Class: Subcompact Car
Miles driven: 538
Fuel used: 17.2 gallons
Real-world fuel economy: 31.3 mpg
Driving mix: 45% city, 55% highway
|CG Report Card|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Room and Comfort||B|
|Power and Performance||B|
|Fit and Finish||B|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 28/37/32 (city/highway/combined)
Base price: $18,700 (not including $895 destination charge)
Options on test vehicle: Carpeted floor mats ($130)
Price as tested: $19,725
The great: Pleasant ride, engaging handling, respectable acceleration, availability of forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking
The good: Straightforward control layout
The not so good: Rear-seat legroom is stingy
In 1936, American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald penned an essay in which he famously postulated, “[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” In 2018, South Korean automaker Kia builds a small car that confronts that challenge.
Scan the details of the redesigned-for-2018 Rio 5-Door and you’ll conclude that Kia is operating under this contradiction: Bigger is better but less is more. It has made the subcompact hatchback fractionally longer and wider than its predecessor, with a little added wheelbase and an overall increase in passenger space to boot. At the same time it’s cheaper than it was in 2017, thanks to some content changes.
The Rio continues to come in a choice of hatchback or 4-door sedan. There’s new styling inside and out, and trim levels have been renamed, er, relettered. The new series are, from the bottom up, LX, S, and EX.
Consumer Guide® tested an EX 5-Door with a base price of $18,700. Even with some new tech features, that represents a $2205 reduction from the starting tab of the SX hatchback that topped the Rio family in 2017 with things like a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels, power sunroof, push-button starting, paddle shifters, and heated leather seats that this year’s EX doesn’t have. The other two current Rio hatches also bear lower prices than their ’17 counterparts.
Without options, the EX costs $2300 more than an S and $4500 more than an LX. Premium standard content that sets the EX above the rest of the line includes 4-wheel disc brakes, 15-inch alloy wheels, a grille with gloss-black and chrome detailing, fog lights, autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warning system, UVO infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen, voice recognition, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone compatibility, 3.5-inch vehicle-information display, illuminated vanity mirrors in the visors, embossed-cloth upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, and a tilt and telescoping steering column. All of that is added to existing features like air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, 6-speaker audio with satellite radio, remote keyless entry, and heated exterior mirrors. With a set of carpeted floor mats and delivery tacked on, CG’s test car topped out at $19,725.
The new Rio is powered by a direct-injection 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 130 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 119 lb-ft of torque at 4850 rpm, both of which are slight declines from before. Just the LX still has a standard 6-speed manual transmission; the S and EX come only with a 6-speed automatic. There was a pleasant alertness to the powerteam in the test car. It stood ready to quickly propel the Rio into lane changes when this driver was picking through busy city streets, and to cruise confidently on the highway. The general level of quiet is surprisingly good, with the only real objectionable noise in deliberate foot-to-floor exercises during which the engine winds practically to the redline before kicking down an extra gear.
For 2018, the EPA rates the Rio 1.6/automatic at 28 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, both of which are 1-mpg gains from the previous year. This reviewer recorded 28.36 mpg in a 195.2-mile test stint made up of 65 percent city-style driving.
Steering is fairly precise, and body lean around corners and in lane changes is better controlled than the Rio 5-Door’s econobox image suggests. Perched on a 101.6-inch wheelbase, it rides well and manages to avoid any urge to hop over highway pavement cracks or expansion joints. Braking is quick and progressive.
The Rio is blissfully simple to operate. Audio settings are easily tuned and directly saved on the touchscreen. Steering-wheel thumb buttons ease operation. Dials for temperature, fan speed, and mode govern climate settings—the only buttons are “on/offs” for the air conditioner and rear defroster. Navigation, however, is entirely DIY, relying on the EX owner to take advantage of that Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and extract directions from a smartphone.
Cabin appointments are in line with the simplicity theme. The patterned black-cloth seats with white contrast stitching in the Smoke Blue test car were attractive on close inspection, but generally blended into the dark interior. (A Launch Edition option does feature black-and-red leather upholstery and red instrument-panel highlights.) While soft grained plastics cover the doors and top of the dash, there’s no underlying padding. It falls to the steering-wheel wrap and the lightly padded console-box lid to impart some tactile luxury.
Front-seat occupants can dial in fine legroom, and a height-adjustable driver’s seat helps attain the proper attitude behind the wheel. Seat comfort isn’t bad but could be better with a lumbar support. Two adults can fit in the rear seat with decent legroom if front passengers don’t need to track all the way back. Headroom is good all around. Driver vision suffers some from the substantial rear roof pillars.
Cabin storage is limited. There’s the glove box, of course, but the console box is small, and there’s just one rear pouch on the back of the front passenger seat. Front doors have pockets with bottle holders, but rear doors only have room for drink receptacles. Two exposed cup holders are in the console. Cargo space is ample enough for weekend getaway luggage or a week’s groceries for two. An open bin in the left side can hold a few incidentals. Rear seats fold in a 60/40 split to expand load capacity. While they fold flat, they rest quite a few inches above the level of the cargo floor, so loading longer items won’t be easy.
Kia seeks a balance of competing small-car ideas in the Rio 5-Door. With its attractive price and generous warranty, it is an intelligent, first-rate option for the budget-driven buyer.
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