$15,000 doesn’t buy you what it used to. No longer can an Acura Integra be acquired for $12,580, as it could 20 years ago. These days, sub-$15K cars are subcompacts and subcompacts only.
If a new car is a must-have, if you refuse to take a bit of risk on a ’97 BMW 740i for $5000, you owe it to yourself to purchase the subcompact that looks better than all the others. The one with a terrific warranty, class-leading horsepower, and available Chestnut paint.
Most importantly, it’s best to consider the subcompact which features an interior capable of impressing jaded buyers who usually spend $25,000, not $15,000. The quality of materials is better than expected. The layout is mature. If you want to spend more than $13,800 – and you will want to – upper trim levels are reasonably priced and very well equipped.
Overlooking the fact that many consumers still struggle with the thought of owning a Korean-badged car, the sophisticated image presented by a debadged Rio riding on 17-inch alloys is undeniable. It’s a high-class looker.
For a buyer with few dollars to spend and a need for a decent amount of space, the Rio is unbeatable. Fortunately, buyers can rarely go wrong in the subcompact segment these days. No, inflation and cancellation mean you won’t be buying a new $12,580 Integra in 2013. But the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, and this Rio (especially) are all worth test driving.
Engine: 138 horsepower; 123 lb-ft of torque from a 1.6L four-cylinder
Base USD/CAD Price: $13,800 / $14,195
City Fuel Economy: 28-29 miles per gallon
It’s Not Perfect: The Rio’s front seats leave something to be desired. Its rear bench is also too flat. And it would be nice if Kia figured out how to make the Rio corner like the similarly-swift Sonic.
Viable Alternatives: The subcompact class is filled with worthy cars. I can have fun driving a Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, or Honda Fit. The Rio’s Hyundai partner, the Accent, is very much a Rio in many ways. Chevrolet’s Sonic is handsome and quick on its feet. And thinking even smaller, the new higher-powered Fiat 500 Turbo is Good 12-winning Italian sweetness.