The subcompact Kia Rio sedan and hatchback began its fourth generation in 2018 with a stylish new body and modest new engine, and for 2019 there are few changes.
Automatic emergency braking and LED headlights are available on the top S model, although not the base LX sedan. The former 6-speed transmission has been dropped.
The well-made Rio boasts a composed ride and relatively roomy back seat. It’s also more stylish than the average economy car.
The Rio’s fuel economy is good, with an EPA-rated 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 32 combined.
The IIHS gives its Top Safety Pick rating to a Rio with the optional automatic emergency braking and LED headlights. The NHTSA hasn’t crash-tested it yet.
The base Rio LX sedan costs about $16,200 and comes with cloth upholstery, power windows and locks, a 5.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Bluetooth and a USB port, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, and heated exterior mirrors. Its warranty is excellent: a 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty augmented by 10-year, 100,000-mile coverage for the engine and transmission.
The Rio S comes as either a $17,800 sedan or $18,100 hatchback, with a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, keyless entry, cruise control, and a split-folding rear seat. An available $800 package includes forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, LED headlights, and a 3.5-inch display in the instrument cluster.
Reflecting some style of its big brother the Kia Stinger, the Rio’s looks are a notch above other subcompacts. There is a purposeful face with wide grille and sweeping headlamps, and a simple, tasteful rear end. The profile of the sedan is conventional, while the longer roof of the hatchback looks more sporty.
The simple dashboard, wide and with three climate controls, is Audi-like. The touchscreen, like a tablet computer, is mounted high on the dash. The larger infotainment touchscreen is blessed with smartphone compatibility alone, while its software works well and includes smartphone app-based features such as remote start and diagnostics.
Despite the lack of soft-touch trim, the low-sheen look of the cabin is pleasant. There is good storage for small items, with deep door pockets and slots for phones near the USB port in the center console.
The rugged fabric upholstery is either black or gray with a busy design; leather and heating aren’t available, but the manual adjustment offers enough positions for different-sized bodies. The front seats are comfortable, while the room in the rear is better than average: very good for two people.
The trunk of the sedan holds 13 cubic feet, which is good for a subcompact. But the hatchback makes far more sense, with its cargo bay of 17.4 cubic feet that grows to nearly 33 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
The 1.6-liter inline-4 makes 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to provide adequate acceleration for its light weight, especially on around-town spurts, and it doesn’t need to be revved a lot, except maybe on longer hills to keep the momentum from lagging. The 6-speed automatic transmission is a good partner, providing shifts that are fairly quick and sharp.
We like the way the Rio rides on its standard 15-inch steel wheels that take bumps in stride. It’s firm and composed, while still being soft enough for city driving.
The Rio’s thick three-spoked steering wheel, the same one used on sportier Kias like the Stinger, feels good. The steering is well-weighted and precise, though the road feel is minimal. On a twisty road at modest speeds, the Rio is composed and confident; its tires are narrow, designed to deliver fuel mileage, not aggressive grip. The brakes work well, even without rear discs.
A fully-loaded Kia Rio S hatchback, at about $19,000, is a more compelling value than a large majority of small cars. Its looks are stylish, the cabin is plain but comfortable, and the hatchback has excellent cargo space. Add in Kia’s excellent warranty coverage, and the 2019 Rio is a new-car bargain.