There's no question Kia's product lineup has come a long way in a short time, due in no small part to the radical new design language applied by former Audi stylist Peter Schreyer to nearly the entire product lineup. The lone holdout to get the full Schreyer treatment, aside from a token add-on "Tiger Nose" grille update, was the Rio subcompact. Until now. The 2012 Kia Rio and Rio5 on display at the 2011 New York auto show will rejoin the subcompact fight later this year with much the same hardware, but with a style all their own.
Whereas the all-new 2012 Hyundai Accent, Korea's other subcompact on display at New York, features Hyundai's new "fluidic sculpture" corporate design language, the Rio has a more minimalist, sporty European flavor, no doubt a nod to Schreyer's former Audi experience. From the rear, the Rio five-door shows a strong Seat resemblance, coincidentally Volkswagen's Spanish division.
Probably the most noteworthy feature on the new Rio is the Idle Stop and Go system (ISG), now a fairly common feature on European models, but generally not offered in the U.S. because of concerns that American consumers will think something is wrong with their cars when the engine turns off at a stop. With the greater awareness and sales of hybrids, and their similar behavior when stopped, it seems Kia is confident enough to finally offer this feature stateside. ISG is included as part of the Eco Package available on the EX trim level.
Speaking of the engine, it's the same Gamma direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine as the new Accent rated at the same 138 horsepower. Kia is also claiming the same 30/40 mpg rating as the Accent, although the ISG may incrementally increase real-world mpg on models so equipped. Regardless, the Korean compact siblings are at the top of the compact class in standard horsepower as well as fuel economy, although Chevy's upcoming Sonic compact will come to the party with a non-direct-injection 1.8-liter engine with 135 horsepower as standard. Official fuel economy ratings for the Sonic have not yet been released.