South Korean automaker Kia entered the U.S. market in the 1990s with the compact Sephia, but that wasn't the first Kia-made vehicle sold in the United States.
That was the Ford Festiva, sold through Ford Motor Co. dealers from 1987-92.
Since then, Kia has come a long way, and has a big U.S. lineup that extends all the way from entry level to premium.
The Rio is Kia's entry-level model, one of the lowest priced sedans sold in America. It comes in six versions: three four-door sedans and three five-door hatchbacks. Trim levels for each body style are base LX, mid-level EX and top-of-the-line SX.
For 2013, the Rio comes with steering-wheel paddle shifters; the EX trims offer idle stop-and-go technology in the Eco package; and the five-door EX and SX trims have an under-floor tray in the cargo area.
My tester was the SX four-door model. Standard equipment included a 1.6-liter direct-injection four-cylinder gasoline engine, six-speed automatic transmission with Active Eco system, sport-tuned suspension, heated/power-folding mirrors with turn indicators, and 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels.
With 138 horsepower, my Kia was no powerhouse, but I had no problem getting up to driving speed quickly and smoothly.
The Active ECO system helps to conserve fuel by cutting down engine speed and shifting gears earlier.
EPA ratings are 28 mpg city/36 highway. Using the Supervision Meter Cluster trip computer, I managed 34 mpg combined, mostly in stop-and-go, rush-hour traffic. The meter cluster also displays distance-to-empty, elapsed time and average speed, in addition to total miles for two separate trips, and the usual rpm, mph, fuel, engine miles, engine temperature, external temperature, and gear position.
Standard safety features include seat-mounted side air bags and full-length side curtain air bags.
The trunk was large — 13.7 cubic feet — but the opening was restrictive. I needed to haul some medium-sized storage tubs, but couldn't manage to get them into the trunk.
Anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control and hill-assist control are also standard.
My Rio handled very well and, even with the sport-tuned suspension, the ride was smooth and quiet.
There was plenty of room in the front for average-to-tall folks, with 43.8 inches of legroom and 40 inches of headroom. The front seats were manually adjustable, and the tilt/telescopic steering wheel was easy to move for a near-perfect driving position.
Rear passengers had a little less room — 31.1 inches legroom, 37.6 inches headroom — but the outboard seats were as comfortable as the front buckets. Rear passengers had an overhead light and door pockets with bottle holders, but no cupholders.
Leather seats were included in the Premium Package along with heated front seats, power sunroof, push-button start with smart key, and a navigation system with Sirius Traffic. Satellite radio comes standard on the Rio SX with a three-month trial subscription.
The navigation system was easy to use — intuitive, well-labeled, easy to read — with precise audible instructions and detailed turn-by-turn on the screen.
The audio system, Virtual Sound by Arkamys, was excellent with four strategically placed speakers for flawless surround sound.