2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door
1.6-liter four-cylinder (130 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm; 119 lb-ft @ 4,850 rpm)
Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
28 city / 37 highway / 32 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
8.5 city, 6.4 highway, 7.5 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $18,700 (U.S) / $20,598 (Canada)
As Tested: $20,945 (U.S.) / $22,869 (Canada)
Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,685 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.
Cheap cars often get a bad rap. That’s not surprising – our status-obsessed society tends to look down upon any low-cost product, unless that product is so superior to its competition that it can be labeled a “value” or a “bargain.”
The Kia Rio probably isn’t good enough for that status, and there are other relatively inexpensive automobiles that perform better across various metrics, but if you need cheap wheels and don’t want to be punished, you could do worse.
Hatchback bodystyles remain useful, which is why Kia gives buyers the choice between sedan and 5-door versions.
At a glance, the Rio screams simplicity – in a good way. It’s plain looking, but “plain” sometimes translates into “functional” with ease.
The exterior design is inoffensive and unremarkable, yet still attractive. Plain can also be handsome, and the Rio blends nicely. You probably won’t notice the Rio in traffic, but if you, you’ll likely nod politely in approval.
Simple but effective is the interior’s theme, as well. The A/C knobs are simplistic and there isn’t much in the way of buttons below the tacked-on infotainment system that hangs on top of the center stack. Add Kia to the list of automakers who’ve decided tacking a tablet-like screen on to the top of center stack is enough to just call it a day. At least the various menus are intuitive and easy to use.
Kia has blessed this car with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder making 130 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque. It’s not really enough power to win you any small-car shootouts, and it does feel a tad underpowered. Perhaps unsurprising, but disappointing nonetheless. The engine is also a bit coarse in terms of noise/vibration/harshness.
You do have to make sacrifices to save a buck, after all.
The six-speed automatic shifts fine, but you can sort of feel the mechanicals at work through the shifter. It’s an odd sensation. You will hear a little bit of road noise, which is unsurprising at this price point.
The Rio is infused with just enough sporty handling (and well-weighted steering feel) that you won’t be bored, but of course there are other hatches that offer more sporting spirit. Ride is a bit on the hard side, despite the 15-inch wheels, but not unpleasant.
Interior space up front is acceptable, even for taller folk, but the rear is a bit tight. Not bad, just a little tight.
Feature-wise, the only option on my EX test car was floor mats. That’s it. The standard features list wasn’t barren, however. It included fog lamps, air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB, tilt/telescope steering wheel, Kia’s UVO infotainment software, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. A little basic – the seats are cloth and manually adjusted, but still not a bad list for a car with a price under $20K.
My test vehicle started at $18,700 and, with D and D and the floor mats, it ran up at $19,725.
Like the larger and pricier Niro, the Rio is a Kia that just works. It’s not sexy or remarkable or memorable – it just does its job. You get in, start it, and drive.
That drive isn’t totally boring, and you aren’t punished too badly for saving some dough. Kia may be trying to do some cool things at the top of its line – witness the Stinger and its handsome design – but the brand knows its bread and butter is cars like the Rio. To that end, the product planners have cooked up a car that won’t win many awards or much praise from enthusiasts, but will do well enough on the showroom floor.
[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]