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Not so long ago, a cheap car was exactly that -- the materials were wonky and the fit and finish were awful. In the worst case, it looked as though the car was assembled with a big hammer.
Those were the days of the truly disposable car: Buy it for a song, drive it for three years, then dispatch it to the scrapyard post-haste. In some cases, that meant having it towed to its final resting place.
Things began to change about five or so years ago. Cheap was replaced by inexpensive -- the initial cost did not escalate to any great extent, but the quality soared to a previously unprecedented level.
Today, small means getting the sort of equipment once reserved for cars well above the entry-level snack bracket. Hyundai can take credit for initiating the turnaround when it ditched the now gone and far from lamented Pony and started producing some decent cars that were still affordable.
Kia is another manufacturer that has adopted a similar strategy -- with every new generation comes an appreciably better car. The Rio5 is a prime example.
For a shopper looking to downsize the vehicle budget -- both initial cost and ongoing expenses -- without having to give up life's little luxuries, there's the Kia Rio5 SX. The cheesy plastics and inferior fit and finish are gone in favour of something that has both substance and style. Likewise, the content list has grown to include some toys previously not available.
For example, the height-adjustable driver's seat is comfortable, the instrumentation is clean and uncluttered and the audio system is pretty good -- the once tinny sound now replaced with a pleasing clarity.
More importantly, the ability to push a steering-wheel-mounted talk button, say a command, and have the preferred station or satellite channel tuned in or phone number dialed means less distracted driving, which is always a good thing.
The Rio5 also boasts the flexibility demanded of a hatchback. While sitting three in the rear seat is wishful thinking, the outboard positions are comfortable and there's enough head and leg room to satisfy anyone under 6-2. Likewise, the cargo capacity is up to snuff -- with the seats up, there's 15 cubic feet of space and 49.8 cu. ft. with them folded flat.
The Rio5 is powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine featuring everything its more expensive rivals do: direct injection, variable cam phasing and a variable intake. They combine to produce 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque -- hardly numbers that leap off the page, but more than ample for the Rio5.
When paired with the six-speed manual (a six-speed manumatic is optional), the little Rio5 chirps its tires off the line, pulls nicely through the mid-range and reaches highway cruising speeds without drama -- it runs to 100 kilometres an hour in 10 seconds and accomplishes the 80-to-120-km/h passing move in 7.3 seconds. The performance is far from outstanding, but as good as anything in the segment.
When it comes to ride and handling, the Rio5 is again as good as its competition. The ride is firm, but the upside is the response to driver input -- the Rio5 darts into a corner and, with the gas matted, hauls its way out the other side with a surprisingly large fun quotient.
I really enjoyed its perky road manners -- it's almost impish the way it hoons through a looping on-ramp. The steering is nicely weighted, especially given its electric assist, and the P205/45R17 tires deliver enough lateral grip to keep the Rio5 honest.
Should things begin to come unravelled, the Rio5 boasts one of the most advanced electronic stability control systems offered. It differs from most in that it not only uses throttle and brake intervention to right a wrong, but can call upon the steering if needed. In an oversteer condition, it uses the steering to counter-steer (by up to about three degrees) to help quell the wayward tendency.
I'm a small-car fan, especially when the car in question is a hatch. This configuration offers so much flexibility and space without having to drag around several hundred kilograms of unused car, and the reality today is just about every car does the vast majority of its travel with just the driver aboard.
The Rio5 has the right flexibility, it's very well appointed, frugal (a test average of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres) and was a lot of fun to drive, having a manual gearbox to go with all the toys was a different experience.
Of course, the fact it does not cost an arm, leg and firstborn adds to its appeal.
-- Postmedia News