On Your Radar: Kia Rio
Now That’s What I Call Value!
By Randy Lioz, Editor, Car-ED.com | January 2018
The Rio is one of the more underappreciated cars in the Subcompact Car segment, but with its mix of style, value and space, KIA’s most affordable model definitely warrants a look from buyers in the market for basic transportation, with a little flair.
What is this vehicle?
The Rio is the entry point for the KIA lineup, and while a few generations ago it matched its bargain basement price with a cellar-level reputation, over the past few years it’s gained an image of being one of the most spacious and powerful packages in the segment, offering ample feature content for not too much money.
It’s a subcompact car that’s available as either a 4-door sedan or a 5-door hatch, and while many people see the Rio nameplate as basic transportation, it can give you many of the features available in more upscale vehicles, but in a space- and fuel-efficient package that’s easy on the wallet.
Who is this vehicle for?
Young people—and older buyers—who otherwise might be considering a used car can look to a KIA Rio to get a car that not only doesn’t come with the potential pitfalls—and smells—of the previous owners, but also includes KIA’s highly competitive 10-year/100k-mile powertrain warranty—the rest of car has 5-year/60k-mile coverage.
With the subcompact car segment losing some steam, and many shoppers migrating towards crossovers, KIA seems to be embracing this used-car alternative market with the base LX model, which comes stripped of basic features like power windows, cruise control and keyless entry, helping to hit its low, low price point of $13,900 to start.
Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?
The Rio often gets overlooked in this segment, with sales well below the Hyundai Accent with which it shares its bones. But the little KIA deserves to be on your radar, since it offers up a dose of style, with one of the most spacious and powerful packages in the segment.
What Excites Us / Top Likes:
1 – While KIA took a pretty big step forward on the styling of the previous Rio, this new model furthers the evolution. The new car is a bit lower and wider, and that helps it to shed some of the bulbous look of the previous generation. Its proportions are closer to those of the compact and mid-size sedans that have set the style template for modern cars. This is aided by the slightly wider looking front end, with its narrower shark-nose “grille”—this is really just a shiny strip of black plastic—and headlights whose inner edge aligns with this strip.
The hatchback version now looks more mature and aggressive, thanks to more complex contouring on the rear surfaces.
The horizontal motif continues to the interior, with lines the span the width of the dash and a less direct connection between the center console and the dash. Info display is treated a bit more prominently in this Rio, with the center touch-screen (a 5” screen comes standard, while KIA’s UVO interface comes with the 7” screen on the EX) perched up high on the dash. And the EX also comes with a color screen in the gauge cluster.
2 – The Rio has KIA’s latest UVO system, gen-3, on the EX trim, which is well designed and easy to us, and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a Bluetooth connection for streaming.
3 – KIA has rolled out a set of Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) they’re calling Drive Wise, and some of these features have made their way into the Rio, at least in the top EX trim. They include a Forward Collision Warning System and Automatic Emergency Braking, though you’ll be in for over $19,000 in order to get these features. Toyota allows Yaris customers to get these features for $2,000 less, but it’s still very beneficial to have them available on the Rio.
4 – The ride and handling balance have been improved on this latest Rio, with revised damper settings that make it drive more expensive than it is.
Items to make better (Least Favorite things):
There’s not a whole lot lacking with this vehicle, since it stays true to its mission, but Jeep seems to have missed the boat a bit on the advanced driver assist systems that are being offered on many other vehicles currently being introduced. The Wrangler has always been a pretty analog vehicle, but even it can’t escape the digitization occurring within most cars, with its connectivity as an example. But its advanced safety equipment tops out at optional rear park assist and blind-spot monitoring, with no active safety measures, like auto emergency braking, at a time when companies like Toyota, Nissan and Honda are putting these as standard on most or all of their vehicles.
1 – KIA did make some improvements to what is a largely carryover engine, bumping the fuel economy by up to 2 mpg versus the 2017 model. It’s now rated at 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway/32 mpg combined for the automatic version (the manual gets an additional 1 city mile). While power has declined a bit, the Rio is still among the more potent choices in the segment, particularly the base models within the competitive set.
But even with this improvement the Rio isn’t much of a miserly standout when it comes to thirst. In fact its 32 mpg combined rating is tied with the larger AWD Subaru Impreza, and trails the Honda Fit by 4 mpg. This might be chalked up to the Honda’s Continuously Variable Transmission, which doesn’t suit all drivers, but the EPA expects $150 in fuel savings per year by picking the Fit over the Rio.
2 – As mentioned earlier, the base models of the Rio are pretty bare bones, with the bottom LX trim lacking power windows and mirrors, keyless entry and cruise control. It also foregoes recent connectivity options like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and even Bluetooth. It might not be a big deal that there are no option packages available on the trims—with the exception of some red trim accents on the EX—except for the fact that the manual transmission, which gets that extra mpg in the city, is only available on the LX, meaning if you want to do the transmission work yourself, there’s a lot of other work that comes with it.
3 – Along the same lines, the Rio isn’t available with some of the more upscale touches that its rivals—or even the previous Rio—have, like the 17” alloys, LED headlight accents and heated leather seats of the now-defunct SX trim. A new-car introduction without modern-looking lighting accents is just a bit strange, even at the low end of the market.
Segment and Competitors:
The leading Subcompact Cars with the Rio are:
- Nissan Versa sedan/Versa Note hatch
- Hyundai Accent
- Honda Fit
- Ford Fiesta
- Toyota Yaris hatch/Yaris iA sedan
- Chevrolet Sonic
The Subcompact segment is feeling lots of pressure, as 2017 volume was down nearly 20% from the previous year as more shoppers gravitate towards utilities, including the growing list of Subcompact Utilities. This may lead some competitors to leave the segment, and there has already been rumbling that this is the case.
Pricing and Availability:
The Rio is in dealers now, starting at $13,900 for the manual LX sedan, and topping out at $19,200 for the EX Launch Edition 5-door hatch, which includes the red leather accents inside.
For full specifications and equipment go to: