Walking around the Rio, you'll find graceful lines that flow from its classy swooping headlights up front to the rear that ends with a pair of decent-looking tail lights. Every little detail appears to look just as home on a more expensive full-sized European sedan as it would on the Rio. You'd be hard-pressed not to notice the simple but tasteful 15-inch alloy wheels.
The Rio seems to have a touch of understated 'class' that's quite rare in cars of this range. Usually, they either look too bizarre, or too bland.
Inside, the dashboard is moulded in pleasantly textured plastic, with a dark grey and beige theme that extends to the door panels. The instrument cluster includes three easy-to-read gauges and a multi-function LED display that tells the car's fuel economy, distance travelled, distance to empty, etc. On top of that, I simply love the “start-up show” of the gauges, where the needles swing full arc when you start the car's engine. It's exactly what you'd see in modern high-end executive saloons.
The body-hugging front seats are comfortable and provide good support even for long drives. Surprisingly, the rear seats have more than enough leg and headroom, and are equipped with a 60/40 fold down backrest to help increase the car's cargo capacity. The Rio's trunk is also quite large but has a bit of a 'lift-over' caused by the rear bumper's styling. Though it's not really that big a deal, it might cause a bit of an issue when loading and unloading big and heavy items. Overall, the Rio can comfortably seat five people without the rear passengers' kneecaps jammed into the front seats.
Considering it was my first time to drive the car, everything surprisingly felt familiar, just like putting on an old shoe. Acceleration is brisk and transition between gears is silky smooth, almost as if the conventional automatic were a CVT. While the electric power steering is a bit on the light side, it makes the driving experience more pleasant and parking maneuvers a breeze. The suspension is semi-firm and the resulting ride feels like that of a bigger and more expensive car. At slower speeds, the car is great at point-and-shoot maneuvers in traffic. And at highway speeds, the car will more than keep pace with bigger cars. So whatever the speed may be, the Rio gives you confidence in its ability to get you to your destination safely.
On the subject of fuel economy (a topic on top of any car buyer's list), I averaged between 7 and 8 kilometers per liter in my time with the car. My workday trips covered the cities of San Juan and Mandaluyong, or about 29 sq. kilometers. The route is a good combination of slow drives with many shorts stops and steady drive in moderate traffic. But on a weekend trip down EDSA, I managed as high as 9 km/l.
Though I only drove the Rio for a few days, it was as if I had been driving it for much longer. Everything about it felt just right. If I could turn the Rio into a woman, I would marry it and we'd have lots of babies together. I was actually quite reluctant to hand the keys back after spending a weekend with it.
The Kia Rio is not a special car by any measure. It is neither the most powerful nor the fastest car on the road. It is not the most stylish either, but it does look good. It is not a rare or desirable classic. So why did I have that feeling of loss and regret when I returned it? Could it be that Kia had somehow designed more than just a car? Could they have designed in that sense of familiarity, to develop a connection between the car and its owner? Well, for P718,000, you can now have that old familiar feeling.