Once again, the sweet shriek of a blood-red Ferrari didn’t echo through my old garage on Christmas Day.
Drat. And almost as troubling, exotic internet model Emily Ratajkowski continues to ignore my colorful e-mail proposals of marriage. Double drat.
Lumps of coal just seem to fill my pockets these days.
So — all things considered — I had pretty low expectations for the 2018 Kia Rio LX subcompact that arrived recently amid absolutely no fanfare or bows.
After all, how excited can you get about a small silver sedan with plastic hubcaps, hand-crank windows and not a single power anything other than brakes and steering?
Oh, boy, I thought. I got an empty can for Christmas.
But after a week with the dinky Kia – the smallest sedan Kia sells in the U.S. – I’ve got to tell you: The $16,000 Rio is better than some more expensive new vehicles and beats the heck out of a pair of black dress-socks from Walmart.
Not that many of your friends and family will notice the stolid little sedan. Just keep telling yourself less is more, less is more…
Actually, the low-profile Rio looks pretty decent with its taut contemporary proportions and Euro profile.
As a Kia – a South Korean brand closely affiliated with Hyundai – my Rio sported one of the company’s signature tiger-nose grilles flanked by oversized headlamps that sliced back into the front fenders.
A slightly raised hood with crisp character lines in it topped mostly flat sides made a bit more interesting by a couple of well-placed tucks and creases.
The car’s top, meanwhile, made me feel downright cosmopolitan with its thick French-looking rear roof pillars, short rear fenders and highly truncated hatchback.
(Generally, the closest I ever get to cosmopolitan is a bag of French fries.)
You may be left sort of speechless, though, by the Rio’s miniature 185/65 tires clinging to 16-inch wheels covered by plastic multispoke hubcaps.
They sort of looked as if they had been lifted from a neighbor’s wheelbarrow.
But appearances can be deceiving – as I frequently tell prospective dates.
What we can’t see beneath the Rio is a stiff, fairly refined new platform that keeps the Kia solid and silent, giving it a commendable ride and handling.
It’s a fine foundation aided by a willing 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 130 horsepower spinning a slick-shifting six-speed automatic – not some spirit-sapping CVT like those in Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans.
Much to my surprise, the Rio even offered a “sport” button on its spare console.
Though by no means fast or truly sporting, the Rio happily surged away from stops with a goofy little growl, revving to 6,000 rpm as it jogged to 60 mph in a reasonable 8.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
That should be plenty adequate for merging onto area freeways full of high-speed, free-form drexters (driving texters).
And if you pedal the Rio more responsibly than I did, you should be able to wring 28 miles out of a gallon of gas in town and 37 on the highway.
As with most Kias, the Rio’s steering felt numb to me, but was well-weighted and quick, turning into corners with a sort of playful eagerness.
Granted, the little sedan leaned some and those small tires didn’t provide much grip, but the Rio could hold a line in a curve and never really protested being tossed about.
Even more unexpected was the Rio’s ability to step over bumps with a solid, expensive-sounding thunk while also inhaling smooth pavement with firm compliance.
Very German, I thought — diversity at its automotive best.
Of course, $16,000 cars don’t wow you with their lavish leather interiors. But the Rio’s slabs of black plastic appeared to be pretty good stuff and well-executed – despite those museum-quality crank roll-up windows.
A flat, fairly simple dashboard, for example, curved cleanly over the instrument panel and around a 6-inch display screen at mid-dash that looked like an iPad.
Its “luxury” touches included USB and auxiliary input jacks and virtually no meddlesome safety nannies to noisily insist on helping you drive.
Somehow, I survived.
One of the real benefits of the car’s austere approach, though, was a weight of about 2,600 pounds – roughly the same as a Honda Fit.
There were others, too. The climate-control system relied on two rotary dials and a smaller knob for the fan, while knobs also controlled the audio system.
Complementing the Rio’s minimalist plastic door panels were black cloth bucket-seats with patterned centers and stitched bolsters.
Moreover, the back seat offered decent leg- and head-room, with 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind it.
Nonetheless, I doubt that Kia will sell many Rios as austere as my tiny door-slammer – especially in this age of truckish crossovers and SUVs.
Still, if someone were in the market for a reliable, 80-mile-a-day commuter that didn’t beat them up or cost a fortune in gas, the Rio is certainly worth considering.
Maybe just as important, if Kia can build a subcompact this solid for $16,000, what can it do in a $30,000 vehicle?
In fact, if I were an exec at Nissan, I might watch Kia as closely as I did Honda and Toyota – and guess which car has a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty?