$5,408 - $7,728

2012 Kia Rio Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 Kia Rio was new.


Performance: 7.9

Reviewers are pleased with the 2012 Kia Rio’s improved handling capabilities, smooth transmissions and 138-horsepower engine, even though they don’t combine to create the sportiest vehicle in the class.

  • "Yet, the 2012 Rio rises above conditions on the ground. New drivetrains improve acceleration and fuel economy, while a lengthened wheelbase and an overhauled suspension give it a more refined ride quality than ever before." -- Edmunds
  • "For a sub-compact that's not really a sports car, the Rio 5-door is surprisingly fun and a capable handler, feeling a bit like a budget GTI." -- Motor Week
  • "While not fast, the Rio 5-Door is not completely slow, either. It’s zippy for the most part. Zippy going up hills? Yes. Zippy with a full-sized male passenger? Yes. Zippy around curves? Sort of." -- Road and Track

Acceleration and Power

With a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 138 horsepower, the 2012 Kia Rio’s specifications indicate that it is one of the peppiest small cars in the class, but no reviewer labels this engine best-in-class. Rather, they say most drivers will be satisfied with the powertrain. With the standard six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic, there is enough oomph for city commutes and typical highway passing and merging.

One of the Kia Rio’s strongest characteristics is its high fuel economy rating. The EPA says the Rio averages 29/37 mpg city/highway with either transmission. Kia says you can increase your city mileage if you opt for the Idle Stop and Go (ISG) technology, which turns the car off at stoplights or in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Reviews of this system are mixed. Some test drivers call it seamless, while others say it’s obvious when the engine turns on and off.

  • "The 138-hp, 1.6-liter four accelerates smoothly and quietly. Shifts from the six-speed automatic are smooth and predictable, and even when we turn on the now-ubiquitous eco mode, upshifting is less fuel-economy oriented than what we've experienced in some 40-mpg specials." -- Automobile Magazine 
  • "Despite its impressive engine stats, the Rio isn't the quickest car off the line, and gearchanges from the automatic transmission are smooth but on the slow side. Still, it feels peppy in everyday driving and has more than enough power to keep up with traffic. Under hard acceleration, the engine remains smooth but can get rather noisy." -- Edmunds
  • "Our test car was also equipped with the stop-start system, which would kill the engine when we came to stops, only to fire up again once you remove your foot from the brake pedal. Operation seemed a bit crude, with a noticeable, audible tone of the starter turning over to get the car running again, unlike systems on much more expensive vehicles that are nearly seamless." -- AutoWeek

Handling and Braking

According to test drivers, the 2012 Rio isn’t race-car agile, but that’s not something they expect from the Kia Rio. Equipped with electric power steering, test drivers find that the Rio’s turns are generally spot-on, which means that it doesn’t turn corners too tight or too wide. But the Rio’s handling isn’t as precise as the Mazda2 or Honda Fit. Some car reviewers think the Rio’s brakes are responsive.  

  • "The electric power steering is light and responsive enough with some play on center but it's perfect for targeted customers. Ride quality is good - even larger bumps weren't really able to upset the car. Body control is solid, and the Rio hatchback felt well planted rounding corners and turns, even with our EX's 15-inch tires." -- AutoWeek
  • "Responsive, well-weighted steering and easy to modulate brakes help create confidence behind the wheel. Body lean is minimal, and the car tracks well on the highway. Overall, Rio is nimble and pleasant to drive for a subcompact." -- Consumer Guide
  • “Steering and brakes respond gracefully to driver commands." -- USA Today
  • "The price to pay is a firm ride that borders on harsh when the car encounters severely broken pavement." -- Edmunds
  • "The car lacks the handling immediacy and directness of B-segment dynamic specialists like the Mazda 2 and Honda Fit." -- Car and Driver

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