New Car Review: 2012 Kia Rio Sedan and 5-Door

White 2012 Kia Rio Sedan 3/4 view parked in front of wall
The 2012 Kia Rio Sedan.

If the rest of the world's automakers aren't taking Kia seriously yet, it may be too late.

With the 2012 Kia Rio, these guys have stepped into serious contender status, and if I were playing with my own money, they might just end up selling me a car.

The Rio has, in the shortest imaginable time, gone from being the worst thing that could happen to you at the rental counter to a car that absolutely nails its intended target in a way a car in this class hasn't done since the mid-1980s glory days of the Honda Civic.

White 2012 Kia Rio 5-door parked against wall
The 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door.
In recent weeks, we've had both the Rio Sedan and Rio 5-Door. The Sedan was an SX model, starting at $17,500...the 5-Door an EX with a base price of $16,500. Both had a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission with active Eco system, and a list of standard equipment that includes air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, an AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM audio system with Bluetooth, USB and auxilary jacks, cruise control, a tilting/telescoping steering column and a trip computer.

The 2012 Kia Rio interior.
Both have EPA estimates of 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway (we saw 34 in an urban freeway/city street mix in both cars).  And, thanks to a Convenience Package that upgrades the EX to SX specs (17 inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, automatic headlights, power folding outside mirrors with turn indicators built-in, UVO in-vehicle entertainment system, rear camera display, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, illuminated vanity mirrors, dual map lights and soft touch dash) for exactly $1,000, both cars ended up at the same price ($18,345 including $95 for carpeted floor mats and $750 for inland freight and handling).

Equipped like that, these are comfortably, relatively quick, good-handling cars with strong gas mileage, a reasonable sticker price and a world-class warranty (10 years/100,000 miles powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles everything else plus 5 years/60,000 miles roadside assistance.

And it doesn't hurt that Kia's styling department is fully in the game now...these are good-looking cars on top of it all. If you're looking for a small sedan or hatch, you have to include the new Rio on your test-drive list.