Are there any bad cars anymore? Yes, of course there are but it’s a herd that is thankfully thinning. The old adage that inexpensive econoboxes exist only so dealerships can advertise the lowest price but not actually sell that model is as realistic as self-driving cars. Oh, wait. Nevertheless, my point is that automakers are in the business of selling vehicles – and that means all of them.
But nowadays the struggle is real for cars as crossovers and light trucks continue to sell like gangbusters. Still, with 2017 vehicle sales projected to surpass 16 million, there is still a market for the little guys. Stage left the all-new Kia Rio.
The subcompact greets its fourth generation with new underpinnings, a fashionable exterior, upgraded interior materials and more safety technology. And all for a starting MRSP that is lower than the previous model.
Higher Standard, Lower Cost
Dropping $175 to $13,290 is the Rio sedan, while the five-door is priced at $14,290 (a savings of $1,205). Previously equipped only with a six-speed automatic transmission for hatchbacks, the 2018 Rio can now be optioned with a six-speed manual for either body style (LX trim only). Comparatively, an automatic-equipped five-door, which starts at $15,290, is still $205 cheaper than the outgoing model.
With full production slated for October, the Rio will arrive in dealer showrooms later this year in LX, S, and EX trims. A Launch Edition, which will probably see a limited run, is scheduled to eventually join the lineup as well.
What does a base Kia Rio get you, though? Well, the basics. Standard for all models is a carryover-but-slightly-updated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque. Although the power band is down slightly (from 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque), the 2018 Rio performs commuter duties so well that squabbling over the numbers is petty.
Thanks to an all-new platform, more high-strength steel and updated suspension tuning, Kia’s subcompact is surprisingly dynamic. With a tighter steering feel and little body roll, the hatchback we tested felt composed over a mixture of road surfaces, handled well in turns and dips, and was just sporty enough to be engaging.
Improved manufacturing methods and utilization of noise-absorbing materials also made the daylong drive a relatively quiet one. Even when subjecting the vehicle to the harsh cobblestones fronting our hotel, the Rio presented nary a squeak or rattle. Not bad for an early production test car, but there is always a catch.
The Fine Print
The entry-level LX trim will fetch you 15-inch steel wheels, manual-operation windows and outside mirrors, base-model black exterior bits, a tilt-only steering column, a 5-inch audio display paired with four speakers, satellite radio, and USB/AUX inputs. And if you opt for a sedan, the rear seats are not 60/40 split-folding like in all other Rio models.
Upgrading to the S model, however, adds the more appealing body-color trim, keyless entry, power windows and outside mirrors, cruise control, Bluetooth and USB charging ports. If you really can’t deal with the steel wheels, the top-level EX will spot you 15-inch alloys, as well as a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, fog lights and a leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter. You’ll also get an Uvo3-equipped, 7-inch infotainment touch screen.
The Uvo3 system is significant as it’s an enhanced version of Kia’s subscription-free service which offers not only Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, but also 19 other features, including diagnostics, vehicle location and curfew alerts. Anyone wanting to keep tabs on their Rio (or the person behind the wheel) will most certainly want to take advantage of this remote nanny feature. And, no, the alerts do not appear within the vehicle but instead goes directly to the subscriber’s phone. How sneaky.
Not to be forgotten is safety, which is even more vital for a small car living in a big crossover world. Standard are the usual requirements such as six airbags, familiar abbreviations (ABS, ESC, TPMS, LATCH) and the popularity-gaining hill assist and vehicle stability management. A rearview camera is added at the S trim while EX models gain driver assistance technology such as automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning.
2018 Kia Rio: By The Numbers
Those specs aside, the all-new Rio does showcase a more spacious interior layout with premium-feel plastics. That cabin is wrapped in bespoke-esque sheet metal with lines that exude a hint of brash.
At 101.6 inches, the Rio sits on one of the longest wheelbases of the segment, but measures in the middle of the pack in overall length. Losing 0.2 inches overhead and gaining that same amount in width, the Rio still appears lower and leaner than its predecessor, thanks to some visual magic from the design department.
On the exterior, its central character line is more pronounced with distinctive creases within the front and rear bumpers and along the door panels. A larger front grille opening is paired with redesigned headlights. The theme continues throughout the rear with new taillights and repositioned reflectors.
Overall passenger volume increases slightly for both the sedan and five-door, and cargo space behind the rear seats also grows from 15.0 cubic feet to 17.4 cubic feet in hatchback models. The sedan’s trunk space remains the same at 13.7 cubic feet.
With small cars fuel economy is supposed to be a key selling point. As a gas sipper, the Rio is less impressive when compared with direct competitors like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris iA, but it hardly falls to the back of the class.
EPA estimates show combined fuel economy of both body styles with year-over-year increases (1 mpg for the sedan and 2 mpg for the hatchback). Regardless of body style, a manual transmission Rio is expected to achieve 29/37 mpg city/highway, while those fashioned with an automatic are rated at 28/37 mpg city/highway.
Overall, the 2018 Kia Rio is a solid buy as a slick, value-oriented city commuter that would be just as comfortable and enthusiastic on long, meandering road trips.