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2006 Kia Rio

by Martha Hindes

Kia Rio
Kia Rio Interior

When Kia decided its budget-minded, compact Rio should be a car with a kick when it debuted in 2000, it carved out a popular niche. Now, with a redesign, it is upping the ante. All new for 2006, it is larger and longer, in three variations from base and LX sedans to the Rio5 SX five-door. With that for an intro, add "exciting and enabling" (Kia's words) to the mix, and you see where this is headed. Despite its South Korean roots, Rio looks distinctly European, with trim, sporty lines, a flippant attitude and aggressive stance for a subcompact teen-friendly first-car, or family auto.

Foundation-wise, Rio shares its front drive structure with cousin Hyundai's Accent, a vehicle we found worthy of the investment during a recent test drive. We anticipate Rio would share similar handling characteristics as well as the increased interior room gained from a slightly wider, longer wheelbase.

Safety wise, Rio shines. It has six airbags for passenger safety including side curtains that protect in case of a rollover, rare for a subcompact and the lowest priced vehicle with it as standard, according to Kia. Power gets a boost for '06 as well, with the Rio's new 1.6-liter four, a double overhead cam engine with continuous variable valve timing (CVVT) that adds punch. Despite a gutsier motor (110-HP and 107-lb. ft. of torque), lighter weight helps it squeak out better fuel efficiency as well, reaching as much as 29/38 mpg in optimum highway conditions with the automatic. (Think about cruising 450 miles on 11.9 gallons of gas.)

Entry level pricing ($10,770) gets you basic transportation, without the air conditioning that's survival gear in the South. Move to LX trim and that's included at $12,645 or the Rio5 SX five-door at $13,700, adding $850 for automatic trans, one of relatively few options.

Those who commute should appreciate the nooks and crannies for cell phones or PDAs, toll booth tickets holder, or a luggage hook on the passenger's seat back. That's if someone runs out of room with the Rio sedan's large, 104.12 cubic feet of cargo space.