Kia Rio tops Consumers Reports' small car list

DETROIT, March 22 (Reuters) - Kia Motors Corp’s next-generation Rio topped Consumer Reports’ list of small cars on Thursday, beating out more popular rivals in the U.S. market, including Ford Motor Co’s Fiesta.

The highly influential consumer magazine praised the Rio’s “nimble” handling, simple climate and radio controls and smooth transmission. Consumer Reports also said the interior is more cohesive than its earlier version, which had visible screws.

Nissan Motor Co got poor marks for the overhaul of its Versa sedan. The magazine said the ride was jittery and engine sounds were “overwhelming and offensive.”

“The changes plunged it from the top of CR’s ratings to the bottom,” Consumer Reports said in a press release Thursday.

Rising gas prices since 2008 have prompted more U.S. consumers to consider small cars. As a result, automakers have revamped their cars to be more stylish and comfortable. Many of these vehicles also come with options like back-up cameras and voice-activated entertainment systems.

“Subcompact cars were once collectively known as ‘penalty boxes,’” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports. He added that the new redesigns “make a number of subcompact models good all-around choices for people looking to stretch their budget.”

The Rio sedan’s overall road-test score was 67 out of 100. It edged past refreshed versions of Hyundai Motor Co’s Accent and the Chevrolet Sonic, built by General Motors Co. Both scored a 65. The Fiesta snagged a 61 and the Versa got a 53.

The hatchback version of the Rio fared worse. It landed at No. 3 on the list of small hatchbacks, behind Honda Motor Co’s Fit and the hatchback version of the Versa.

Last year, the top seller in the small car segment was Ford, which sold more than 68,500 Fiesta cars. Honda sold nearly 60,000 Fit vehicles and Hyundai sold more than 55,000 Accents. Kia sold little more than 20,000 of its Rio subcompact

The Rio and the Accent are built on the same platform and share the same engine, but otherwise, development of the two vehicles is kept separate.

Consumer Reports touted the Accent’s 31-miles-per gallon fuel economy, but said the ride was bumpy. The Chevrolet Sonic got 28 miles per gallon, which Consumer Reports deemed “unimpressive” for the segment.

The cheapest model that Consumer Reports tested was the Nissan Versa at $15,490. The most expensive was the Sonic LTZ hatchback at $19,870.