Mention Kia Motors to someone and chances are they’ll mention something about gyrating hamsters and LMFAO. But the truth is, Kia also makes smart, quality autos. Case in point: the 2013 Rio SX hatchback ($18,650 as tested). This pint-sized people mover packs a 7-inch color touchscreen, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity and rearview camera. Add in satellite navigation and traffic information and you've got one teched-out hatch. We spent a few days putting the Rio SX through its paces around the suburbs and cities of New Jersey to test just how good this Kia is.
Like most vehicle’s in its class, the pint-sized Rio SX is best described as quirky, but handsome. From the side, the Rio SX looks like any other 5-door hatchback. Its raked windshield rises from its stubby nose, while its flank has a distinct hump. The Rio’s belt line rises sharply from front to back, shrinking the rear windows and giving the car a sportier overall appearance. Character lines running along the doors from behind the front fender back to the tail lights help break up the large doors, keeping with the car’s less is more theme.
Up front, the Rio’s stretched headlight enclosures and pointed yellow reflectors give the Rio the look of an angry anime character. A line of white LED daytime running lights sit below the main headlight assembly and look great during the day, but when switched on with the yellowed projection headlights, look a bit out of place. Like the rest of Kia’s vehicles, the Rio SX gets the automaker’s ubiquitous bowtie style grill.
Its lower front fascia is decked out with a large honeycomb style grill and fog lights on either side. Staring at the Rio from the front also brings into focus its side mirrors, which instead of being connected directly to the body, are mounted on short stalks that connect to the Rio’s fenders.
Climb inside the Rio and you’ll be surprised by how large and upscale its interior feels. Two large adults can sit side-by-side up front without smashing their elbows into each other every time they move more than an inch. The backseat was particularly roomy. A roughly 6’5” man was able get in comfortably and step out without feeling cramped. The dashboard layout is ergonomically sound, with no controls out of reach. Soft-touch materials are positioned where necessary, such as the door panel and center armrest, giving the Rio a more premium feel than its $18,650 price tag would suggest.
The Kia Rio SX 5-door is available with one technology package, the $2,350 Premium Package. The setup includes a 7-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, SiriusXM radio and traffic, and a backup camera as well as Bluetooth connectivity and voice controls. Other versions of the Rio can be decked out with Kia’s Convenience Package, which includes Microsoft-powered UVO voice-activated infotainment system. That package also includes a 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity and backup camera. Satellite radio and navigation are off the menu.
The Rio’s infotainment system doesn’t have a true home screen. Instead users bounce between the media, phone and satellite modes using a series of physical buttons on either side of the system’s touch screen. On the left side are the FM/AM, satellite, media, seek and track buttons, while the right side includes the map, destination, route, setup and phone buttons.
We were particularly impressed by the onscreen controls for the FM/AM and satellite radio. The layout is made up of a virtual dial complete with up, down, left and right buttons that look like it was ripped right from an old boombox.
In satellite mode, the up and down buttons allow you to switch between station categories, while the right and left buttons allow you to change stations within a particular category.In FM/AM mode, the up and down buttons control tuning, while the left and right buttons control seeking. Of course, you can also save presets in both modes.
The media mode allowed us to control streaming music via Bluetooth from our smartphone. And while we were able to pause, play, rewind and fast forward between tracks, the system didn't display the song we were playing. If Bluetooth streaming isn’t your kind of thing, the Rio also comes equipped with an available USB port, AUX port and two 12-volt power plugs.
The Rio’s map, destination and route buttons each control different aspects of the Sirius navigation system. Pressing the map button brings up a color 2D map on the Rio’s touch screen. Tap the plus and minus buttons at the bottom of the screen to zoom in up to 150 feet or our to as much as 250 miles. The POI button allows you to search for nearby points of interest, and the Sirius Traffic button lets you enable real-time traffic alerts.
To enter a destination, you’ll have to press the destination button to the right of the touch screen. Surprisingly, Kia allows you to type out the addresses in the destination menu, something other automakers have restricted. Once a destination is set, the Sirius system will automatically begin navigation.
In addition to the onscreen controls, our Rio SX included steering wheel-mounted controls that allowed us to switch between listening modes, place hands-free calls and activate the system’s voice recognition feature. In general, the voice control system proved useful when inputting an address or switching radio stations, while driving, ensuring that we kept our hands on the wheel at all times. Unfortunately, the voice recognition function failed to understand our commands on more than one occasion.
Like many vehicles hitting the road today, the Kia Rio SX 5-door comes equipped with a backup camera that automatically streams video to the Rio’s 7-inch touchscreen whenever you pop the Rio in reverse. The camera provided fairly good video quality; we were able to see individual raindrops during a downpour. Static distance lines provide drivers with an idea of how close they are to objects while backing up. While the static distance lines are helpful, dynamic lines, which provide you with a general idea where your car will move in relation to your steering inputs, would have been more helpful.
Our Kia Rio SX 5-door came loaded with a 1.6-liter four banger mated to a six-speed manual transmission, a limited-edition feature that will be included in just 500 Rios. A readout on the Rio’s information display located within the speedometer, tells you when you should upshift to a higher gear to help maintain fuel efficiency.
The Rio SX proved competent while navigating the busy streets of Manhattan. Its excellent viewing angles inspired confidence when cutting around cabs and city buses. It also managed to handle deep potholes and rutted side streets without issue, although we did notice a plasticky creaking noise when we drove over certain surfaces.
Highway cruising was a breeze thanks to the Rio’s sixth gear, which kept engine whine low. Wind and tire noise were on the louder side, but we easily drowned it out with the Rio’s four-speaker audio system. The Rio's sport-tuned suspension made carving up highway on ramps and back roads a joy.
If you’re in the market for a compact car with a good deal of interior space, the Rio SX is a great choice. Tack on the Premium Package and its 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, satellite navigation and rearview camera, and you’ve got a fun, funky little ride that’ll keep you connected to your smartphone and the rest of the world while on the go. And at $18,650, it won’t put a hurting on your wallet. With the Rio SX, Kia certainly has a winner on its hands.
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