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Brazilian Trifecta: Handsome, Safe, Economical

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The 2012 Kia Rio is probably the car you’d buy your teenager (or wife) who loves driving like a maniac. It is also guaranteed to make the memory of Kia circa 1990 vanish in 60 seconds

I have to admit, I drive too fast on occasion. I like to think I’m fast, but safe.

And even if my passengers have, at times, admitted that they’ve seen their life flash before their very eyes, I assure them they will still live long and prosper. (I always credit divine intervention over driving skill for that!)

That’s why the second thing I noticed about the Kia Rio 1.4L EX A/T is that it refused to be subdued by my occasional hotheaded driving. The first thing was how the Rio looks nothing like my idea of a Kia, any Kia, even if it was a subcompact model in the Php700,000 range.


Beneath the hood of the 2012 Rio EX, you will find a 1.4L Gamma gas engine with multi-point injection, 4-cylinder, 16-valve, dual-overhead- camshaft with continuous variable valve timing. Now, let me describe that in terms of a motorist dealing with daily city traffic.

A 1.4L displacement is pretty standard for a subcompact and, with little effort, you will be able to go faster than most manual cars, minicars, and buses along the highway. If leaving other cars at the red light is no biggie for you, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Now ‘Gamma’ is the name of the Kia engine that powers the fastest Rio, which can go as fast as 100kph in 11.5 seconds. (Differentiated from the ‘Kappa’ in a car like the 2012 Picanto,which, although slower, is also built for efficiency and reducing exhaust fumes.)

The Gamma engine’s top speed is supposed to be 181kph. But where will I try to hit that in Metro Manila? It took me 9 seconds to hit 60kph. The reason: I had to adjust to the continuous variable valve timing or CVVT, which I’m not really used to. When I got it wrong, I heard the engine protest immediately.

Not to be confused with a CVT (continuously variable transmission, which refers to the tranny or gearbox), CVVT refers to the engine that is designed to give you good handling and modest gas consumption.

With this manumatic, you can hit maximum or minimum speed by nudging the gearshift left from Drive even as you maintain optimal RPM. If you know how to use it, you are less likely to loose power (and gas) while speeding up or slowing down. The + and – gears are intuitive and will default to the exact perfect speed when you nudge from Drive.

The engine hums quite audibly when you accelerate, so you will need to learn to distinguish between a normal hum and one that tells you to stop uselessly burning fuel.

I think CVVT is for more thoughtful drivers who take pride in achieving optimal power with the least possible gas consumption. I prefer to be more thoughtless when driving an automatic—lending more credence to the stereotype of a female driver, sadly.

But I can appreciate the engineering and good intentions behind it, namely more driver control. Same thing you get from a manual sans the added stress on your left foot.

Oh, and the greatest thing about this manumatic is it makes engine-braking when going steeply downhill (as in too many condo basements!) a no-brainer. Saves a bundle on brake-pad wear and tear.

Gasoline direct injection or GDI is more common these days. The gas is injected directly into each cylinder’s combustion chamber instead of the intake port.

This burns fuel more efficiently and translates to greater fuel economy and lower emissions even as it gives more power. So why still opt for MPI as in the 2012 Kia Rio?

In multi-port or multi-point injection (MPI), the gas travels through the intake port before it goes to the combustion chamber. Fuel pressure is less in MPI than GDI since the injector isn’t right inside the cylinder.

This means the mechanism is under less heat and pressure from combustion. It is more mechanical, less electronic. Although not as primitively mechanical as a carburetor, of course.

GDI electronically synchs fuel injection into the combustion chamber for a cleaner, drier intake. But it’s more complicated because the electronic components need to be timed perfectly with the injectors for perfect combustion.

A nice compromise between the hardiness and reliability of the mechanical carburetor and the hi-tech GDI engine is the MPI. My engineering units are not enough to explain this but I, somehow, feel more comfortable driving through Manila floods when my car uses MPI rather than GDI.

Rio Means Rich!?
I always tend to judge the quality of a make based on its subcompact line. And I suspect I’m not alone in this. That’s why, although I’ve seen how dashing the Sportage has become through the years, my earliest memory of the People’s Car hasn’t been totally erased—until I first beheld the Rio.

Well, maybe not erased, but I no longer think of the Kia as the king of the no-money-no-problem line of cars. I mean, 15-inch alloy wheels in a 4-door subcompact? And I hear the hatchback has 17-inch wheels. Holy guacamole, this Kia looks rich!

And the interior? Wow. The interior of the EX model has a posh, soft finish. The door levers in matte silver take the cobalt-beige color scheme to the next level of subdued urban swank.

Only two complaints. The wide SUV-feel of the dashboard goes a tad overboard. I couldn’t even perceive the hood anymore. I was afraid I would bang up the paint job while navigating the steep parking incline of the China Business office building. If you like a deep dashboard, then good for you.

The audio system sounds posh— but I suspect it’s the acoustics of a soft interior that makes it sound that good, not any special stereophonic technology. Which leads to my second complaint of such nice surround sound not supporting my iPod. (The base model has hard plastic interiors, so expect some acoustic buzzing.)

But in the face of the undeniable wow factor of the 2012 Rio, these become non-complaints. I reckon if I sat in this thing for another couple of weeks, all my rattle and clank memories of Kia circa 1990 would have vanished forever.

The 1.4L EX A/T (4 gears) I drove costs Php718,000; the 1.4L EX M/T (6 gears), Php678,000; and the base model 1.2L LX M/T (5 gears) can be yours for Php598,000. If you want more swagger out of your Kia though, get the 5-door hatchback. The spacious 1.4 EX A/T costs only Php838,000.

Print ed: 06/12


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