2001 Kia Rio Review

2001 Kia Rio - Cheapest New Car.


Owners of the cheapest new cars used to hide them from neighbors. Those autos were styling and technological throwbacks, with underpowered engines, beer-can bodies and laughable warranties.

Remember the Yugo? Well, forget that one and the list of former cheapest new cars, which drew cost-conscious buyers who didn't want a used car.

The lowest-cost 2001 car is South Korea's surprisingly competent Kia Rio, which keeps its title despite a recent price hike from $8,595 to $8,895.

But be forewarned that the front-drive Rio has a limited amount of standard equipment, including a console, rear defroster, dual outside mirrors and power brakes. A radio and power steering cost extra.

An AM/FM/cassette costs $320. And a $380 upgrade package includes power steering, tilt wheel, full wheel covers, bodyside moldings and visor vanity mirrors.

A four-speed automatic transmission is priced at $875, while air conditioning is $750. Anti-lock brakes set you back another $400.

However, some economy cars don't offer anti-lock brakes and often are offered only with a three-speed automatic transmission. And you can even get a Rio body color rear spoiler for $85.

South Korea's Hyundai owns Kia, so the Rio gets the impressive warranty that's helping Hyundai sell a large number of cars in this country. It's a five-year/60,000-mile basic and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Rio buyers also get a five-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance plan.

But there's more to the Rio than a great warranty. It looks good, with a slickly styled body that has four doors and a regular trunk--instead of the two-door hatchback design of many of the old blue-light specials.

Moreover, there's decent room for four 6-footers in the fairly quiet interior--if a driver doesn't shove his seat back too far. The interior fit-and-finish is quite good. Radio controls are tiny, but climate controls are OK and gauges can be easily read.

The lack of a tachometer shows cost-cutting. But four windshield washer jets--instead of the usual two--keep the windshield especially clean.

The comfortable front bucket seats are supportive even when the car is zipping through curves. Storage pockets in doors are handy, but the offbeat upholstery pattern may raise eyebrows in Kia showrooms.

The trunk is pretty roomy, but the lid's manual hinges didn't work smoothly on my test car. However, the Rio had no squeaks, rattles or groans.

The stout 1.5-liter, 96-horsepower four-cylinder engine is small and not especially fuel-thrifty for its size--providing an estimated 27 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on highways. It's sophisticated, with dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, but it gets buzzy when pushed.

Performance is lively to 60 mph partly because the Rio weighs only about 2,300 pounds. But acceleration slows considerably above 65 mph, which can make passing maneuvers on two-lane roads a nervous affair.

The power steering is a tad slow. The standard five-speed manual transmission allows the best acceleration, but has a sloppy shifter. The clutch has a long throw, but takes little effort to depress.

The small standard 13-inch wheels, narrow 70-series tires and soft suspension cause marginal handling and considerable body sway. But the ride is supple. Optional ($275) 14-inch alloy wheels and 65-series tires allow slightly better handling. The brake pedal is soft and stopping distances are average without the anti-lock system.

The Rio's main rivals are used cars such as Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. But they don't have the Rio's warranty--or new-car smell.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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