The cars we loved.
While walking around the Columbus Auto Show a few weeks ago I noticed that nearly all the entry level cars had stepped up their game. Once a penalty of being cash strapped, the entry level car can be fun and dare I say luxurious nowadays.
I’m thinking of replacing my trusty ’97 Eagle Talon with a sporty and more refined small car. So far, I have not had much luck with finding a three door coupe that fits my requirements, but the market is evolving so fast that I have some hope that something will soon fit the bill. I eventually will be finding a replacement for my aging BMW 325, but finding one car with style, power and excellent gas mileage might be out of the question for now. Fortunately starter cars have really improved, so now the field has narrowed to recent mid range models vs. the ever improving new entry level car.
There were plenty of good examples of basic cars sporting full makeovers at the autoshow. The huge Hyundai/Kia display contained one in particular that has made the most progress recently. The Rio or Pride in some places was for a long time an uglier twin of the Hyundai Accent. Both cars used to look like dumpy appliances until around 2011 when they got a serious makeover while still sharing the same platform.
Today the Kia Rio is an attractive small sedan or 5 door hatch that when loaded comes in well below $20,000. I’m sure dealers in their quest for fatter profits will sell you a Rio with decals and add ons that will push the price closer to the big 20, but Kia’s option and package list is spare. For that money you get a 138 hp direct injection four cylinder engine mated to either 6 speed manual or automatic transmission.
For a brief time during the 2012 model year, Kia offered a manual transmission in the top line SX model. While the manual is now only offered in the least expensive models, all versions benefit from a well thought out interior that feels more upscale than it’s modest price would suggest.
The sporty nature of the Rio extends mostly to its looks, as its ‘Tiger Nose’ grille and rakish roof profile give it an aggressive stance. The swoopy lines and squinty headlights dont conceal the fact that Rio is cute, much like a little mouse or animae carther.
The curb rash inducing 17′ Golf GTI-like wheels give the otherwise cute looking Rio some menace. To back up its sporty nature, the Rio is the only car in its class with rear disc brakes. A sport suspension package enhances the otherwise across the board beam axel rear suspension.
Kia understands that while most buyers want the look of performance, but don’t care to shift gears or deal with higher maintance and insurance costs. All the expected safety features like multiple airbags and anti lock brakes are included, but most drivers just want to be entertained while sitting in comfortable heated leather seats.
To that end the Rio offers supportive ssport seats and one of the best screen based Infotainment systems on the market in the SX. While the Rio may not handle as well as the funny looking Spark, it has a far more grown up interior and more cargo room. For me the inclusion of a three door hatch in the Rio line up would make it an ideal alternative to buying a used Golf.
Most people with four door cars are only driving themselves around anyway, so why not cut to the chase and offer us a coupe Kia? For that matter the Mazda 2, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent should comply as well. 3 door hatches are a rare breed in the American market. In Europe a 3 door variant of the Rio has been available for some time. Called the Pro_Cee’d GT, it’s Kia’s first hot hatch and is powered by a 204 hp turbo engine.
Perhaps most impressive about the Pro_Cee’d GT is that it offers up to 38 mpg, nearly the same as the US spec Rio with nearly 70 less hp. Rumors have been swirling about a hot hatch version of the Rio coming to America, possibly as a 5 or 3 door. My guess is that based on the pint up demand for the limited availability manual SX, the case for a sportier Rio could be made. Hopefully Kia is listening because no one else seems to be in a hurry to bring any new three door cars to our market.