Saturday, June 20, 2015

Antihistamine Please | 2015 Kia Rio5 Review

Allergies this year have been brutal. To all my fellow hayfever sufferers, I feel your itchiness. It still amazes me how around this time of year I can develop a hatred for grass. So after blowing my nose red and gauging my eyes out, I have to reflect my anger on something.

Owning the original Kia Rio was a like having allergies: the wheezing engine, the snotty gear change, the itchy tires scrabbling for grip and the exhausting lack of power steering. When introduced to North America back in 2001 it was billed as the cheapest car one could buy. And at $11,995 it was certainly affordable, but all the price did was help further cheapen Kia’s already cheap image. And that’s a problem.

I remember testing a Kia Sportage a couple of years ago and whenever I brought it up, people’s face scrunched. It was as if they were allergic to the brand. “Yeah, but it’s a Kia.” They would sneeze.

“Yeah, but it’s beautiful.” I would reply.

All the new Kias are. Step one in the brand’s return to grace is design. They hired an ex-Audi designer, Peter Schreyer, who has transformed the look of the entire lineup. So good are his designs, he even made their minivans look good.

In the case of the latest Rio 5-door hatch, we have something really special. It looks solid, as if it was carved out of one hunk of metal. Good design comes from subtleties, not huge design flourishes: The eyeliner in the form of the reflector in the front headlights, the barely discernable character line across the side and the way the LED taillights are perfectly integrated into the back.

But those rims though. The 17-inch five spokers fitted on the top SX model are a real treat. They’re completely flat, flush with the tirewall. Sure, the chances of getting curb rash are higher, but for those looks it’s worth it. This is the only subcompact where I would turn around for one last glance before heading into my home.

The interior is also solid in both construction and design. The climate control buttons look like giant toggle switches and the buttons that flank the radio’s UVO screen appear as if they are floating. It’s a really nice place to spend your time, especially in the upper SX models. There you get such big car accoutrements like a heated leather steering wheel, and dot matrix screen in the speedometer. It all makes the car feel like it costs more than it does.

Since I’m on this solid theme, it feels solid on the road too. The sports tuned suspension is set up firm and the tires are grippy providing secure and stable cornering. However that meanss the
Rio just isn’t at home in the city. It’s not light on its feet like say a Mazda2 or Honda Fit and the engine has no power low down so it takes forever just to spool up. Pulling out from a stop requires more time than you think.

The car is much happier on the highway. There it settles down for the long haul. The six speed automatic shifts ever so smoothly through the gears. On one particular day, I drove over 5 hours back and forth between Hope and Richmond and at the end of it all I didn’t feel sore or tired.

That’s kind of strange for a subcompact car. Usually they’re lively and eager to dance in the mean city streets. But the Rio just won’t have any of it. It behaves like a car much bigger and more mature.

Drinks like one too. Over the week I had it, driving predominantly on the freeway, I was only able to achieve 8 L/100km. For a car of this size, it’s quite thirsty. Especially when you compare it to the Fit I had earlier that was able to achieve 6.2 L/100km. That is a sizable gulf.

Certainly the 1.6 Litre DOHC engine has all the right specs: direct injection, 138 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque. The problem is that the power is located high in the rev band. So, even if you floor it from a stop, you’re waiting to get any accelerating done. And by that point you’ll hear the engine note, which isn’t actually a note, rather a buzzing noise that just gets louder.

When compared to the original Rio of my youth, this new one is a humungous step up, as you can probably tell from the photos. But now it’s no longer the cheapest car you can buy. Nissan has taken that trophy to a whole new low. In fact when it comes to entry price in the class, the Rio is relatively high. A basic one will set you back $16,030.

So the allergies haven’t quite gone away for the Kia Rio. Rather some over the counter 24-hour antihistamine has been used. It helps, a lot, but a sneeze will always sneak through. Let’s be clear though, Kia is on the right path and allergy season is almost over.

2015 Kia Rio5 SX
She may be petite and pretty, but she sure is a heavy drinker  ««.5

Price as tested (Base Price): $22,430 ($16,030) inc. Freight + PDI
Engine: 1.6 Litre Direct Injection 4-cylinder
Power: 138 hp @ 6300rpm   Torque: 123 lb-ft @ 4850 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Automatic Transmission (6-speed Manual available)
Fuel Consumption NRCan (city|hwy|combined): 7.3 | 6.1 | 6.8  L/100km

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