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South Korean automaker Kia entered the North American market in the 1990s with the compact Sephia, but that wasn't the first Kia-made vehicle sold here. That was the Ford Festiva, sold through Ford Motor Co. dealers from 1987-92.
Since then, Kia has come a long way, and has a big lineup that extends all the way from entry level to premium.
The Rio is Kia's entry-level model, one of the lowest-priced sedans sold in North America. It comes as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback. Trim levels for each body style are base LX, mid-level EX and top-of-the-line SX.
For 2013, the Rio comes with steering-wheel paddle shifters; the EX trims offer idle stop-and-go technology in the Eco package; and the five-door EX and SX trims have an under-floor tray in the cargo area.
My tester was the SX UVO four-door model. Standard equipment included a 1.6-litre direct-injection four-cylinder gasoline engine, six-speed automatic transmission with Active Eco system, sport-tuned suspension, heated/power-folding mirrors with turn indicators, and 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels.
With 138 horsepower, my Kia was no powerhouse, but I had no problem getting up to driving speed quickly and smoothly.
The Active ECO system helps to conserve fuel by cutting down engine speed and shifting gears earlier. Transport Canada ratings for the SX sedan are 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres in city driving and 5.4 L/100 km on the highway.
Using the Supervision Meter Cluster trip computer, I managed 6.9 L/100 km combined, mostly in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic.
The meter cluster also displays distance-to-empty, elapsed time and average speed, in addition to total kilometres for two separate trips, and the usual rpm, km/h, fuel, engine kilometres, engine temperature, external temperature and gear position.
Standard safety features include seat-mounted side air bags and full-length side curtain air bags. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control and hill-assist control are also standard.
The rear seatback was easy to fold in a 60/40 configuration by pulling a latch on either side. The trunk was large -- 389 litres (13.7 cu. ft.) -- but the opening was restrictive. I needed to haul some medium-size storage tubs, but couldn't manage to get them into the trunk.
My Rio handled very well and, even with the sport-tuned suspension, the ride was smooth and quiet.
There was plenty of room in the front for average-to-tall folks, with 111.3 cm (43.8 inches) of legroom and 101.6 cm (40 in.) of headroom. The front seats were manually adjustable, and the tilt/telescopic steering wheel was easy to move for a near-perfect driving position.
There were several cubbies in the front, with two 12-volt outlets, two cupholders, and a small covered compartment under the center armrest.
Rear passengers had a little less room -- 79 cm (31.1 in.) of legroom, 96 cm (37.6 in.) headroom -- but the outboard seats were as comfortable as the front buckets. Rear passengers had an overhead light and door pockets with bottle holders, but no cupholders.
Leather seats were included in the SX UVO package, along with heated front seats, power sunroof, push-button start with smart key, and satellite radio with a three-month trial subscription. My tester also had Bluetooth wireless technology, AM/FM/CD/MP3, USB and auxiliary jacks, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and steering-wheel-mounted controls for audio, Bluetooth and cruise.
However, the SX UVO navigation system is a $1,200 option. It was easy to use -- intuitive, well-labeled, easy to read -- with precise audible instructions and detailed turn-by-turn on the screen. The screen also displayed audio system information and programming, which was easy to use and understand. The included back-up camera's image showed up on the nav screen as well.
The audio system, Virtual Sound by Arkamys, was excellent -- better than live -- with four strategically placed speakers for flawless surround sound.
The Rio has the distinctive Kia grille and pronounced wedge shape, accentuated by black trim under the rear bumper.
Interiors are black cloth or black leather with metal-finish trim -- simple and uncluttered, yet well done and attractive. LED positioning lights and taillights improve visibility to oncoming traffic as well as looking good.
-- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
-- Type of vehicle: 5-passenger front-wheel drive sedan
-- Engine: 1.6 L DOHC four-cylinder
-- Power: 138 hp @ 6,300 rpm; 123 lb-ft of torque @ 4,850 rpm
-- Transmission: 6-spd manual or 6-spd automatic
-- Brakes: 4-wheel disc with ABS
-- Length: 436.5 cm
-- Wheelbase: 257 cm
-- Curbweight: 1,093 kg
-- Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 6.9 city 5.3 hwy. (manual) / 6.8 city 5.4 hwy (SX auto)
-- Base price: $13,895 (LX) - $20,695 (SX UVO)