Technically, the 2012 Kia Rio did make its first appearance at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year — but the U.S.-spec five-door Rio5, along with an all-new new four-door Rio sedan, officially made their public premiere earlier this morning at the New York auto show.
The advent of an all-new Rio couldn’t come soon enough. Although the subcompact was facelifted in 2010 with Kia’s latest corporate grille, the car was otherwise identical to the second-generation car, which launched in 2005. The outgoing car was handicapped in more than just age — as other automakers entered the B-segment field, Kia’s offering quickly went from one of the lone offerings to lagging a growing pack of competitors.
From what we can tell, the 2012 Rio certainly won’t be guilty of the latter. Despite being the lowest rung on Kia’s product ladder, the new Rio is gifted with the same European flair and style we’ve been impressed with on other models. The Rio5 hatchback is perhaps the best example; from afar, the model almost looks like a variant of Volkswagen’s Polo, albeit infused with a little extra presence.
The sedan, which made its world debut here in New York, shares quite a bit with its five-door sibling, albeit it eschews vertical C-pillars in favor of a notchback roofline that bears some resemblance to Kia’s larger Optima. Interestingly, the sedan also differs from the Rio5 by way of headlamps (both projectors and LED running lights are Rio5 exclusives), front bumpers (Rio5 facias have different lower air intakes), and tailights.
Inside, the two are identical, sharing a sweeping dashboard that’s cleanly organized, and perhaps slightly patterned after that used in the new Sportage. Kia’s European designers paid close attention to switchgear, and as a result, controls — especially the HVAC knobs — feel incredibly solid. Predictably, some plastics inside are firm or feel slightly rubbery, but overall, the interior exudes a level of substance that we’ve never seen in previous Rios.
Regardless of the body style, U.S.-spec Rios will be mechanically identical. Power is provided by Hyundai/Kia’s new direct-injection 1.6-liter I-4, which is also found in the likes of the 2012 Soul and 2012 Hyundai Accent. Rated at 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque, the engine is capalbe of delivering 30/40 mpg (city/highway) when paired with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Those impressive numbers are due in part to the direct injection system, but also the inclusion of a start/stop system on every model. The system, which shuts the engine off when the vehicle comes to a halt, is commonly found on European-spec vehicles, but isn’t very prevalent here in America — let alone in a value-priced model like this.
Speaking of price, Kia representatives won’t lock down precise figures, but do note pricing for the 2012 Rio sedan is expected to come in at just under $13,000 — roughly the same price point tied to the 2011 Rio four-door. The Rio is certainly facing stiff competition from the likes of Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, and Honda, but its mixture of style, substance, and standard equipment may be enough to find favor with buyers.