By Clint Williams
Green Right Now

Those who doubt evolution just need slide behind the wheel of a Kia Rio – a dramatically different car than it was 10 years ago, shaped by the survival-of-the-fittest business model of the automobile industry.

Kia Rio 2013The 2013 Kia Rio SX – the highest of three available trims – may have you ponder what constitutes a luxury car. It sounds silly for a subcompact selling for less than $22,000, but what do you look for in a luxury car? Heated leather front seats? Check. Navigation system with Sirrus real-time traffic updates? Check. Satellite radio and Bluetooth wireless technology? Check and check. Rear view camera? Check.

The Kia Rio SX is loaded with gadgets once found only in cars that cost three times as much. Again, evolution on display.

Gadgets are only the icing on the cake, however. How is the cake? Not bad at all.

The 2013 Rio SX has a 1.6-liter gasoline direct-injection four-cylinder engine producing 138 horsepower mated a six-speed automatic. While the Rio has adequate pep for daily driving, there are no thrills to be had. The ride is as smooth as you can expect from a subcompact and cabin noise is tolerable.

Newly available for 2013 is automatic stop/start, which shuts the car down when stopped. Fuel economy estimates are 28 mpg city/36 mpg highway. We averaged 33.4 mpg in a mix of suburban driving that was a little weighted toward freeway commuting.

The interior is well put together. Textured, soft-touch plastics make up the dash and most of the interior. But the door panels are hard, cheap-looking plastic more typical of an econo-box. Rear seat passengers won’t feel like they’re being punished – legroom is okay, if not generous.

The 2013 Rio is equipped with many standard safety features, including six airbags, electronic stability control, a four-wheel anti-lock brake system, hill-start assist control and vehicle stability management which coordinates the car’s stability control and braking systems to help the driver stay in control of the vehicle.

Base price: $17,700

As tested: $21,340

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