Photo By: Courtesy of Kia
Considering safety, efficiency and fuel economy, the biggest development in the past 10 years is the introduction of affordable subcompact sedans or hatchbacks that offer all the safety features pioneered in the bigger cars.
Air bags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control and crumple zones are now as much a part of sedans selling for $20,000 as those at higher prices.
Last month we reviewed three examples, and last week we tested an additional example – the 2012 Kia Rio SX. The $17,500 base-price model includes cruise control, Bluetooth wireless technology, SiriusXM radio, USB and auxiliary ports, and a back-up camera. Wow. If you add the premium package consisting of navigation, Sirius traffic reports, sunroof, heated leather seats and carpeted floor mats – all amenities that once were found only in cars costing twice as much – the price is still only $20,545. Wow again.
Like most vehicles in this price range, the car is a five-door hatchback with rear seats that can be folded to provide weekend shopping cargo space or room for a bicycle or camping equipment. We liked the styling – the designers found ways to make these little cars look trendy rather than funky or bland.
Kia does a nice job of mating a four-cylinder 138-horsepower engine with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. With this drivetrain, the swoop out of the driveway into four-lane traffic could be accomplished with confidence, even if the quiet little engine doesn’t offer any aural thrills to the exercise. The handling is also competent – almost sporty – in the SX version of the Kia, and every bit the equal to the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent, considered the benchmarks in this category.
Then there is that fuel economy – 30 mpg in city traffic and 40 mpg on the highway – which makes the car quite practical for the student or young professional who commutes to and from campus or work.
With the price of used cars increasing faster than those of new cars, this category of new cars for approximately $20,000 and with five-year warranties is looking attractive indeed.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.