Cars

Kia’s Rio Hatchback a good traveling companion

Parked in the driveway was today’s test car, a 2012 Kia Rio hatchback. Next to it was a significant pile of luggage, food, camera equipment, and assorted paraphernalia as we prepared to head out of state for a weekend of grandparenting duty.

My reaction in this sort of situation is predictable. Fold the rear seats and toss everything into the expanded cargo space, where it would have fit easily.

However, things weren’t so simple on this trip.

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Phase 1 was to pick up the aforementioned grandchild at a day care facility, install a car seat, and fit the young’un in safely, ensuring he wouldn’t be injured by shifting cargo in a hard braking situation.

A good sign was that the seemingly small (13.7 cubic feet) storage area behind the rear seat had a deep bottom.

A bad sign was that a cargo tray was installed to fit over everything, limiting how high the gear could be piled.

Here goes nothing, I thought, fitting Mrs. G’s well-expanded carryon- size suitcase on the right side of the opening and my larger weekender soft-sided case across the back.That was followed by a small cooler (had to bring my grandson’s favorite“pink pork”from the local butchery, something that’s as much of a tradition as our Saturday morning bagel run), camera bag, laptop case, three Market Basket reusable grocery bags, and assorted loose jackets, sweatshirts, and the like.

Surprise, with careful packing, it all fit on the first try.

A few hours later, the car seat was an equally good fit and the young passenger gave the car a thumbs-up.

All of the above is an everyday situation for all of us. No matter what size vehicle we drive, there are occasions when we have to fill it with a considerable amount of stuff.

The Rio was more that up to all the tasks we threw at it over the weekend. Kia’s entry-level subcompact vehicle, which is available in sedan and hatch versions, has grown up to be something you can be comfortable calling“a nice little car.”

It seems that only a few years ago we were writing about Kia (and corporate sibling Hyundai) offering a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty as the companies made one final attempt to become players in the North American market.

That bridge was crossed years ago.

Now the latest Rio actually is helping to give the term“econobox” a good name.

Kia uses its standard marketing approach with the Rio, offering a low base price combined with a substantial list of standard features. Trim levels are the base LX, nicely equipped EX, and sportier SX.

Our test vehicle was the SX, which has a base price of $18,450 (including $750 destination charge). The only addition in our test car was $95 for carpeted floor mats. In comparison, a base LX, with manual transmission, starts at $14,150 (including destination).

Early in the week, I Tweeted that I wasn’t finding a lot to fault in the vehicle and got an immediate response from a rival dealer, asking if it had a rear differential (that is, all-wheel-drive). It doesn’t. The Rio is a frontwheel- drive with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Our test car had standard traction control, a vehicle stability system, and hill assist. Interior amenities included air conditioning, power windows and locks, USB and auxiliary jacks, cruise control, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, on-board computer, and cargo cover.

The SX has a sport-tuned suspension, dual exhaust tips (we didn’t note any special exhaust tone), upgraded instrument panel display, and neat-looking LED front accent lights and rear taillights.

The engine, which can get a little noisy when pushed hard, puts out 138 horsepower and is EPA rated at 30 mph in city driving and 40 on the highway. In mixed driving, one tankful returned 30.2 mpg and the second 34.5.

Styling was up to Kia’s contemporary standards and the fabric interior seemed quite nice (both in styling and comfort) for an entry-level vehicle.We didn’t have the premium package that would have added a sunroof, keyless ignition, heated leather seats, and a navigation system.

On the road, the ride was encouragingly stiff (remember, this was the sporty version), the six-speed automatic offered smooth and deliberate shifts, and the engine at times felt peppy and had no trouble merging onto highways or cruising in highway traffic. From the passenger’s seat, Mrs.G wasn’t enamored with the“sport suspension”because“you feel every bump.”

At highway speeds, a combination of wind, road, and engine noise made you realize you weren’t riding in a luxury vehicle. But it wasn’t enough to interfere with the nicesounding audio system.That package was simple to set up for Bluetooth, and it easily picked up Pandora radio from my iPhone. An annoyance was that the digital pre-sets were split, showing only three stations at a time on the screen. However, that was offset by an effective rearview camera and display that solve the hatchback’s lack of natural rear visibility.

But the bottom line is Kia has a solid lineup and its entry-level Rios are up to speed across generational lines.

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