal indicators and, for the Rio5, projector-beam headlamps.  

Mechanical: The 2012 Kia Rio’s only engine is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that’s in the subcompact vanguard for technology thanks to two cutting-edge features. This engine is also used by the Hyundai Accent and in both cars it employs direct fuel injection. Rio and Accent are first in the subcompact class with this feature, which introduces fuel directly into the cylinder to maximize power and fuel economy and minimize exhaust emissions.

The engine is rated the same in both cars, at 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as acceleration’s key ingredient, horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum). Those figures place the 1.6 among the most powerful standard engines in the subcompact class, and direct fuel injection plays a role in that.

In the 2012 Rio, however, the engine is also offered with a feature Kia calls Idle Stop and Go (ISG). Available only with automatic transmission, IISG saves gas by turning off the engine when the car is not in motion, such as at a stop light or when halted in traffic. The engine restarts automatically when the driver releases the brake pedal. Popularly known as a “stop/start system,” this fuel-saving technology came into wide use in gas-electric hybrid vehicles. Stop/start is just now filtering into models with conventional gasoline powertrains and the 2012 Rio is among the first cars for sale in the U.S. with it. The system is designed to allow accessories such as air conditioning to continue running while the engine is shut off, though if accessory demand exceeds certain limits, ISG will not shut off.

Kia says the ISG is part of an Eco Package option exclusive to 2012 Rio EX models. The package also includes Kia’s Active Eco System designed to maximize fuel economy by automatically modulating powertrain response at the push of a dashboard button. The Eco Package is available only on the EX model with automatic transmission. 

The 2012 Rio also is the subcompact forefront for transmissions. Each trim level is available with a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. With transmissions, the greater the number of gears, the better the opportunity for efficient power delivery and high fuel economy. The outgoing Rio featured antiquated five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions and six-speeds are relatively rare even among the latest crop of subcompact cars.

Otherwise, the 2012 Rio hews to subcompact tradition with front-wheel drive and a torsion-beam rear suspension. Brakes are discs in front, drums in rear; antilock control is standards on all models, as is antiskid stability control.     

Features: Kia’s sales growth has been fueled in large measure by generous feature content at budget-conscious prices. That’ll hold for the 2012 Rio. Buyers will still need to move up from the entry-level LX version to acquire such key amenities as air conditioning, power windows, and cruise control. But those willing to spend can enjoy a navigation system, leather upholstery, heated front seats, and a moonroof – all rare in this class.    

Kia had not announced final trim-level or option-package contents in time for this review but had confirmed that every 2012 Rio will come with a height-adjustable driver’s seat and a CD audio system that includes both a USB iPod interface and an MP3 auxiliary jack. Sirius satellite radio with three months complimentary service also is standard.

Moving up from the 2012 Rio LX to the EX model adds standard power windows with automatic up/down on the driver's window, keyless entry, Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity with steering wheel-mounted controls, a telescoping steering column, 60/40 split/folding rear seats, and leatherette door trim.

In addition to the Eco Package, the 2012 Rio EX is available with a Convenience Package that includes 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, and outside heated mirrors with turn signal indicators. The Convenience Package also includes cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a maplight with sunglasses holder, illuminated vanity mirrors, and a trip computer.

The 2012 Rio SX builds on the EX trim by adding the aforementioned exterior upgrades and 17-inch alloy wheels, plus metal-trimmed gas, brake, and clutch pedals, chrome-coated cabin accents, and an enhanced gauge cluster. 

Standard on the 2012 Rio SX and included in the EX’s optional Convenience Package is Kia’s UVO/Microsoft communication and entertainment system. This affords voice-command control of a wide range of audio and mobile-phone functions. It includes a 4.3-inch color dashboard screen that also is the display for a rearview backup camera.

Exclusive to the SX model is a Premium Package option that includes a navigation system in place of the UVO system, plus pushbutton ignition, leather upholstery, heated front seats, and a moonroof.

2012 Kia Rio Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Rio were not announced in time for this review, but expect a base-price range of roughly $13,600-$18,500. That would continue to slot Rio among the least expensive new cars available in the U.S. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee; Kia’s fee for the 2011 Rio was $695.)
Estimated base price for the 2012 Rio LX sedan is $13,600 with the six-speed manual transmission and $14,600 with the six-speed automatic. Add an estimated $100-$200 for the Rio5 LX. 

Expect the 2012 Rio EX sedan to start around $16,000 with the manual transmission and $17,000 with the automatic. The top-of-the-line 2012 Rio SX sedan has an estimated starting price of $17,500 with manual transmission, $18,500 with the automatic. The Rio5 EX and SX will carry an estimated $250-$350 premium over their sedan counterparts.

Among 2012 Rio options prices, the most closely watched by competitors will be the Eco Package for the EX. Its ISG stop/start system is not likely to be an inexpensive feature and could push the price of the Eco Package to $1,000 or so, meaning buyers will have to pay a premium to get the absolute most fuel-efficient version of the Rio.

Note that the 2012 Hyundai Accent is a viable Kia Rio alternative and basically the same car in different clothing. The 2012 Accent sedan starts at $13,205 with the six-speed manual transmission and at $15,955 with the six-speed automatic. Base-price range for the Accent hatchback is $15,355-$16,555 with manual transmission, $16,555-$17,555 with automatic.   

Included in any assessment of the 2012 Rio’s value equation is Kia’s generous warranty. It includes 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and 10/100,000 powertrain coverage. This coverage is matched by Hyundai, though the parent-company includes roadside assistance for 5 years/unlimited mileage while Kia’s roadside assistance is for 5 years/60,000 miles.

2012 Kia Rio Fuel Economy back to top

Final fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Kia Rio were unavailable in time for this review, but it should be among the most fuel-efficient cars on the road.

Kia projects EPA fuel-economy ratings of 30/40 mpg city/highway for the 2012 Rio with both the manual and automatic transmissions. That matches ratings for the 2012 Accent and qualifies both cars as among the highest-mileage non-hybrids on the road. Moreover, Kia estimates a 2012 Rio EX with automatic transmission and the Eco Package’s stop/start system will return an addition 1-2 mpg in city driving.

2012 Kia Rio Release Date back to top

The 2012 Kia Rio goes on sale in late October or early November 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Kia Rio back to top

Introduction of the 2012 Rio continues a rush of new Kias that includes the recent launch of the redesigned Optima midsize sedan and Sportage compact crossover SUV. Like the new Rio, both are standout designs in their class and among the most technically advanced, too.

Don’t expect many changes to the Rio in the near term beyond a new color choice or two.  Potential newsworthy advances would include expanded availability of the ISG system throughout the lineup and, in the longer term, perhaps a gas-electric hybrid version. The extra costs associated with a hybrid powertrain, however, diminish its likelihood in a car that’s both price sensitive and already quite fuel-efficient. 

2012 Kia Rio Competition back to top

Chevrolet Sonic: New to Chevy’s U.S. lineup for model-year 2012, the Sonic subcompact offers four-door sedan and four-door hatchback body styles that’ll rival Rio for interior space, fuel economy, and pricing. Sonic’s styling is perhaps less chic than the 2012 Rio’s, but the ubiquity of Chevy dealers relative to Kia retailers virtually insures strong sales for GM’s least-expensive new car. Sonic borrows its four-cylinder engines from the larger Cruze compact and Chevy says their presence in the lighter, more maneuverable Sonic guarantees the smaller car lively performance. Base engine is a 1.8-liter with 135 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque mated to a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. An available turbocharged 1.4 liter has 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet, but will be available only with a six-speed manual. Mileage estimates and prices were unavailable in time for this review, but expect both to be competitive with the 2012 Rio’s.

Ford Fiesta: New to Ford’s 2012 U.S. lineup by way of the company’s global product portfolio, these wildly styled four-door sedans and four-door hatchbacks have climbed to the top of the subcompact-class sales charts in just their first model year. Both body styles are smaller inside and out than the other cars in this review. But they appeal for refinement and amenities more commonly associated with compact-class cars and their European-bred road manners make them fun to drive. Fiesta debuted with one engine, a 1.6-liter with 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque; it feels lively with the five-speed manual transmission but less responsive with Ford’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Fiesta rates 27/33 mpg with the manual, 29/38 with the automatic, and 30/40 with the automatic and the extra-cost SFE (Super Fuel Economy) option package. Base price range is $13,995-$16,995 for the sedan and $15,795-$17,795 for the hatchback.   

Nissan Versa: Not nearly as stylish as the others in this group but a formidable competitor because it delivers compact-class room and comfort at subcompact prices. Versa is redesigned for model-year 2012, the sedan version bowing first, with the four-door hatchback to follow. It debuts with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder and a relatively unimpressive 109 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque but decent fuel-economy ratings at 27/36 mpg with the five-speed manual transmission and 30/37 with Nissan’s continuously variable automatic. Full pricing hadn’t been released in time for this review, but Nissan says the entry-level 2012 Versa sedan will start around $12,000. That model’s a stripped price-leader, though, and 2012 Versas with more desirable features such as air conditioning and full power accessories are likely to be in the $14,500-$18,500 range.

2012 Kia Rio Next Steps