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Kia Rio
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Some automakers spit out sub-compact models as if being shot from a Pez dispenser. Kia takes a different approach in producing its well-appointed Rio sedan and Rio 5-door hatchback editions with lots of care and attention, and it shows.

Drivetrain
A 138-horsepower four-cylinder likes to play; a six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic, it’s your call.

The Rio, along with its close relative Hyundai Accent (Hyundai and Kia are both part of a Korea-based conglomerate) are tasked with providing well turned-out entry-level cars that are fun to drive. A big part of that fun comes from their non-claustrophobic interiors that are enclosed in sheetmetal that’s stylish without being overly trendy. For the Rio sedan and 5-door models, that attention to detail extends to the dashboard layout that’s clearly presented and, due to the absence of hard plastic surfaces, is far richer looking than you would expect. The air conditioning, rear-window heat and ventilation toggle switches are a particularly nice touch. The standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine produces 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque, which works out just fine in a light 2,500-pound vehicle. All Rios come with six-speed manual transmissions or optional six-speed automatics. To help save fuel dollars, automatic-equipped cars can be ordered with what Kia calls Idle Stop and Go (ISG). This feature shuts off the engine after the Rio comes to a complete stop, then instantly fires it up once the brake pedal is released. ISG is part of an Eco Dynamics Package that includes a special alternator that disengages under high engine load (such as when heading up hill) for reduced power loss and improved fuel performance. Kia claims overall fuel consumption is reduced by about three percent with ISG. That’s not much, but every little bit helps as the Rio is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 37 mpg highway (with either standard or automatic transmissions). The base Rio LX with the manual gearbox is somewhat light in the content department, but the mid-range EX includes air conditioning, plus lots of power-operated and convenience accessories. The top-end SX adds fancier interior trim, 17-inch wheels (15-inchers are standard), LED running lamps in place of the standard four-bulb units, and a voice-activated audio/communications package with backup camera. The SX can also be outfitted with leather-covered seats, keyless start and a navigation system.