Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

Kia reveals its new Rio sedan subcompact today at the New York auto show, which follows the Rio5 hatchback’s debut last month in Geneva. Both go on sale this fall in the U.S.

With up to 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km) highway fuel economy “and stunning design, the all-new Rio sets the standard in the subcompact class and becomes a vehicle that is not only affordable, but one that people will aspire to own,” Michael Sprague, Kia Motors America vice president-marketing, says in a statement.

Like its cousin, the Hyundai Accent, unveiled at the show Wednesday, the new Rio is powered by Hyundai-Kia’s 1.6L direct-injected 4-cyl. Gamma engine, mated to either a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual.

Peak horsepower is 138 hp, as in the Accent. The Rio also gets a stop/start system, rare in non-hybrids in the U.S. Kia’s Idle Stop and Go automatically shuts down the engine down when the car is stopped at a light or in traffic and restarts it automatically upon release of the brake pedal.

An aluminum valve cover and block reduce the third-generation Gamma engine’s weight by 29 lbs. (13 kg), compared with the second-generation.

Kia says noise, vibration and harshness levels for the Rio are improved by the addition of expandable foam in the A and C pillars and 3M’s Thinsulate synthetic fiber placed in the A and B pillars.

The Rio’s design was conceived at Kia’s Irvine, CA, studio and carries over the athletic look of the new ’11 Optima and Sportage models. The new Rio boasts “highly sculpted sloping shoulder lines and a wedge-shaped exterior,” the auto maker says.

The wedge line of the sedan is dropped slightly below that on the hatchback – from the rear door down to the trunk, the auto maker says.

Kia’s tiger nose signature grille is adjusted for the Rio, made slimmer to connect to the car’s headlamps.

The Rio sedan and hatchback will be available in three trims when it goes on sale this summer, each with a set of standard features.

The base LX trim gets 15-in. steel wheels and body-color door handles. The Rio5 hatchback gets a standard rear spoiler and side mirrors are attached directly to the door, eliminating a plastic triangle connector for a more premium look, Kia says.

The EX adds power door locks and keyless entry as standard, as well as a standard rear wiper for the Rio5.

The Rio SX sport grade has 17-in. wheels, light-emitting-diode, daytime-running and rear combination lamps, a dual chrome tip exhaust and outside heated mirrors with turn-signal indicators. The Rio5 SX has unique projector headlamps as standard, Kia says.

Kia describes the ’12 Rio’s cabin as “bold and modern,” using the auto maker’s horizontal 3-tier instrument panel, which is made 2-tone for the Rio to add a spacious feel.

The longer and wider dimensions of the new Rio, compared with the ’11 model, increase passenger headroom and legroom, both front and rear, Kia says.

LX interior standard features include a driver’s seat-height adjuster, while the EX gets standard power windows, Bluetooth, and leatherette door trim. The SX adds standard metal pedals, leather-wrapped steering wheel, illuminated vanity mirrors and Kia’s UVO by Microsoft in-car infotainment system.

Kia says 63% of the Rio’s steel is high-tensile strength, and a Halo Body construction protects occupants in certain side impact and rollover accidents.

Sales of the current-generation Rio subcompact, introduced in late 2005, were down 25.7% through March, Ward’s data shows.

The car has been one of the smaller-volume models in the subcompact segment, placing below the leading Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit, as well as the Chevy Aveo and new Ford Fiesta.

The Rio’s peak sales year in the U.S. was 2001, when 51,541 units were sold, Ward’s data shows.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com