by Aiden Eksteen
If you're looking for an entry-level subcompact sedan for a first-time driver, then the Kia Rio Sedan is an option that should certainly be on your shortlist. It's simplistic yet contemporary in design, comfortable on the road, reasonably practical, superbly fuel-efficient, and most importantly, exceptionally safe; all traits that make the Rio Sedan an ideal daily driver. Moreover, the Rio Sedan is now equipped with an efficiency-minded 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-pot mill that's coupled to a new continuously variable automatic transmission, making the best use of the front-wheel drivetrain to deliver impressive gas mileage, despite power outputs dropping to 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft for the new year. Competition is tough for the Rio Sedan, despite being part of a segment that seems to be dying, with the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Hyundai Accent all still prevalent in the US.
The Rio Sedan has undergone a few major alterations for the new model year, the most prominent of these being the Rio's powertrain replacement. For 2020: an all-new Gamma 2 1.6-liter MPI engine takes the place of the previous Gamma 1.6-liter GDI engine, and is now paired to a new CVT automatic gearbox as well, replacing the previous six-speed automatic gearbox. This new powertrain is less powerful than before, but vastly more fuel-efficient. A seven-inch infotainment touchscreen display has been made standard-fit in every Rio model along with full smartphone integration in both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The Kia Rio Sedan's appearance is very simplistic but modern; up front is Kia's signature black mesh tiger-nose grille which is bordered in chrome trim. It's headed by Kia's badge and flanked by halogen headlights as standard while LED headlights and positioning lights are available for the S. Underscoring the grille is a large lower air dam that's flanked by two faux air intakes. Both models are equipped with 15-inch steel wheels with full covers, dual body-color power, heated exterior mirrors are also standard on both models.
One of the last vestiges of the subcompact class in the US, the Kia Rio Sedan measures 172.6 inches in overall length with a wheelbase spanning 101.6 inches, making the Rio 0.4 inches longer than the Toyota Yaris Sedan. The Rio, at 57.1 inches in height is 1.4 inches shorter than the Yaris, but is wider by 1.2 inches with a total width of 67.9 inches. Both the Rio Sedan models have a curb weight of 2,767 lbs, which is around 300 pounds heavier than the heftiest Yaris Sedan.
While there are only three exterior hues available for the LX, there are six hues available for the S. Clear White, Silky Silver, and Aurora Black Pearl are all available for both models, the latter at an additional cost of $195. The remaining three exterior hues, which are available for the S only, include Phantom Gray, Deep Sea Blue, and Currant Red. The best hue for the LX is the Silky Silver, while it accentuates the Rio's contour lines, it also contrasts nicely with the black exterior trim and window linings. As for the S, the Currant Red is the recommended option, giving off a miniature Stinger vibe, even if nothing else about the Rio does.
With its new, weaker engine and efficiency-minded CVT gearbox, it's clear that Kia has optimized the latest Rio toward achieving the best possible gas mileage figures it can, rather than impressive straight-line performance. This is par for the subcompact segment since no one really offers blistering pace anymore, but with ten horsepower fewer than before, the Rio Sedan's ten-second-plus 0-60 mph run is glacial at best. However, rivals are stuck in the same realm, and with front-wheel-drive as the default drivetrain in the segment - once again favoring economy - the Rio fits in with the rest of the pack.
Despite being part of the Gamma family, the new engine for 2020 has some differences. While we won't go into technical details, the main things you need to know are that the 1.6-liter four-cylinder now develops less power and torque than before, churning out 120 hp and 112 lb-ft. There's no longer a traditional automatic gearbox, either, as for the new year there's a new CVT auto managing drive to the front end.
While performance figures might seem pathetic, the Rio thrives within the confines of the city. There's no need to chase 0-60 mph times because from 0-40 mph the little Kia is spritely and eager. It won't blow your hair back, but pulling away from traffic lights is a simple chore, although the CVT gearbox isn't the best companion. It manages things well enough from a mileage standpoint, but it's dull and uneventful, and the droning and rubber-band sensation typical of CVTs is still present. Keep the Rio within the city and it'll be more than capable, but for the sake of your sanity, avoid highways at all costs as the subcompact is simply too underpowered for the open road.
The Rio Sedan is a relatively lightweight vehicle, which along with its subcompact dimensions make it an ideal city runabout. Though not nearly as athletic as the Toyota Yaris, the Rio Sedan still proves somewhat capable. Body roll is impressively well controlled around corners and tight bends, and while the steering provides only a slight bit of feedback from the front end, it's appropriately weighted and very precise nonetheless. Kia has effectively managed to balance the Rio's impressive handling poise with a decently comfortable ride quality along with a substantial feel. Its solid structure and well-tuned chassis have it soak up most everyday road imperfections and typical undulations reasonably well for such a small car, too.
The Kia Rio's new efficiency-minded powertrain has improved the subcompact sedan's gas mileage figures significantly, from returning EPA estimates of 28/37/32 mpg city/highway/combined with the old powertrain, to achieving 33/41/36 mpg with the new setup for 2020. That's a little more fuel-efficient than even the Toyota Yaris, which only manages 32/40/35 mpg; the Hyundai Accent returns identical estimates to the Rio - the perks of sharing the Kia's drivetrain. With its 11.9-gallon gas tank filled to the brim, the Rio Sedan will manage around 428 miles between fill-ups, in mixed conditions.
The inside of the Rio Sedan is very basic, with the dash dominated by harsh gray plastics in an attempt to meet the affordable budget price needed to attract customers. But it's durable and hard-wearing, the panels feel solidly fitted, and the controls are laid out simply and visibly enough to make for easy learning - whether you're a new driver or a retiree. Manual seat adjustment is par for the segment, but the Rio provides drivers with a good view of the road ahead, a good driving position, and a supportive seat. While it's certainly built to a budget, cheap doesn't mean nasty here, although the Toyota Yaris still provides a vastly more upscale cabin in comparison.
A maximum of five passengers can fit into the Kia Rio Sedan, but realistically, you're looking at only four adults, and those in the back will need to be on the more compact end of the spectrum. The front seats are spacious and supportive, with 38.9 inches of headroom and 42.1 inches of legroom proving more than enough for six-foot front occupants. The rear seats are a little less accommodating, with only 37.4 inches of headspace and a paltry 33.5 inches of legroom. Adults taller than 5'10" will find the knee space far too cramped, while just 53.3 inches of rear shoulder space means only teenagers will sit three abreast.
Keeping to the very simplistic design and style ethos of the Rio Sedan, Kia provides only two basic interior color and material schemes for both models. Black Tricot and woven cloth seating upholstery with white, patterned contrast stitching is standard in both models, with Gray Tricot paired to the same upholstery as an option. While most of the interior, including the dashboard and door panels, are predominantly made up of black hard-touch materials, the headliner is gray fabric, while the armrests are color-keyed to match the upholstery. A polyurethane steering wheel and gearshift knob are standard in both models.
The Rio Sedan's 13.7 cubic foot trunk is about average for the class, with the Hyundai Accent offering the same capacity, and the Yaris Sedan offering 0.2 cu-ft less. The 13.7 cubes is enough for about a week's worth of grocery shopping, but don't expect to be taking home all your Black Friday deals in such a limited space. Only the Rio S comes fitted with 60/40 split-folding rear seats, which is advantageous for improved cargo-hauling practicality and versatility.
Inside the cabin, the front occupants have access to reasonably sized door side pockets that will fit bottles, there's a small open tray ahead of the shifter for small-items, and two cupholders behind the shifter that will take large beverages. The passenger-side glove box compartment is sizable and the Rio S is fitted with a usable center armrest storage bin. For rear passengers, there are door side bottle slots and a single seatback map pocket on the front passenger's side.
With a focus on being affordable, it shouldn't be surprising that the Kia Rio isn't equipped with S-Class levels of technology. Basic features such as halogen projector-beam headlights and power-adjustable heated exterior mirrors are standard on both models. The Rio LX comes fitted with a polyurethane steering wheel with tilt-only adjustment, the front seats are both six-way manually-adjustable, there's manual air conditioning, an integrated rearview camera, and hill-start assist. The Rio S is equipped with more of the essentials including a sliding front center armrest and 60/40 split-folding rear seats, it also gets a few more features including remote keyless entry with easy trunk release, and cruise control. A Kia Drive Wise forward collision-avoidance system is available for the Rio S only as are LED headlights and position lights, and an upgraded driver instrumentation cluster with a 3.5-inch display.
Kia has always done right with the infotainment systems of their vehicles in terms of the latest and greatest technologies, and the same stands for the Rio Sedan. Both models come standard with a seven-inch touchscreen display that's tethered to an AM/FM/MP3-compatible stereo with a six-speaker sound system. The user interface is intuitive and responsive and the visuals crisp and clear, but the sound quality could do with some improvement. Full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality is standard in both models as well, along with Bluetooth audio streaming and wireless smartphone connectivity. In the Rio LX, there are two USB ports, an auxiliary input jack, and a single 12-volt power outlet in the front center console; the Rio S gets an additional two USB ports located at the rear of the center console for access by rear passengers. Satellite radio is optionally available, but only on the S model as part of the S Technology Package, also incorporating Kia's UVO3 eServices.
Since the current generation debuted for 2018, not a single Rio has been recalled, and very few complaints have been leveled against it. J.D. Power subsequently availed the 2020 Kia Rio Sedan with an above-average predicted reliability rating of 80 out of 100. Every new Kia Rio Sedan is covered by Kia with a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and an industry-leading ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The current generation Kia Rio Sedan hasn't yet been evaluated by the NHTSA. But the IIHS has cast an eye over it, awarding it the title of 2019 Top Safety Pick when equipped with the S Technology Package's forward collision avoidance and LED headlights. While the base model does its best to keep occupants in relative safety in the event of an accident, only the S can possibly prevent that crash for you.
Subcompacts rarely come with the latest in safety tech, and the Rio is no different, although optionally on the S trim, you can get forward collision warning and LED headlights. Standard across both configurations, however, you'll get ABS, EBD, a rearview camera, six standard airbags (dual front, front side, side curtain), stability control, tire pressure monitoring, and LATCH anchors for child seats in the rear.
Cheap, pleasant, efficient, and stylish - four core values that serve the Rio well in the subcompact segment. The new engine upgrade for 2020 is worthwhile from a running cost perspective, but we're a little sour Kia doesn't offer a manual gearbox as the CVT isn't the most pleasant companion anywhere outside of a traffic jam. However, the rest of the package is great, and with exemplary ride comfort, comfortable and spacious seats, and a fairly large trunk, the Rio has all the makings of a great all-rounder. But the interior feels a little cheap compared to luxurious rivals like the Toyota Yaris, and there's not much in the way of safety and driver assists. Sure, it picked up an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating, but you need the top trim's optional package equipped if you're going to achieve that status. Still, as far as back-to-basics budget runabouts go, the Rio Sedan is one of the best.
With just two trims in the Rio Sedan lineup, Kia has done well to keep the prices down low. The base-spec model Rio LX is priced at an affordable MSRP of $15,750, while the top-spec Rio S only asks a little more at $16,390. Both figures exclude any tax, registration, or licensing fees as well as Kia's destination and delivery fee of $925. There aren't many packages or options available for either of the models, so a fully-equipped Rio S wouldn't be much more expensive than what it is at the standard level, around only $995 more excluding the minor accessories.
There are only two models in the Rio Sedan lineup: the LX and S. Both are equipped with the same 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine coupled to a CVT automatic and front-wheel drivetrain. 15-inch steel wheels with full covers are standard on both models, along with halogen projector-beam headlights and dual body-color heated, power side-view mirrors.
In the Rio LX, there's a standard polyurethane steering wheel with a tilt-only adjustment, six-way manually-adjustable front seats, and manual air conditioning. A rearview camera and hill start assist cover the standard driver-assist features, while taking care of infotainment in a seven-inch touchscreen display with AM/FM/MP3 functionality, Bluetooth, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a six-speaker sound system.
The Rio S is upgraded with a sliding front center armrest, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, and two additional USB charge ports for rear passengers. It also gets cruise control and remote keyless entry with trunk release and burglar alarm functions. The infotainment system is upgraded with UVO3 services and SiriusXM satellite radio connectivity.
There is only a single package available for the Kia Rio, and it's only available for the top-spec S trim. The S Technology Package equips the Rio S with LED headlights with positioning lights, forward collision avoidance, a high-line tire pressure monitoring system, an upgraded 3.5-inch LCD driver instrumentation display, UVO3 eServices, and SiriusXM satellite radio. There is an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a compass and HomeLink software available for both models at a cost of $350.
The Kia Rio S is the obvious choice here as the model that's not only better equipped - and for only a nominal fee - but also the only model with access to the S Technology Package and additional exterior paint colors. The S Technology Package is recommended for the forward collision avoidance system it contains - giving the Rio its Top Safety Pick status - as well as for the LED headlights and positioning lights upgrades. Apart from the additional features, it's also the clear choice as it comes with the basic creature comforts that the LX lacks, including a center sliding armrest and 60/40 split-folding rear seats.
The Hyundai Accent shares its underpinnings with the Kia Rio Sedan, from the powertrain to the chassis. The Accent does, however, have a six-speed manual gearbox option on the base trim, making the base Accent SE more entertaining to drive, even if it does come at the expense of Rio-matching gas mileage estimates. With three trims offered, the Accent starts off several hundred dollars cheaper than the Rio, but it misses out on a fully comprehensive infotainment suite at a base level - score one point to the Kia Rio - although the uppermost trim gets all the Rio's optional safety features as standard - score one to the Accent. The Accent is also a little more staid in its design, both inside and out, sending another point the way of the Kia. The Rio is marginally larger in the trunk department, which scores it another point, but both are equally as spacious inside. As much as we wish the Rio had a manual gearbox, it's a small failing of an otherwise comprehensive package, and while these two Koreans may be very similar, it's the Rio that wins our favor.
For around $2,000 more than the Rio Sedan, one could opt for the compact Kia Forte Sedan. Being a compact sedan, the Forte is a little more commodious on the inside, offering passengers more room to enjoy and hosting a little more cargo in the trunk. The Forte is also equipped with a slightly more powerful engine, which means it will feel peppier than the Rio around town, and a bit more capable on the highway. While significantly more powerful, the Forte's powertrain is only a little less fuel-efficient which is impressive. Moreover, there's an even more powerful 201 hp engine available for the Forte, appealing to those with gasoline running through their veins. In terms of safety, comfort, and convenience, both models provide similar packages overall, but the Forte offers more safety equipment on higher-level trims. If you need more space, more safety, and more performance, the Forte is a better car; but if you only need a cheap A-to-B appliance, the Rio is a more than viable option.