Monday, April 9, 2012

Very Average Automobiles: 2009 Kia Rio5

The Good: Comfortable seats, Decent trunk space, Affordable
The Bad: Not extraordinary gas mileage, horsepower or features
The Basics: Very comfortable to drive or be a passenger in, the Kia Rio5 is a relatively inexpensive car for small families or individuals who are living in their car.

When it comes to cars, I am not a writer for Car And Driver, nor am I one who views automobiles as a status symbol. I don't sublimate my needs or insecurities into my car and I don't care much for flash over substance. I probably get my car viewpoints - on what the purpose and nature of cars are - from my mother. She helped me buy my first Saturn and when I bought my current car, a hybrid, she managed to rail on me pretty hard about the expense of the vehicle. Either way, probably because of her influence in my life when it comes time to buying cars, I have looked for affordable, small, fuel-efficient and just heavy enough to survive the roads in winter in Upstate New York. My Civic Hybrid meets two of those criteria (three when I have a job and can afford it!).

Last winter, my mother was in a minor car accident where she drove off the road into a snowbank and damaged the engine muffler on her Saturn Ion. For the next six months, she drove around her car and it sounded like a tank or other heavy military vehicle while driving or riding in the car. It was nightmarish and it capped off the poor experience she had with the Ion with an annoying roar. So, rather than repairing her car, shortly before inspection time came up, she bought a brand new Kia Rio5 hatchback. Since then, she has been enthusiastically driving about and proudly talking up all of its features. While I've been observing those features for myself - and wondering what happened to the woman who used to demand that Saturn remove the audio cassette player from her car and not charge her for the frivolous thing she did not need as she goes on at length about how much she loves her Sirius radio - all of her talking about the car did not prepare me truthfully for the experience of driving it.

The reason for the lack of preparation is simple: no matter how enthusiastic my mother was about her new toy, when I sat behind the wheel and began driving, it felt like every other standard gasoline driven compact car I have ever driven. It was like what it actually was; driving a car. There was no mystery to it, nothing truly exciting. Despite the bells and whistles, it was a moderately comfortable, very basic driving experience and I suspect once the newness of the experience wears off for her, she'll calm down. Even so, after four months of ownership, she still seems pretty excited by the Sirius radio (more excited because her free trial has mysteriously continued past its three months!).

The Kia Rio5 comes in several colors and my mother got the stylish black with gray interior. The hatchback seems to be a compact car with more trunk space and a trunk door which is essentially like another door in that the rear windshield is attached to the trunk door the way windows are attached to the side doors. As such, the Rio5 is a sleek generally teardrop-shaped car that has four doors, what seems like a very long nose and a ceiling that is higher than the average compact car's roof. The Rio5 my mother bought is an automatic transmission and it unlocks easily with the touch of a button on the remote starter.

The instant impression I had when sitting down behind the driver’s seat of the Rio5 was that I was in something that was affordable, but meant to give the impression of being very comfortable. Unlike my first Saturn (an SL1) which I would have described as “functional” or “cramped,” the Rio5 feels spacious, even though I know it is not an exceptionally roomy vehicle compared to trucks or station wagons. This, however, feels like the interior midpoint between compact cars and the bigger vehicles with as much room as a sedan has. I’m over six feet tall and with the driver’s seat pulled all the way back, I had no problem reaching the pedals and feeling pretty comfortable while doing it. In fact, to the credit of Kia, when I had the driver’s seat back, an adult male could still fit in the back seat (presumably) comfortably. The Rio5 has “five” seats; I put the five in quotes because the back seat is a pretty standard bench style backseat and it comfortably fits two adults and may uncomfortably fit three average sized adults. Despite the claims, the Rio5 is roomy enough for four to be seated quite comfortably, but five makes the vehicle feel cramped.

As for the headroom, here the Rio5 made me feel disappointed about returning to my Honda after driving! The Rio5 was roomy enough that my head never came close to brushing the ceiling. My arms had enough room to move around and everything from the drink holders to the stereo controls was within easy reach of my fingers. Even with the seatbelt on, I had decent range of motion in the driver’s seat and had no problem seeing any of the mirrors, nor adjusting them using the controls in the cockpit and on the steering wheel.

Given that the car is only four months old (or at least, four months on the road!) and my mother started driving it when it was at 19 miles on the odometer, it is no surprise that the key turns easily and the engine purrs to life almost instantly. Compared to my mother’s damaged Saturn, the Rio5 sounds like a whisper, compared to my hybrid, the Rio5 sounds like a low, gentle murmur. The engine does not make excessive noise while idling, but one of the aspects that surprised me about the Rio5 was that when I turn the key and the engine starts, the electrical systems, like the lights, radio and panels (odometer/gas mileage gauge/clock) take a few seconds to boot up. In normal and cold weather there was no difference, but turning the key, the driver ought to be prepared for a three to five second wait while the car systems all become active. This is not a huge deal, but anyone banking on the zombie apocalypse coming soon ought to consider this before buying the Rio5.
Sliding the shift lever – which felt a little closer to the dashboard in between the front seats than the one in my car – forward put the Rio5 into gear exceptionally easily. The gears shift very smoothly from park to either drive or reverse and when I switched from reverse to drive, there was no lag in the car’s movement. The Rio5 very smoothly breaks from static to moving – there is no jerking and this is a very smooth ride. The Rio5 also seems to have a very sensitive steering wheel. It took very little motion from my hands to turn the wheel and get the car to move in exactly the direction I wanted it to go. The steering wheel was not exactly a hairtrigger for the movement of the wheels, but it was definitely one of the more sensitive cars moving the wheels almost the instant the wheel is turned more than three degrees. The responsiveness, then, is excellent.

The Kia Rio5 has a wonderful acceleration curve and it is very smooth to go from a stop up to 65 miles per hour. Similarly, the brakes on my mother’s Kia Rio5 are very impressive, which a night drive on country roads with deer running around helped me to prove! The reaction time is quick and the stopping distance seemed to be a little bit better than my predicted stopping position when I practiced slamming on the breaks. Following abrupt breaking – which did not cause the Rio5 to fishtail or move out of lane in any way! – the Rio5 resumes driving forward exceptionally easily with no noticeable issues. While driving at speeds from 65 – 70 miles per hour, I noticed the steering wheel became a little less mobile, which kept the drive smooth. The Rio5 has cruise control and there are convenient controls on the steering wheel to activate, resume, cancel, and accelerate/decelerate using the cruise control. Also interesting was the fact that the radio controls are also imbedded in the steering wheel, which allows one to change the radio stations and turn the volume up or down on c.d.s or the radio without one’s hands ever leaving the steering wheel. On my first drive, I accidentally inverted the “volume up” with the “accelerate” button for the cruise control, but I imagine as one continues driving the Rio5 that sort of mistake happens less and less.

As for the fuel economy, the Kia Rio5 is exceedingly average or, as I think of it: desperately disappointing for anyone who has had a hybrid and/or expects current cars to be working us out of the gasoline crisis. After four months use, my mother’s gas mileage meter – which is on the dashboard and she never resets it – is at 40.1 miles per gallon. This is worse than both my first Saturn and my current hybrid, but seems to be about average for the new “fuel efficient” cars on the road. Considering that my mother has been heating her car excessively (winters in Upstate New York, almost retirement age driver, it’s understandable!) it is possible the gas mileage will get better, but 40.1 mpg is what the car is currently at and my mother has driven is 17,062 miles (I drove it about forty).

After four months of daily use, there have been no maintenance issues with the Rio5. It does, however, come equipped with a 100,000 mile warranty, which I wish my hybrid had! As far as safety goes, there are front and side airbags as well as passenger curtain-style airbags, but my mother balked at the idea of me setting any of them off to test them for this review.

The Rio5 has easy-to read displays that are clear. The gas gauge and speedometer are visible above the steering wheel on the dashboard, so it is very easy to look down from driving to see one’s current status. The display for the radio is also brightly lit and looks good. Apparently, there is a light on the dashboard that will come on when a tire is low from lack of pressure or the car is otherwise off-balance; my mother said she caught a glimpse of it when she hit a pothole, but I’ve not seen it.

The Rio5 does offer more leg room than my Civic Hybrid. In addition, the trunk space is significantly greater than my compact Civic Hybrid. The trunk is spacious (it could fit a decent-sized nightstand in with the seats up) and is positively huge with the seats down – we were able to get a dresser in this fairly small car just by putting the back seats down! The rear door swings up and stays up; while loading and unloading the dresser and nightstand, I did not hit my head on it. Like other cars built today, the cup holders are a bit small for my travel mugs and that was annoying, but given how comfortable the ride was, if I was spending more time in the Rio5, I’d probably invest in an inexpensive travel mug that fir the cupholders for this. Nicely, the cupholders do perfectly fit an extra large coffee cup from Dunkin’ Donuts!

My mother’s Rio5 came with a power package which allows her unlock the car with a remote keychain. Apparently, this is still a big deal, but the power package also includes power windows, mirrors that heat up to defog in the cold, and slightly better speakers upon which my mother listens to the Sirius radio which she gets free for three months for shelling out $12,000 for the car. There is also a pretty standard c.d. player and all of the heating and cooling controls keep the environment in the car comfortable.

The Kia Rio5 is a very comfortable ride and it is heavier than my hybrid, which makes driving in snow a lot easier than in my lighter car. Because the car has a little more mass to it, it makes it easy to drive confidently in all weather and it has enough power going up hills and accelerating that it keeps up or passes all of the trucks on the road in my area. And, frankly, I would rather be comfortable and confident in the Rio5 in winter than bouncing around in a big, gas-guzzling truck! This is a good car for those who do not need to transport much stuff, but want four people to get away anywhere on the road in comfort without paying as much to operate or sticker price as a luxury vehicle.

For other cars, please check out my reviews of:
2005 Honda Civic Hybrid
2007 Ford Focus


For other reviews, please visit my Index Page for an organized listing of the reviews I have written.

© 2012, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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