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2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan review:

2012 Kia Rio SX Sedan

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On the road, the Rio SX felt more responsive than the 2012 Accent SE that shares its drivetrain. Why? My guess is that the edge comes from the Kia being lighter than the Accent SE by about the weight of an adult passenger (approximately 175 pounds). Larger 17-inch wheels with wider 205-width tires help with more grip and stiffer sidewalls for better turn-in responsiveness. Additionally, the Kia's automatic gearbox feels more responsive, giving up quicker shifts when requested with the manual mode.

Kia Rio SX
The Rio felt noticeably more responsive than its Hyundai-badged cousins. Josh Miller/CNET

While the bone stock Rio SX wouldn't be my first choice for a modern sport compact, it's far from disappointing and shows a lot of potential. At many times during our testing, I found myself remarking on just how much the Rio SX reminded me of the small Honda Civics of a decade ago, which are still my benchmark for good, cheap fun.

Unfortunately, while the Rio SX features good initial turn-in, the little sedan feels vague near its meager handling limits and doesn't really settle into a long sweeper or quick switchbacks. I found that the steering required more small corrections when cornering to keep it in line. Similar attention needs to be paid to keep the Rio on course at highway speed thanks to its tendency to follow grooves on some of San Francisco's most poorly maintained roads and to be tossed around by crosswinds. Mind you, the Rio never feels scary, but this is not the car to be distracted in.

Cabin tech
The Rio is available with the Uvo voice-commanded infotainment system by Microsoft or Kia's own navigation system, but can't be had with both. Stick with the stock Uvo option and you'll have voice command of phone and audio sources, including the ability to request music and playlists, and a rearview camera.

Our tester was equipped with the navigation system as part of its Premium package. Like most Hyundai/Kia navigation systems, this is a very basic setup that uses 2D maps with SiriusXM NavTraffic over its satellite link for as long as you keep the subscription current. Turn-by-turn directions feature spoken street names and the system supports voice input of addresses with separate prompts for city, street, and house number.

Kia navigation
Owners can choose either the Uvo voice system or the navigation package, but not both. Josh Miller/CNET

The standard four-speaker audio system is fairly disappointing. The SX trim level features a brighter top end and slightly better staging thanks to its addition of A-pillar tweeters. Even with the upgrade it still doesn't sound great, but what'd you expect?

The presence of a full array of audio sources makes me very happy. The Rio boasts AM/FM radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth telephony, and audio streaming. USB connectivity also standard, as is an analog auxiliary input. Interestingly, Kia's USB port can connect to an iPod or iPhone without Hyundai's $35 iPod cable.

For active safety features there's a rearview camera with non-dynamic distance lines, but that's about it. Fortunately, the Rio sedan has good 360-degree visibility, so features like blind-spot monitoring are not necessities.

In sum
The 2012 Kia Rio SX sedan comes nicely equipped with its standard Uvo voice command system, but our tester's $2,200 Premium package forgoes that in favor of the aforementioned navigation system, push-button starter with keyless entry, and leather seats with heated front buckets. A power sliding and tilting moonroof is also part of this package. Floor mats add $95 to the tester's base price of $17,500. Add a $750 destination charge to reach the as-tested price of $20,545.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Kia Rio
Trim SX sedan
Power train 1.6-liter, FWD, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 30 city, 40 highway, 33 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy 33.4 mpg
Navigation Optional with SiriusXM NavTraffic
Bluetooth phone support Yes with voice command
Disc player Single-slot CD
MP3 player support Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection
Other digital audio SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Audio system Six-speaker SX system
Driver aids Rear camera
Base price $17,500
Price as tested $20,545

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