2012 Kia Rio (© Rick Wait)

2012 Kia Rio

Kia is one of several automakers that has started to update its vehicles more frequently than is typical for the industry.

The Kia Soul came out in 2010 and is getting an updated look and other upgrades for 2012. Ford has revised its Taurus in short order, too. Likewise Acura with its TL.

The Soul kicked off what Kia is calling it's "design-led transformation," which has completely changed the look of every vehicle in the lineup. It's understandable that the company wants to keep this car fresh, because it plays in a segment that is sensitive to styling trends.

Kia also took the wraps off of the sedan version of its smallest car, the Rio. A five-door hatchback model was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March. The Rio is Hyundai Accent's kissing cousin — the two are built on the same platform and share technology.

Kia has done remarkably well in the face of the current recession. As other automakers struggled to curtail losses in 2010, Kia had its best year ever in terms of U.S. sales.

More coverage from the New York Auto Show

2012 Kia Rio Sedan

What makes it hot? Like the Hyundai Accent, the Kia Rio represents a new breed of small car — one that you won't be embarrassed to drive. The sedan shown in New York looks quite different from the hatchback version, and not just from the rear — it has a totally unique front end. Content is otherwise pretty much the same between the two models. They share a four-cylinder engine that makes 138 hp. It will feature start/stop technology, that shuts the engine down during temporary stops to save fuel. Preliminary estimates put gas mileage around 35 mpg. Although still diminutive, the new Rio is longer and wider than the model it replaces. It should be quieter, too, thanks to added sound deadening materials. The top SX trim level will get premium features like heated leather seats, smart key bush-button start and a navigation system.

What concerns us? Kias are drastically better than they were just two years ago, but there is still room for improvement in terms of quality, fit and finish.

How much and when? Rio5 goes on sale November and the sedan follows in early 2012; base model will start under $13,000.

Our verdict? The hatchback looks better than the sedan — but who cares? Both are such a huge improvement over the previous model. For the money, the Rio will be hard to beat.

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2012 Kia Soul

What makes it hot? Design tweaks, including new projector-beam headlamps and LEDs, bring it up to speed with new vehicles in the lineup that came out after the Soul first debuted for the 2010 model year. Perhaps more important than subtle design changes are updates to the powertrain. The base engine is the same as in the Rio, a 1.6-liter four cylinder that puts out 138 hp and averages an estimated 31 mpg, which is lower than in the Rio because the Soul is heavier. A 160-hp 2.0-liter four cylinder is 13 percent more powerful than the previous engine and gets an estimated 30 mpg. The interior gets only minor changes, but is better isolated from noise and vibration, thanks to added insulating materials.

What concerns us? Nothing, really. The Kia Soul was a winner from the start, and the updates only make it better.

How much and when? To be announced.

Our verdict? Kia's Soul gets a little more refined and will be the better for it.

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Matthew de Paula wanted to be an automotive journalist ever since reading his first car magazine in grade school. After a brief stint writing about finance, he helped launch ForbesAutos.com and became the site's editor in 2006. Matthew now freelances for various outlets.