ON THE ROAD

Two faces of Rio: the sedan and the hatchback

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The Kia all-new Rio is the best-looking Rio ever, thanks to touches of European flair.

Remember when the Kia Rio was regarded as the cheapest-looking and plainest subcompact car on the market? Not anymore. Kia’s design studio in Irvine, California, completely revamped the Rio from bumper to bumper for the 2012 model year with young buyers in mind to convey power, agility and aggressiveness. The all-new Rio, especially the hatchback, is the best-looking Rio ever, thanks to touches of European flair inputted by Kia’s chief design officer Peter Schreyer, who was pirated from Audi/Volkswagen some years ago.

The Rio offered by Columbian Autocar Corporation, the exclusive distributor of Kia vehicles in the Philippines, comes in two versions: the four-door sedan and the five-door hatchback. Both are propelled by Kia’s 1.4-liter Gamma inline four, 16-valve, DOHC gasoline engine with Continuous Variable Valve Timing (CVVT) producing 107 HP @ 6300 rpm and 14.0 Nm @ 4200 rpm max torque. The sedan is available with either a 6-speed manual gearbox (P678,000) or 4-speed gate-type matic transmission (P718,000) while the hatch comes only with the 4-speed A/T (P838,000.)

NOT GDI. In other markets like North America, the Rio is sold with the 1.6-liter GDI (gasoline direct injection) Gamma 4-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed A/T. This direct fuel injection powertrain cannot be used here, I was told, because the kind of gasoline available in this country is not GDI-capable.

Too bad, because with only a 1.4-liter powerplant, the handsome Rio hatch cannot fulfill the promise of a lively driving experience suggested by its aggressive new styling. The engine

The cockpit in the hatch and the sedan are similar.

strains to achieve 150 kph, but then the Rio—whether four-door or five-door—was never meant to be a sporty, fun-to-drive car. Rather, the Rio is a good car for daily driving, providing a comfortable ride, plenty of cargo space and decent fuel economy.

DIFFERENT FACES. While both the hatch and the sedan have a longer wheelbase than the previous model, and higher strength steel making up 83 percent of the body that helps improve torsional rigidity by 31 percent according to Kia, their faces are different in several ways. In the hatch, the “tiger nose” front grille is thinner, the lower fascia intake cutout size is larger, the headlights have a four-lens design while the sedan’s has two. The foglights and foglight housing designs are also different.

The hatchback’s cargo bay has a 15-cubic foot capacity, while the sedan’s trunk offers 13.7 cubic feet of luggage room. The rear seat, which splits 60/40, can be folded to increase cargo space. The suspension system of both variants consists of MacPherson struts with stabilizer in front and torsion beam axle at the rear. Both the sedan and hatch are equipped with dual airbags, ABS and high-mount stop lamp.

SNAZZY. The Rio hatchback sports snazzy 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 208/45R17 tires, bigger front disc brakes (drums at the rear), leather seats, leather door trim, leather-wrapped gearshift knob, alloy pedals, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, trip computer, supervision cluster, glove box cooling, an audio system (radio, CD, MP3, USB ports, iPod cable, Bluetooth) with six speakers, smart key with push start/stop button and keyless entry with alarm, rear parking assist, folding and heated power outside view mirrors with side repeaters.

The best view of the hatchback is the rearview.

So the hatchback’s cabin is fully kitted with high-quality materials and conveniences only usually found in bigger, costlier cars. Because it is larger and longer than the outgoing model, the 2012 Rio offers plenty of leg room in the front and back seats although the backseat would be comfy for two adults only for short trips. The ride quality is soft enough not to jar passengers over rough roads but firm enough to feel composed on twisty roads and around corners.

INVOLVEMENT. The electric-power steering is well-controlled in parking lot maneuvers and when overtaking on the highway, although it doesn’t offer enough involvement or enough free play on center.

Summing up, the 2012 Kia Rio hatchback is an outstandingly beautiful subcompact for a comparatively low price with an impressively designed, well-equipped interior, a comfortable ride, competent fuel efficiency and decent horsepower. If and when the oil majors finally improve the quality of the gasoline they sell here, we can look forward to having the 1.6-liter GDI Rio.

PHOTOS BY AIDA SEVILLA-MENDOZA

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