Pride may be a destructive force, especially in such quantities that it turns into hubris. For Kia, though, Pride was just an example of one of the things they had always done, take an existing design (Mazda 121 / Ford Festiva), rebadge, move some things about for the enjoyment of potential customers and away you go. This began to change in 1992 with the release of the Sephia, Kia’s first in-house design as well as the first Kia to officially make it into American Soil. In 2001, the second completely in-house developed vehicle by them arrived on these shores. Let’s take a look at what it had to offer.
Italian Design, for one. Perhaps not at all that confident on their abilities to design their new subcompact, Kia decided to reach out to I.DE.A Institute in Turin for assistance. They were probably contacted on the basis of previously working on another Korean vehicle, the Daewoo Nubira.
I am not a fan of the Nubira’s design, to put it on the plain-est of terms, but they had also styled the Alfa Romeo 155 and the Fiat Tempra. Perhaps they did not have the flair of Bertone of Pininfarina, but they could be trusted out to bring some flair to the party. At least I thought they could until I found out the gen1 Tata Indica and the 1993 Nissan Terrano were also their creations.
With that said, they got it pretty right for the Rio. It looks decently enough for an early 2000s subcompact. I am Fit-biased, I’ll admit, but especially as a wagon it doesn’t look out of place next to a contemporary Daewoo Lanos or even a Toyota Yaris. Our featured model also benefits from the 2003 facelift which would carry the car until the new model was released on 2005. I’m guessing 2003 as that is when the bulk of them (some 43k) were sold.
It’s not a massive facelift with a slightly bigger front grille and revised tailights. However, there were also some changes under the hood. American models received a bump in power, from 96 to 104 horsepower thanks to a small bump in engine displacement (1.5 to 1.6). The standard transmission was a 5-speed manual, with a 4-speed automatic as an option. All very standard of the times.
All wagons were called “Cinco”, to reference the number of doors. Compared to the $9,095 base price of the sedan, $10,385 did seem like a bit of a jump, but wagons came as standard with power steering, body-color mouldings, a tachometer, a cassette player, and a tilt wheel. All of those were optional extras on the sedan. Air conditioning? Add $750 to the price. Cargo space for the wagon was 24.8 cubic feet, or about the same you get on a 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Sedans made due with 9.2 cubic feet. Somehow it managed to do all of this while weighting exactly 6lbs less than the sedan on which it was based.
The interior also got a bit of an upgrade, it was still hard plastics and I know from experience that those buttons on the console will wear themselves into smooth white plastic with repeated use, but it was certainly competitive. It may have hard plastic everywhere, but some of them also had dual airbags.
This particular model was caught and uploaded to the Cohort by cjcz92, exhibiting all the signs of a beater. Gen 1 Rios were just as likely to be the purchase of young families and elderly looking for a motorized shopping trolley as they were as the perennial second car or the thing to throw at the kid going to college. The image isn’t helped by the faded paint usually exhibited by many 90s and early 00’s vehicles. It was around this time when environmental standards were implemented for paints and manufacturers were experimenting with new techniques and biodegradable quotes. Which is why a lot of red cars of this era are now some some sort of chalky pink.
2005 brought along a new Rio. Bigger, better, more modern. It was pretty much a sign of things to come from Kia and it’s not-quite-brother Hyundai as they moved on from cars that were destined to beaterdom from the day they left the factory into legitimate matches against the established Japanese and European brands. In Korea, the new model also got a new name. As far as they were concern, that was the Kia New Pride.