Chevy Sonic vs Kia Rio

In recent years, subcompact cars have advanced from throw-away transportation appliances, to well, actual cars. Gone are the days of cloth covered folding chairs, and dime-sized wheels with plastic hubcaps. Modern customers demand things like heated seats, and actual style. So automakers have been forced to step up their game. The result has been a class of affordable cars that’s now brimming with compelling choices.

Two of these choices are the 2012 Chevy Sonic and 2012 Kia Rio. The Chevy takes the low-tech-but-well-engineered approach, while the Kia serves up a full McLuxury combo. But which one tastes better? Let’s do a Chevy Sonic vs Kia Rio comparison and find out…

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

The 2012 Chevy Sonic replaces that horrid subcompact known as the Chevrolet Aveo. Designed to compete with walking shoes, the Chevy Aveo lacked any sort of refinement or luxury whatsoever. The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic on the other hand, is just brimming with the stuff.

As an entirely new model, the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic gets a unique style all its own. There’s angry looking quad headlamps in the front, aggressively flared wheel arches down the side, and one of the most unique gauge clusters in all of cardom. The 5-door hatch looks like a racy 2-door, and the 4-door sedan looks like a, 4-door sedan. It’s a small car, but it doesn’t come-off like a $1.99 crapbox. For the first time in automotive history, Chevrolet has made a subcompact that you might actually want to own.

Part of what makes it possible to sell a dressed up entry-level car to educated customers is the content. The 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ gets heated seats, a unique interior, and a zippy 1.4 liter turbocharged engine. In regular form, the 2012 Chevy Sonic gets 138-hp from a normally aspirated 1.8 liter 4-pot. This engine gets 26/35/29 with the 5-speed manual, and 25/35/28 with the 6-speed automatic. The turbo by contrast (standard on the 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ) gets a 6-speed manual transmission and 29/40/33. The 6-speed automatic gets 27/37/31. Even though the 1.4 has a turbo, it makes the same amount of power; 138-hp. But what sets it apart is the torque; 148 ft-lb vs. 125 lb-ft. The extra twist from the turbo helps the 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ to feel a bit zippier than the standard engine (as long as you keep it in the right gear). However, neither engine can be considered ‘powerful’.

On the inside, the first thing that you’ll notice is the removable-looking motorcycle inspired gauge pod. It has a big tach on left, and a blue digital info screen to the right. This is where you’ll find the speedo, fuel gauge, instant mpg-o-meter, and other car related information. There’s no touchscreen infotainment/navigation available on the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic. But you do get a crisp blue radio screen, with Bluetooth streaming, and an iPod/USB interface.

Compared to the 2012 Ford Fiesta and others in this segment, the 2012 Chevy Sonic offers a rather low-tech options list. But it more than makes up for it with charming driving characteristics (see: charismatic, not sporty), and a decent amount of style. If you can live without a bunch of voice controlled nonsense, you’ll probably find the 2012 Chevy Sonic to be a very acceptable form of transportation.

2012 Kia Rio

2012 Kia Rio

Nowadays, subcompact cars put you in mind of a chiwawa. They’re tiny, and cute. But they think they’re a lot bigger than they actually are. Such is the case with the 2012 Kia Rio. It’s a tiny 4-door (or 5-door hatch), that’s long on both style and content.

The sharply designed exterior was penned by an ex-Audi designer, and the interior is an interpretation of the driver-centric cockpit found in the much larger 2012 Kia Optima. There’s nicely textured soft touchpoints on the dash, and you can option toys like a backup camera, touchscreen infotainment, and keyless ignition.

The 2012 Kia Rio can be outfitted like a luxury car. And it’s actually a nice car to drive too. The direct injected 1.6 liter 4-pot makes just as much power as the mill in the 2012 Chevy Sonic (138-hp), but it manages slightly better fuel economy. Expect 30/40/33 with the 6-speed automatic, 30/40/34 with the 6-speed manual.

While the 2012 Kia Rio is a bit slower than the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, the sport-themed 2012 Kia Rio SX has a much stickier suspension. It also rides a lot worse, so if you value…the fillings in your teeth…go for one of the lesser trims.

Overall, the 2012 Kia Rio & 2012 Chevy Sonic look a whole lot better than a city bus. But these cars weren’t really designed to compete with walking. They’re designed to appeal to a new generation of tech savvy drivers who want more from a car than just seats and a steering wheel. Rather, think of these two cars as…2,900 lb Mobility Apps.