Consumer Reports Rates Kia Rio as Best Subcompact

Consumer Reports magazine has named Kia Motors’ next-generation Rio as its top rated small car.

The Rio beat out the Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa, and Chevrolet Sonic as well as its cousin the Hyundai Accent and received praise for its “nimble” handling, smooth transmission and the simplicity of its audio and climate control systems. Consumer Reports was also impressed by the Rio’s upgraded interior.

In comparison to the Rio, Nissan’s revamped Versa was criticized for its excessively-loud engine which the magazine called “overwhelming and offensive.” In a statement released last Thursday, Consumer Reports also pointed to the Versa’s overall ride and performance as factors that contributed to its fall “from the top of CR’s ratings to the bottom.”

Small car sales have been on the upswing in the U.S. since gas prices began rising in 2008. Foreign and domestic automakers have been trying to capture their share of the growing market by revamping their models to offer sleeker styling, greater comfort and  more advanced technology including voice-activated infotainment systems and back-up assist cameras.

Consumer Reports’ senior director David Champion says changes in the segment in recent years have been dramatic. “Subcompact cars,” he said, “were once collectively known as ‘penalty boxes’.”

The revamped Kia Rio sedan received an overall score of 67 out of 100 in the magazine’s road test. The Chevrolet Sonic and Hyundai Accent tied for second place with a score of 65 and were followed by the Ford Fiesta, with a score of 61 and the Nissan Versa which received score of 53.

Consumer Reports ranked the Honda Fit at the top in its comparison of small hatchback models. The Kia Rio hatchback was ranked #3 among small hatchback models, behind the Nissan Versa hatchback variant.

Despite the high praise, however, U.S. sales of the Rio have been sluggish. In 2011, Ford Motor Company sold more than 68,500 Fiesta small cars in the U.S. and sales of the Honda Fit reached nearly 60,000.  U.S. consumers also purchased more than 55,000 Hyundai Accents but only a little more than 20,000 Kia Rios. The Rio and Accent share the same engine and platform.

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