Base Price: $16,500

Price As tested: $17,595

This week, we're driving Kia's all-new Rio EX, an inflation fighter form the word "go" and sure to be a major competitor in the sub-compact market. Featuring a new-fangled European exterior and roomy interior, Rio starts at just $13,800 for the five-door manual transmission model, and even lower if you opt for the four-door sedan, which begins at $13,200.

The reason we call Rio an "inflation fighter" is the car's inherent "return on investment" (ROI) nucleus. Major pluses include 30 city and 40 highway EPA fuel mileage; longer wheel base than the last generation; good head and leg room; and the incredible low retail entry price. When you add in Kia's outstanding reliability, 10-year/100,000 mile drivetrain warranty, loaded standard features and overall great looks, you end up with a dealer showroom winner.

In years past, I couldn't use the term "outstanding reliability" when writing about a Kia. However, if one car company has improved more than Kia (and sibling Hyundai) over the year, someone please tell me which company has. From happy consumers to reliable consumer magazine recommendations, Kia keeps coming up roses in all categories.

Specifically, 2012 Rio's wheelbase stretches 2.8-inches longer than the previous 98.4 inch design, while other build improvements include a more rigid build, independent strut front and semi-independent torsion rear suspension, gas shocks and all the safety features today's modern automobiles offer. Notables in the safety lineup are hill assist and traction control, electronic stability with vehicle management and a four-wheel ABS brake system.

Kia's EX model features a standard six-speed automatic transmission with an Active Eco System feature. It mates well to the peppy 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, where the 11 to 1 compression engine allows zero to 60 mph times in the 9.3 second area. We know this number might not be that impressive these days, but keep in mind you're in a car that delivers 40 MPG highway.

Inside, a two tone cabin theme welcomes driver and passenger and, thanks to the additional build updates, a more comfortable surrounding. The amenities are excellent and include Sirius Satellite, USB and auxiliary inputs, air, Bluetooth, tilt and telescopic wheel, remote keyless entry and all the powers.

I highly recommend Kia's Convenience Package, where for an additional $1,000 you receive 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, power folding outside mirrors with turn signal indicator, an Infotainment system, rear camera display, leather touches, soft touch dash and more. For safety reasons alone, the rear camera is worth the entire package if it saves you one time from hitting something, or worse yet, a child going by on a bike.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 101.2 inches, 2,483 pound curb weight, from 15 to 49.8 cu. ft. of cargo space, 11.4 gallon fuel tank, and a 33.5 ft. turning circle.

In summary, you'll enjoy the efforts of Kia engineers as both a sporty handling and good highway comfort are now built into each and every Rio that comes off the assembly line in South Korea.

Kia dealers also have excellent year-end leftover incentives awaiting, making a 2012 Kia (which is identical to the 2013) a true "Test Drive" best buy. It's sure be a top prospect in a class crowded with both domestic and foreign selections.

Likes: Price, warranty, new design, fuel mileage, ROI

Dislikes: Lots of plastic inside, a few more horses would help.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist)