Machine Design

Kia Rio5

It's surprising how much a low-cost car can cost.

The Kia Rio5, for instance, carries a list price of $14,500, but does pack in the right amount of creature comforts such as air conditioning, power steering, and an eight-way manually adjustable driver seat. There are other good things, but lets start with a walk-up to the five-door hatchback.

The car looks sharp. Sculptured silvery headlights give it a wide-awake, ready-to-go look. And our review vehicle's bright copper color, dubbed sunset orange, turned a few heads.

Getting in, as with most small cars, takes deep knee bends, but you'll be rewarded with lots of room, 92.2 ft3, says Kia. The car has more interior space than the larger Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, according to Kia.

A good-sized rear windshield provides the visibility to avoid low obstacles when backing up. This is not the case with other small cars and SUVs, hence their need for sonic warning devices.

I prefer cars with automatic transmissions, but found the Kia five-speed transmission a pleasant diversion. First gear is a sort of creeper, which could be skipped on level roads. And no gear provides the slingshot acceleration that second gear often does in stick shifts. However, it is possible to shift into fifth by about 40.

Actually, shifting into fifth at 40 mph is too soon especially because the engine races along at about 3,000 rpm at 60 mph. Spacing the gears a bit more could add a couple more mpg on its EPA estimates of 32/35 mpg. You can almost see Kia engineers nodding in agreement because the same car with a four-speed automatic transmission has a 38-mpghighway estimate. The fuel tank holds 11.9 gallons, translating to over 400 highway miles.

The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine sports variable-valve timing and pumps out 110 hp, enough to move one or two people briskly. The ride is perfectly adequate for a 2,438-lb car — not much lean in turns and just enough bounce control over rough spots. And if you find yourself going a bit too fast, optional four-wheel power disc brakes bring the car to a rapid halt.

More of the notable equipment includes alloy wheels, tiltsteering wheel, and enginespeed-sensitive power rack-andpinion steering. Safety equipment includes six air bags. The modest 15.8-ft3 trunk looks like it might hold five bags of groceries. But fold the seats down and the volume more than triples to 49.6 ft3. Also standard is a 10-year/100,000-mile limited power-train warranty and 5-year 60,000 mile, 24-hr roadside assistance. Optional equipment included antilock brakes ($400) and carpeted floor mats ($70). Honestly, though, it's not a car I'd buy for myself. But our minimalist 21-year old proclaimed it a car he would be glad to own.

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