If you're a buyer whose limited budget has forced you to shop used-car lots for basic transportation, Kia hopes its Korean-built Rio, with a base price of $8,895, will get you into a Kia dealership. We tested a $10,864 Rio, with options that included features most buyers take for granted - power steering, wheel covers, air conditioning, a cassette player and floor mats. After a lot of discussion and many miles behind the wheel, we both gave the Rio an acceptable two-star rating. But we did it somewhat grudgingly and reluctantly.

She: I'm at the stage where I can afford to put up several Christmas trees if I feel like it. But there was a time when I had to skimp. One year before I met you, I made a Christmas wreath out of a Styrofoam ring, glue, a Phillips screwdriver and pages from the TV Guide. I spray-painted it gold and stuck some red ribbons on it. You know, it looked fine. That little Rio reminded me of my old wreath. Just because something is cheap doesn't mean it can't satisfy your basic needs.

He: The wreath sounds better than that silly tree you have in the kitchen with all the dog ornaments on it. A black Labrador in a Santa cap? Come on.

She: It's easy to pick on me, but not so easy to pick on the Koreans anymore. They earned a better grade from us than in the past because of the Rio's highly competitive five-year, 60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Also, the Rio is a slight cut above previous Korean vehicles we've driven when it comes to quality, particularly the original Kia Sephia.

He: The warranty is terrific - the same as the one offered by Hyundai, which owns Kia. And I agree that the quality continues to improve. But I still have some real problems with the Rio, especially when you look at the entry-level competition. If my mother were shopping in this segment and could only spend $10,000 to $12,000, I'd tell her to buy a Ford Focus or a Toyota Echo. In comparison, the Rio is no better than average. And I could not, in good conscience, recommend the base model, which is a total stripper, with manual steering and no radio. And did you notice that Kia has raised the price of the Rio not once, but twice in the last couple months? It started at $8,595, then Kia bumped it to $8,668. Now it starts at $8,895,plus a $450 destination charge, which nudges the bottom line to $9,345 before you add even the basic amenities.

She: Buyers will also have to weigh whether the Rio is a smarter pick than something like a used Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. If you're hooked on things like that wonderful new-car smell, the Rio may disappoint. We noticed an unpleasant odor about our test car that we attributed to cheap adhesives and materials. That was one of several Rio complaints we had about everything from too much wind noise to an air bag warning light on the dashboard that would stay on intermittently. Here's an interesting test for consumers: Get in the back seat of the Rio and put on one of the outboard seat belts. That grinding noise you'll hear personifies the cheap feel of the Rio.

He: In Korea, the Rio comes with a teeny little engine. Kia has installed a twin-cam 1.5-liter four-cylinder in the U.S. model, but it still only makes 96 horsepower. It's adequate, but not much more. And it only returns 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway. Some compacts, like the Echo, average more than 40 miles per gallon.

She: The Rio is only average in terms of safety. It has front air bags and height-adjustable front shoulder belts, like most of the competition. But antilock brakes cost an extra $400, and you can't get side air bags. Also, we both felt uncomfortable with the standard 13-inch tires, which didn't inspire a lot of confidence. I'd go with the optional 14-inch tires for $315.

He: I guess the bottom line here is that if you can't afford to spend an extra grand or so on a new Echo or Focus, d recommend you look first at a used Toyota or Honda before you consider buying a new Rio.

Anita's rating: Acceptable

Paul's rating: Acceptable

Likes: Rio's $8,895 base price is cheaper than a used Toyota or Honda. Relatively cheap to insure. Impressive and reassuring five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Rio is a cut above previous Kia offerings like Sephia.

Dislikes: Basic amenities like power steering, air conditioning, wheel covers and a radio cost extra. Puny, 96-horsepower engine. Dated styling looks more blobby than edgy. Tight squeeze in rear seat for three passengers. Too much wind noise. Air bag light on test vehicle came on intermittently. 13-inch tires felt skimpy.

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger subcompact sedan.

Price: Base, $8,895; as tested; $10,864 (inc. $450 destination charge).

Engine: 1.5-liter four cylinder; 96 hp; 98 lb-ft. torque.

Fuel economy: 27 city / 32 highway.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan (*Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower depending on coverage and driving record.): $806.

Where built: South Korea