Hatching up uncommon creature comforts


The well-sculpted Rio is sporty in stance, more rigid yet lighter, and has improved noise, vibration, and management.

Who would’ve thought that a bicycle parts producer would be a world-class car brand someday?

A metal tube maker founded in 1944, Kyungsung Precision Industries originally produced bicycle parts. But 26 years later, the company, now named Kia, was building the Fiat 124 and Mazda Titan truck.

In 1973, it became the first Korean company to build its own automobile engines.

The Kia brand came to the fore in the Philippines in the late 1980s and 1990s when the affordable but sturdy Pride series attracted the middle-income markets.

Alas, Kia itself couldn’t live up to the hardiness of its Pride, when in 1997 the automaker declared bankruptcy amidst the tumoil of the Asian financial crisis.

In 1998, fellow Korean carmaker and chief rival Hyundai came to the rescue.

Then, in 2006, Kia shocked the automotive world when renowned Volkswagen and Audi designer Peter Schreyer became the chief design officer for Kia worldwide.

Kia, the bicycle-turned-automaker, has gone on to come up with one surprise after another—the funky urban Soul, for example, and the imaginatively designed Sorento, Sportage, and Picanto compact car.

In the Philippines, Kia is represented by Columbian Autocar Corporation. And it was from CAC that this writer was given the keys to a five-door, 1.4-liter Kia Rio GL AT hatch—a looker at first glance, a stylish city car that surprisingly offered interior amenities and drive functions usually reserved for luxury brands.

For starters, there’s the smart key, start-stop button, the bi-projection headlights that illuminated a wider swath of the road around bends during nighttime, parking distance warning-reverse, anti-lock brake system, safety features such as intelligent active-safety tech, and passive safety enhancements for protection.

The dashboard cluster and the 3.5-inch LCD monitor was also informative without being confusing. Information such as the trip meter, trip data, average fuel consumption, drive time, outside temperature, odometer, and fuel range, were easy to spot.

The steering wheel not only comes with audio control buttons and cruise control, but buttons for one-touch dashboard information (such as re-setting trip meters).

It also has auxiliary and USB connections (for flash drives and other compatible audio devices) that can be connected via 3.5mm or USB ports.

Further on the steering wheel, the Rio has telescopic and tilt steering, so one can adjust the steering column up and down, in and out, for the precise optimum driving position. The seatbelt anchor is adjustable.

For versatile and comfortable seating, there’s full-folding second-row seats, 60:40 split-folding rear seats, front and rear door bottle holders, and center console armrest.

The Rio is clearly meant as a city drive. All these extra comfort and tech amenities add to the rather heavy body feel that’s quite unusual for a compact hatch.

But once you get the hang of it, you’ll know how to find the “sweet spot” of power and acceleration when called for.

Fuel consumption is an average 9 km/liter in city driving on moderate traffic. The straight highway run yielded 17.8 km/liter.

With the help of Club Rio Philippines’ John Oliver Sansolis, I was able to get some insights from a Rio owner who has been driving the hatch for a lot longer than I have.

James Albert L. Alcantara, 25, a sales consultant, bought his Rio in June 2013. He said, “My other choices then were the Honda City, Jazz, Toyota Vios TRD, but we ended up choosing the Kia Rio hatch because of its great exterior and interior design, and its top-of-the-line features such as the smart key and cruise control, all at a reasonable price.”

Alcantara added that he feels comfortable driving it out of town. The sporty design, he observes, makes it stand out among other subcompact cars, even amidst other newer models in the city. “It has a timeless beauty for a sub-compact hatch,” he quipped.

What he likes least about the Rio: “The 4-speed automatic transmission. If it had 5-speed, or even 6, I think it would respond much better.”

Alcantara’s average fuel consumption on the highway isn’t that far off from this writer’s, at 16 km/liter, while the the city drive is at 8 km/liter.

Verdict: The Rio makes you look good, and feel good, too, what with its stand-out design and luxury amenities. Plus, the 5-year warranty should make you look less stressed over casa-induced maintenance costs.

The drive itself can be satisfying, but Kia should seriously upgrade its transmission system to at least 5-speed. And that would make the Rio a true solid package.

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