All new for 2012, the Kia Rio, heretofore an archetypally boring car, has become truly interesting. Clean lines, an upright and aggressive front fascia, and standard fifteen-inch wheels dispel the sense of awkwardness and cheapness that commonly afflicts subcompact cars. The top-of-the-line SX model goes even further, with seventeen-inch aluminum wheels and LED accents for the taillights and the daytime running lamps. That's flashy hardware for a subcompact, but the Rio pulls it all together subtly in a fashion not unlike the Volkswagen GTI. The new Hyundai Accent, its under-the-skin twin, is probably more distinct, but the Rio is without a doubt more expensive-looking. The Rio also looks good on the inside -- typically an area where economy cars serve up lots of cheap and nasty hard plastic. Here, there's a handsome dash with large switches and available navigation. The graining of the plastics and the number of soft-touch surfaces impresses. Predictably, the Rio shares much with the Accent, from its 101.2-inch wheelbase to its direct-injected, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Paired with either a six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic, the hatchback should achieve 29 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. Kia estimates that the sedan will do 30 mpg in the city along with the now-requisite 40 mpg on the highway. On the debit side are overboosted steering and a ride that can be harsh. Overall, the Rio is now one of the more refined, better-looking offerings in a segment brimming with good cars.
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