By Clint Williams
Green Right Now

There was a time – not so long ago, actually – when driving a car getting 30 mpg on the highway earned you bragging rights among the thrifty.

Kia Rio, surprisingly sporty.

Now, not so much.

Forty miles per gallon is the new 30 mpg. A growing number of cars now boast of EPA fuel economy estimates of 40 mpg or higher in freeway driving. Add to the mix the 2012 Kia Rio EX five-door, a frugal hatchback offers several pleasant surprises.

Having driven earlier versions of this subcompact, the redesigned Kia Rio was almost hard to recognize – sort of like the plain Jane flag corps girl who walks into the 20th high school reunion looking smoking hot.

The Kia Rio isn’t smoking hot, but it’s not nebbish either. The exterior is sleek and nearly sporty. The interior material and finish are surprisingly nice. The Kia Rio we remember seemed cheap inside. That’s no longer the case.

The gauges and gadgets are well thought out. A storage tray in the center console has an insert to set your iPhone with handy access to a music player jack and power plug.

The centerpiece of the dash is the UVO powered by Microsoft®4 voice-activated infotainment system. The display screen also works with a rearview camera – another pleasant surprise in a car under $20,000.

The 2012 Rio powertrain includes a 1.6-liter gas direct injection four-cylinder engine cranking out 138 horsepower mated with a smooth six-speed automatic transmission. The combination is snappy enough off the line, going from 0 to 60 in less than 10 seconds. The promised fuel economy of 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway didn’t match with our test drive. We got just over 31 mpg in a mix of driving that was mostly putting around town.

The EX trim we drove includes standard power windows, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, tilt and telescopic steering wheel. Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes on all four wheels, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and hill start assist.

The starting sticker price is $16,500. The test model, which was equipped with a $1,000 convenience package that includes the rearview camera, was $18,345.

Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network