Last April, I leased a new 2015 Kia Rio LX with manual transmission, a total stripper. There is not a single option on this car, but that’s not the point here. The point is, why did it take me six months to write my COAL on my new toy? Even I didn’t know the answer in the beginning, but after six months behind the wheel, I think I have a good idea of how to proceed.
I had been shopping for a daily driver for about a year, as my beloved 2000 Acura TL is simply too old and thirsty for daily driver duties. In the compact/subcompact classes I drove a lot of cars, too many to mention, so I will narrow it down to the short list: Kia Rio, Mazda 3 or Honda Fit. Of all the cars I drove, these were the only ones that had what I call “good car feel,” whatever that may be. Each had its own particular merits: the Honda had its brilliant loading system, the Mazda was a compelling package and, believe it or not, the Rio was the driver’s car of the trio. Once I had a good drive in it, the close ratio six speed, 138 hp direct injection CVVT engine and four wheel disks had me hooked. It is actually faster than the 2.0 litre Mazda, as it has only 12 hp less, and about 200 kg less weight.
Around the same time, my wife’s 2006 Taurus, a car I have always detested, developed Old Forditis, meaning it was refusing to start, hold a charge, or generally run. After tossing some money at it, the car developed a bottom end knock. These cars usually grenade around ten years or so, so this one was right on schedule. Anyway, the real clincher was that the Kia dealer was willing to give me $2300 in cash for it, and lease me the Rio on a 36 month lease for $185 a month, taxes included with no down payment. That’s dirt cheap for a new car with a five year bumper to bumper warranty. It would be nuts to commute in a beater with cars this cheap available.
The Rio has been a big surprise to me. First of all, it handles beautifully, and it actually understeers less than my Acura! In really sharp turns the rears actually break first, and the stability control lets one play right to the danger zone. The ride is firm, but not harsh like my Fit was, and very compliant. There is loads of steering feel, and effort is very light for city duties. This is the first time I have had a car with CVVT (Continuous Variable Valve Timing) and direct injection and the driving experience is quite different. The main point of CVVT is to minimize pumping losses, and it works as advertised: there is very little engine braking, so it is good the car is equipped with four wheel disks. The transmission is simply brilliant, one of the best I have ever experienced, a genuine, close ratio six speed. Each shift is only about a 500 rpm drop, so it is very easy to keep the engine in its sweet spot. What is more is the shift lever is one of the best I have ever used, even better than my Fit.
The driving experience of these cars is also different for me. First, it produces much more low end torque than cars of previous technology. The 1.6 will pull 1000 rpm all day and produce excellent fuel economy figures. Transport Canada rates the car at 8.7L/100 km, but I only got that one the first tank. After 8000 km, I am averaging 7.5L/100 km (31.36 mpg), which I consider excellent, given Vancouver traffic. My 2008 Fit ran around 8.5, but it also had 29 less horsepower. Above 4000 rpm, the short intake passages open up and the engine runs nicely to its 6500 rpm redline. Of all the small cars I drove, the Rio was the only one that felt truly quick and light on its feet.
What really surprises me more than anything about the Rio is the amount of content even strippers now have. This one is very comprehensively equipped for a low end car. The only thing lacking I might miss would be remote keyless entry. It does have central locking, but there is no way to unlock the hatch with the key, which is a minor pain.
The seats and driving position are fine and the car has many nice little touches: for example, theatre lighting, and all the door switches are illuminated when you put the key in, a USB port, a stereo that really is pretty good, two 12V power outlets, a hill holder, trip computer, power windows and a lot of other stuff. Added to the five year warranty, these cars are a pretty good value. I don’t miss having air conditioning in mild Vancouver, and in the two whole weeks of warm weather this summer I got along just fine. Now that things have cooled down, it is not an issue.
Downsides? Well, the vision to the rear is awful, and a backup camera should be mandatory. Especially to the rear quarters, vision is limited, which is unfortunate, as front and side vision are excellent. The engagement point of the clutch is a little hard to figure out, and I stalled it a few times when I got it. The lack of a way to open the hatch with the key is a bit of a pain. That’s not much of a list, and I am a picky shopper.
Upsides? The holeshot is great in this car, making driving in heavy traffic doable. Front and side visibility are excellent, the car is quiet and very well built, the glove box is huge, there is loads of storage and the brakes are excellent. Driving it up to Whistler was a blast as it is a real sleeper.
Modern industrial technology has given us cars like the Rio. Cars sold in huge numbers all around the world, allowing for really cheap unit costs. What we lose in individually we get back in excellent product. This Korean brand has totally surprised me with its sophistication. But then again, the head of the design team was a German, and it’s great that Korean companies no longer limit themselves in their talent pools. When the lease is up in three years, I sincerely hope that an electric can compete with the cost per km of a little stripper. Until electrics can compete on price, there may well be another Rio in my future.