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2013 Kia Rio SX Road Test Review - 2013 Green Car Buyer's Guide

2013 Kia Rio SX Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

Green Car Buyer's Guide - RTM's Top 10 Picks for 2013

Chevy Malibu Eco

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Chevy Spark

Kia Rio SX

Not every car that's earth friendly has to wear monstrous green credentials to prove it. It doesn't need a “HYBRID” badge stuck to its front fascia or a leaf logo attached to its behind. It doesn't need a splashy dash that glows green or red for good or bad driving style, or wallows into yellow when the environmental (and fuel) savings are questionable. Sometimes it's that cute little compact sedan that can zoom around anything else on the block on minimal gasoline without getting hyper about it. Enter the Kia Rio SX for 2013.

We had a chance to check out this little buzzer and came up wanting more. Lots more. Our delicious red SX sedan showed off the kicky styling, supple shaping with sloping lines, and aggressive stance anchored by deep set sport lights in front. It seemed like a no-apologies welterweight boxer had entered the ring for the full 10 rounds. And it didn't disappoint.

As we watched the gas gauge while cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway, we had to smile in the process. No, this didn't bear any relationship to a hybrid automobile, the current darling of the environmentally sensitive crowd. It was just the Rio's 1.6-liter four cylinder gasoline engine doing its thing churning out a very respectable 138 horsepower under the guidance of Kia's six-speed automatic transmission. We couldn't help notice how little the gas gauge marker moved during our travels. That reflected the
31 city/36 highway EPA rating for fuel economy. And we didn't need to grunt around hauling a weighty battery pack to achieve it.

It's not that we don't respect the highly technical efforts the auto industry is making in conserving fuel and the inroads it is achieving in protecting the environment through future tech systems designed to wean us off of foreign oil and frequent trips to the gas station. Those advances are absolutely necessary to the future health of the industry itself as well as the planet. It's just that we realize there are variations as to how far one can go on a single droplet of fuel, and various budgets able to join in achieving it.

The Rio for example, probably won't win an award as the most fuel stingy auto around. But it does get stellar marks for fuel economy from none other than the U.S. government gods… a respectable 8 out of 10 rating on the fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating from is nothing to sneeze at, especially when it's accomplished with tweaks and tucks done to good old fashioned internal combustion engines.

The Rio (stop and go version) does pick up some good habits developed by the heavyweight hybrids, however. When stopping at a light or in the midst of a parking lot-style traffic jam, the engine shuts down to conserve fuel. When the brake pedal is released, it jumps back to life. The EX trim level's optional Eco package incorporates ISG technology for improved fuel savings.

We don't want to overlook the creature comfort aspect of the Rio since we spend nearly all of our time inside looking out when we're not showing it off. A gorgeous body with scuzzy interior wouldn't be welcome for very long. That's not a concern with the Rio. Despite its budget tendencies, we found the interior surprisingly attractive, with a handsome two-tone scheme that highlighted an open, airy feeling.  Someone tall or someone small should be equally comfortable inside, with sufficient headroom, stretch room and ample room for stowing weekend luggage or shopping finds. Our SX had a nicely flat cargo floor when the rear seats were folded down.

The Rio comes in three versions, LX, EX and top-line SX that included hot pedal metal touches, a semi-gearhead requisite. Present are the expected amenities that also are requisite on any contemporary auto worth its sticker price. Our SX was handsome with “Supervision” meter cluster, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual map lights, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, UVO powered by Microsoft®4 voice-activated infotainment system with rear camera display based on the Windows®4 Embedded Automotive platform. (That list leaves us breathless.) And just in time for summer: steering wheel paddle shifters to bump the automatic transmission into manual performance mode.

On the kid-friendly scale, RTM’s editor in chief gave it high marks after an exhilarating test drive. “It was a very impressive little car,” said Caldwell. “It's something I would recommend to my (adult) kids. It would make a great little car for a single person or couple on a budget, plus it gets great gas mileage.”

Speaking of budgets, Kia hasn't forgotten that a lot of people simply can't afford the high price tags and long payback time of a typical hybrid auto. Even with nifty add-ons, the Kia Rio starts its lifetime in the $21K range. And that includes a top safety rating and industry-best warranty coverage.

Those with a thirst for stick shift driving and $17,904 in the wallet, can line up for one of the limited quantity (500 for 2013) six-speed manual transmission Rio SX models coming along. (Apparently the wails and moans of driving enthusiasts were heard in the executive suites.)

If all that doesn't sound earth friendly enough (while we beg to differ) we'll add one more item that shows how serious Kia is about the environment. The Rio's seat cushion foam is made from biodegradable non-toxic castor oil from plants. And 85 percent of the materials in the Rio can be reclaimed when it finally bites the dust. We think that qualifies as green star talent.

For more information on Kia vehicles, click here.