2012 Kia Rio: The One-Sentence Review

By the time you finish this sentence, you’ll have figured out that there is more than one sentence to my review of the 2012 Kia Rio hatchback. But I wanted to try and do something different, and I think I can boil down the five major aspects of every car review to just a single summary sentence. So lets get down to it, shall we?

Writer’s Disclosure: Kia was kind enough to drop off the 2012 Rio in my driveway with a full tank of gas and minimal direction. You’ve been warned.

Exterior Appearance

The 2012 Kia Rio entered the sub-compact car market about the same time as at least a half-dozen other equally competitive cars, so standing out was never going to be easy. Competition includes new cars like the Chevy Sonic, Ford Fiesta, as well as solid-but-older contenders like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.

That said, the 17-inch wheels are a nice upgrade, and the furrowed look of the headlights help it a stand-out in any parking lot. To my eyes though it is  too egg-shaped, and from either side it is reminiscent of economy compact cars of the past. The front end is the best angle on this car, while the side profile is the worst. The LED tail lights and dual-tip exhaust save the back end from being boring, though the rear spoiler feels phoned in.

One easily-corrected oversight; even the top-end SX model only comes in five colors, a paltry offering when three of the five are white, black, and silver. Two metallic tones, one red, the other blue, round out the color palette.

One Sentence Review: A distinctly-designed car in an increasingly crowded segment, but one that could have used a little more exterior excitement.

Interior Comfort

No place is more important on a car than the interior, and here the Rio really shines. The dashboard is covered in a soft, leather-like substance that gives the car a more expensive feel, and the dash layout is effective, if not terribly clever. There are enough nooks and crevices to store plenty of devices, and the glove box is exceptionally deep; I felt like I was almost reaching into the engine bay.

I had a chance to take the Kia on a 5+ hour drive, and I found the front seat to be comfortable enough, though not luxurious. Rear legroom was adequate, as was cargo room in the hatchback. The seats do fold down for even more room, though the Rio has some awkward blind spots and doesn’t sit quite as tall as other entrants in the segment.

One Sentence Review: A well-appointed and designed interior give the Rio a leg-up on much of the competition.


Kia did its homework when it came to the Uvo infotainment system, and they really nailed the touchscreen unit. It’s small, responsive, and when you shift into reverse it turns into a rearview camera. Very awesome. As an added bonus, the scan feature was perfectly placed for long road trips, and like most new cars satellite radio is an optional service. The steering wheel was not burdened with too many buttons, nor were the door handles.

Power windows and locks are standard, though a side mirror retractor was cool but kind of unnecessary feature. Bluetooth/MP3 connectivity is a must-have these days, and the Rio has them both. But it’s the well-crafted touch screen that puts the Rio over the top.

One Sentence Review: The touchscreen in this price bracket could be a deal maker for many millennials like me, and Kia made it count.

Drivetrain And Performance

Unfortunately, all this interior awesomeness only makes the buzzy drivetrain seem cheap in comparison. Kia included an optional Eco mode that diminishes power in order to improve fuel economy, and over the course of a 300+ mile trip I managed to pull down over 35 mpg. The Rio’s official rating is 30 city/40 highway, and I wasn’t exactly easy on the accelerator, so 40 mpg sould be very doable.

Yet even in “normal” mode, the Kia Rio’s 1.6 liter direct injection engine is loud-but-underwhelming. The Rio isn’t slow per-se, but at no time did I find myself thinking “This is a fun car to drive!”  It was more like “This is a car to drive”, especially when climbing a hill. The 138 horsepower and 123 ft-lbs of torque is merely adequate at best.

The six-speed automatic transmission performed well-enough, though at times the engine and transmission seemed to have a hard time meshing up, resulting in even more buzzing. There is more fun and less engine noise to be had in other cars.

One Sentence Review: While the rest of the Rio sings a sweet song, it falls flat when it comes to performance.


Perceived value is the driving factor behind the purchase of an economy car, and the Rio packs a lot of value for sure. My SX-model test car came well equipped with the 17-inch wheels, UVO infotainment system, the soft-touch dash, and lots of other upscale features for a MSRP of $17,995.

The 5-door Rio starts at just $13,800 however, with the automatic ringing in at $14,900. While lower models lack the above-mentioned wheels and infotainment system, the build quality for a car of this segment cannot be understated. For the money, you can get a lot of car with a premium feel, though for some the lackluster performance might be reason to look elsewhere.

One Sentence Review: A well-crafted car with a quality interior at a competitive price, though far from the most exciting car in its segment.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.