Quick Drive: 2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan

By Jacob Brown | March 04, 2012
Plenty has happened between when we drove the 2012 Kia Rio 5-door hatchback last October and now. Last year at that time, we swarmed Austin, Texas, with the likes of dozens of other media outlets for a chance to drive Kia's latest subcompact, a vastly better car than the one it replaced. But that experience felt a little rushed. What we didn't report at the time was that we got lost in the middle of a Cattle Town U.S.A., forcing us to concentrate more on making it to our checkpoint for lunch on-time than we would have liked. That said, we spent an hour in a car after getting back to the hotel to sufficiently grill the Rio's product manager on the car's various features and functions. The trip to drive its sedan counterpart wasn't like that, though. It was in a temperate Orlando, Florida, with a handful of other people, a more relaxed schedule, and a different kind of Rio. After piloting stripped-out Kia Rio B-Spec race cars around a track for a few hours in the afternoon (and having an absolute blast doing so), we were introduced to the new Rio sedan.
At 171.9 inches long, the 2012 Kia Rio sedan is stretched about a foot longer than the Rio 5-door, with all of the extra length going to the car's deep 13.7-cubic-foot trunk. The Rio sedan isn't as in your face with spunk as the Rio 5-door, lacking much of the 5-door's visual flair up front. Standard halogen reflector headlights replace the projector beams used in the hatchback, the slightly larger grille is lined in chrome, and a revised front bumper portends the car's less sporting demeanor with a smaller front air dam.
That's not to say that Kia has toned down the a-lot-for-a-little proposition that is the Kia Rio. The car we tested was a top-of-the-line 2012 Kia Rio SX sedan, which starts at $17,500 plus $750 for destination and handling. On top of that, Kia threw in its $2,200 premium package and carpeted floor mats for a grand total of $20,545. That's a lot for a subcompact car until you realize that it has leather, a navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic monitoring, a rear monitor, automatic transmission, auto up/down front windows, heated front seats, a power sunroof, Bluetooth, and many other options you wouldn't expect to see in this class. If all that's too much, the Rio sedan can still be optioned in the bottom-feeder LX trim for $14,150 with a six-speed manual or $1,100 more for the six-speed automatic. The decently equipped Rio EX takes the middle ground at $17,050.
Having more time behind the wheel of a Rio lent for some better observations about Kia's small car. First, this thing is frugal. Until we encountered a rogue fly that just wouldn't get the hell out of the car, we were averaging 37 mpg on the highway. That number obviously dropped a little when we began driving in anger with the windows wide open.
Secondly, it's quieter—much quieter—than the Rio 5-door we drove in Texas. We attribute that to the car's added bulk and closed-off trunk space, adding further insulation from road noise. The consequence of picking the slightly cheaper sedan is that you lose some of the Rio's utility and sporty character. But much of the rest of the vehicle remains the same. As is the case with all Rio SX models and available on mid-range EX models, our Rio sedan had a soft-touch dashboard, plenty of power features, and a compliant ride that made highway driving fairly easy. With the 2012 Kia Rio sedan, we got exactly what we were expecting: an economical, practical vehicle with a lot going for it. Kia says the sedan's tamer look is aimed more for women where as the aggressive 5-door is for men. But the extra sound deadening won us over in the sedan, looks notwithstanding. And so did all of the creature comforts.
Despite liking the sedan more than the 5-door, we wouldn't say the Kia Rio sedan is better than the Rio 5-door; just different. It's more relaxed, more geared for the daily commute. The Rio 5-door is a sportier-feeling car, but without the availability of a six-speed manual transmission in any trim level but the Rio LX model that no one wants, it's relegated to a smooth, relaxed automatic that doesn't quite fit the character of the car. For the sedan, it just feels like a more complete package because it doesn't ever promise to be what it isn't.
It's never going to win any races. But then again, if you are planning on winning races with a Kia Rio, you should probably look at getting a Rio B-Spec race car instead.