The Kia Rio subcompact remains strong on value but it hasn’t kept up with the times. Offered in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback form, Kia Rio promises good gas mileage and an attractive base price. For a modestly priced car, it’s quite stylish, but buyers need to expect a few compromises.
The 2017 Kia Rio is the third generation of the model launched as a 2012. Little has changed since. A rearview camera is an option on 2017 Kia Rio models and there are some new colors. Otherwise, the 2017 Rio is a carryover from 2016.
Its direct-injected four-cylinder engine makes the Rio competent but far from quick, producing 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. Most models come with a 6-speed automatic transmission, though the base Rio LX sedan offers a 6-speed manual gearbox. Fuel economy varies only slightly by transmission or trim level, EPA-rated at 30 or 31 mpg Combined city and highway.
As for safety, the Kia Rio trails its competition, with relatively weak crash-test results. Federal testers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it a four-star (out of five) overall rating. Furthermore, back-seat occupants risk increased injury if a side-impact collision should occur. That’s because the left rear door could intrude further into the seat area than is acceptable, raising the chance of thoracic injury. Results also were mixed in crash-testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which gave the Rio a variety of ratings: Marginal, Acceptable, and Good. A rearview camera is an option.
Not many cars lack standard power locks and windows anymore, but the base Rio LX sedan is one of them. They’re available as options, or by moving up to an EX edition. Only the EX sedan comes standard with a satisfying selection of comfort/convenience amenities.
An Eco package ($600) or a Designer package ($750) may be added, but not both. The Eco group includes a rearview camera and stop/start technology, allowing the engine to shut off at stoplights as a fuel-saving measure. The Designer package adds leather-trimmed cloth seats and contrast stitching, as well as a rearview camera. Neither a sunroof nor heated seats are available.
Rio LX sedan ($14,165) comes with a manual transmission, as well as 15-inch steel wheels, heated power mirrors, four-speaker audio, satellite radio, woven cloth seat trim, and air conditioning. An optional automatic transmission is available ($15,395). Rio LX hatchback ($16,390) includes the automatic transmission. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Rio EX sedan ($17,755) gets the automatic transmission, along with a rearview camera, power windows/locks, UVO2 infotainment, a 4.3-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, upgraded kit cloth seats, soft-touch dashboard pad, chrome grille surround, foglamps, and 15-inch alloy wheels. Rio EX hatchback ($18,800) is equipped similar to EX sedan.
Rio SX hatchback ($21,800) comes with a rearview camera, keyless ignition, sport-tuned suspension, and 7-inch touchscreen.
The Rio five-door hatch is shapely, and the Rio sedan looks better-proportioned than many short subcompact four-door models, including the Ford Fiesta. A European tone is evident, blending with the car’s crisp body lines. It looks rakish for a Kia, helped by angled creases within the bodysides. Designers managed to convey something close to a hot hatch look, by way of the swept-back headlights, contrasting grille, and rounded tail.
To no one’s surprise, the Rio cabin feels cramped, yet it’s better than might be expected. Headroom in the back seat is definitely tight, which is inevitable because of the car’s stylish but abruptly swooping roofline. Despite its econocar status, overall cabin flair, augmented by soft-touch surfaces in some areas, suggests a more expensive premium model.
The hatchback stands out for versatility, while functionality of the sedan is a strong point. Seats contain proper bolstering, with front cushions that are comparatively long for a subcompact. Seats in the sportier Rio SX are bolstered even more, but the difference is minimal.
Traditional-type toggle switches operate the climate-control system. Unlike the cabins of some smaller cars, the Rio doesn’t come across as jarring or excessive.
For brief trips, at least, a Rio can hold five adults. It’s best with two, of course. Sound-deadening foam, added for the 2016 model year, helps keep noises at bay. Two-tone interior-trim treatments look quite nice.
Rear pillars of the five-door hatchback have substantial blind spots, making a rearview camera especially desirable. Total interior space is 7 cubic feet smaller than you’d get in a Honda Fit, and trails Nissan Versa by 3 cubic feet.
Cargo space in the Rio hatchback comes to 15 cubic feet, whereas the sedan’s trunk holds 13.7 cubic feet.
As long as expectations are modest and realistic, the Kia Rio should prove wholly adequate for daily transportation tasks. Considering its price, it performs appropriately.
Only one weakness is evident: a bumpy, jarring ride when rolling through imperfect pavement surfaces. Steering isn’t weighted as well as in a Ford Fiesta, and can feel a bit numb. Yet, in ordinary driving on the road, a Rio feels acceptably composed. In fact, Kia’s subcompact handles rather well, considering its short wheelbase, small size, and basic suspension design.
Kia’s engine works quietly, hardly noticed in everyday driving. The automatic transmission has gears nicely spaced to deliver peak performance, as long as you don’t expect spirited responses. Acceleration to 60 mph, after all, takes about 10 seconds, putting it among the slowest cars on the road. Pushing the Active Eco button deadens the gas pedal a bit, to improve fuel-efficiency (while making it slower still).
Though less thrifty than some class rivals, the Rio gets reasonably good fuel economy. With the six-speed automatic transmission, the Rio is EPA-rated at 27/36 mpg City/Highway, or 30 mpg Combined. Manual shift, available only in the LX sedan, is EPA-rated just a tad higher, at 31 mpg Combined. That same estimate goes to the Eco edition of the EX, which lacks several external body elements and substitutes steel wheels for the regular alloy versions.
Among the most affordable cars today, the Rio isn’t among the best. In addition to weak packaging of options, safety scores are a major deficit. Lack of power door locks and windows give the LX sedan a sort of offbeat retro ambiance, but at least it’s air conditioned. Rio EX and SX models are more appropriate for the vast majority of buyers. Best Rio benefits are the excellent warranty and likely the actual price.
Driving impressions by Aaron Cole, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.