Despite booming crossover sales and the notion that bigger is better, in 2021, the Kia Rio subcompact sedan still exists and holds an important position in the US market, as well as in the hearts and minds of budget-focused shoppers. Providing a surprising mix of talents for very little money, the Rio has become all the more relevant in recent years due to a lingering cloud over the world's economy that is forcing young people to buy cheaper. The Rio gets the job done with a smile, and with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder developing 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft, it'll sip fuel in a most frugal fashion. Compared to the competition, the Rio plates up a capable package, combing decent handling and road-holding, affordable running costs, and all the features one really needs. Competitors such as the Hyundai Accent and Nissan Versa pose stiff competition, but the Rio puts up a good fight.
The Kia Rio receives a refresh for 2021, which includes exterior changes such as a restyled front-end with new grille intakes as well as a new bumper treatment. The interior sees some changes that include a larger eight-inch touchscreen, and all trims, including the base model, now come standard with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A new S Technology Package includes LED headlights, automatic climate control, 15-inch alloy wheels, push-button start, and enhanced DriveWise features.
See trim levels and configurations:
The 2021 Kia Rio won't bowl you over with its exterior styling, but it still looks handsome in a budget-Stinger kind of way, and we certainly like it. For 2021, the Rio gets a re-styled face, which includes a new bumper and black mesh grille. There's a set of halogen headlights up front and both the LX and S ride on 15-inch steel wheels with plastic covers. S models get the option of 15-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights.
The new Kia Rio is classified as a subcompact sedan, with dimensions that make it a bit smaller than the Nissan Versa Sedan. The total length of the Rio is 172.6 inches and its width is 67.9 inches. The Rio is 57.1 inches tall. The track measures 60 inches in the front and 60.2 inches in the rear, and there are 5.5 inches of ground clearance on offer. As for the wheelbase, it is 101.6 inches long. The Rio has a curb weight of only 2,767 pounds.
The humble exterior of the 2021 Kia Rio Sedan is anything but shouty, and that is totally respectable, especially when you're a low to mid-range dealer that doesn't want to attract any attention from the cops and still want to save on fuel and insurance costs. The 2021 Rio is offered in your choice of six exterior paint colors. Starting from lightest to darkest, you get Clear White, Silky Silver, Steel Gray, and Aurora Black. Currant Red is possibly the most boring option, while Sporty Blue is the closest you're going to get if you want your Rio to look like a mini Stinger. However, your choice of trim dictates color availability; the base LX can only be had in Clear White, Silky Silver, and Aurora Black,with the remaining shades reserved for the S.
When one thinks of performance motoring, names like '911' and 'GT-R' come to mind. There might be a turbocharged sleeper Rio prowling around in some corner of the world, but as far as we know, the Rio is about as tepid a vehicle as you can possibly get when buying new. Under the hood lies a naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter engine that produces just 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft of torque. But it is easy to forget what the Rio is all about: motoring on the cheap. This means that you only need enough power to keep you steady at highway cruising speeds, and the Rio manages that reasonably well. This FWD-only vehicle will manage a 0 to 60 time in the region of ten seconds and should be able to see a top speed of over 110 mph. Again, it is important to stipulate that outright performance is not this car's forte; cheap motoring with an eye on efficiency is.
The 2020 Rio saw the introduction of a new 1.6-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine to replace the previous engine, which meant slightly less power, but more efficiency, which is precisely what you want in this segment of the market. The 1.6-liter four-pot produces 120 hp and a minuscule 112 lb-ft of torque and channels all that raw energy to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission. The only goal of this powertrain is to allow the sedan to confidently navigate the streets and highways without being a nuisance to other road users, and in our Kia Rio review, we found that it did exactly that. In and around town, the Rio will easily keep up with traffic, and on the highway, you'll be able to cruise at speeds of up to 80 mph without the car feeling too strained; just forget about attempting any daring overtaking maneuvers. The CVT transmission does a good job of keeping the Rio in its powerband and contributes to improved efficiency over the six-speed automatic last used for the 2019 model.
Take the 2021 Kia Rio for a test drive, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by its road-holding capability and overall comfort. One would expect a harsh and unrefined driving experience at its price point, but this Kia model bucks the trend with impressively refined road-holding manners that echo those of cars higher up in the price range. Kia Rios of old were accused of being too spongy at higher speeds and harsh at lower speeds. The 2021 model feels like a more balanced car. Low-speed surfaces can make the car feel somewhat stiff, but not overbearingly so, and at higher speeds, things feel confidently stable. Steering is predictably light, making the Rio the perfect companion for piloting city streets, but don't expect a ton of feedback. Throw the Rio into a set of fast corners, and it will manage to remain relatively flat, but understeer is the name of the game here. Overall, the Kia Rio is a car that rides and handles well considering its wallet-friendly price.
It is evident when you look at the Rio sedan's powertrain configuration that this car was built to deliver good gas mileage. Its naturally-aspirated four-pot engine is mated to a CVT transmission that does its best to keep the Rio in the sweet spot, maximizing performance and efficiency. The end result is an excellent EPA rating of 33/41/36 mpg city/highway/combined. By comparison, the Nissan Versa will only manage up to 32/40/35 mpg from its own 1.6-liter engine. With an 11.9-gallon fuel tank onboard, the Rio should see a maximum range of 428 miles in mixed driving conditions.
Kia has always done an impressive job of delivering interiors that look better than the car's actual asking price would suggest, and the Rio manages to do just that. Its contemporary dashboard design once looked more mature than competitors such as the Chevy Sonic, but that has since been discontinued, and against the Nissan Versa, it's beginning to feel a little cheap. Nevertheless, the build quality is impressive. Upon closer inspection, you'll find hard plastics, but this is to be expected. The control layout is simple and easy to get to grips with. Once seated, the front seats offer good support, and the driver has a good view of the road. Limited seating adjustment is to be expected here.
Five adults should technically fit in the Kia Rio Sedan, but in reality, we found that only four will comfortably squeeze inside the cabin. Front passengers are afforded a generous amount of space: with just over 42 inches of legroom, six-footers should remain comfortable even over long road trips, and there's enough headroom for taller passengers as well. Things get significantly tighter in the rear, and taller passengers will have to tilt their heads with only 37.4 inches of headroom on offer. The driver gets a six-way manually adjustable seat. Compared to the competition, the Rio is actually quite spacious; both the discontinued Yaris and Sonic sedans fail to match it for front-seat space.
The Rio does its best to hide its price tag, and Kia has managed to incorporate some solid-feeling materials, but at the end of the day, you have to make peace with the fact that this is a budget car. This means that you won't find any Nappa leather and Alcantara upholstery option: the Rio is offered with seating surfaces in your choice of Black Tricot and woven cloth or Gray Tricot and woven cloth. Some interior colors can only be paired with certain exterior colors. The rest of the interior is dominated by dark plastic surfaces, and key touch points such as the steering wheel and shifter are of the polyurethane variety.
Balancing passenger space with trunk space is a difficult act, especially when you're dealing with such a compact platform, but Kia has managed to find a good compromise. Pop the trunk lid of the Rio Sedan, and you'll be greeted by 13.7 cubic feet of space. This is reasonable but slightly less than you'd get in the Nissan Versa. Those 13.7 cubes should be enough for the weekly grocery run or about $350 worth of men's socks from Costco. For even more space and versatility, the S trim offers a 60/40 split-folding rear seat.
Small items can be stored in the door pockets, a small storage nook in front of the shifter, or in the two cup holders up front. The Rio also offers a glove compartment and a center armrest storage bin on the S trim. Those in the back also get door pockets and a single seatback map pocket behind the front passenger seat.
Those interested in the Rio Sedan aren't looking for the latest in infotainment tech and luxury features but rather want reliability and safety on a budget. That means that some sacrifices have to be made, and in this case, the features list takes a slight hit, but there's still enough to make the Rio a pleasure to live with daily. The base model comes standard with features such as halogen headlights, a rearview camera with dynamic parking guidance, a 12-volt power outlet, air conditioning (auto temperature control available on the S), a tilt-adjustable steering column, and a six-way manually-adjustable driver's seat. The S adds features such as a rear USB charging port, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a center console, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. Optional extras on the S include LED headlights, optional push-button start, and a supervision meter cluster with a 4.2-inch display.
Despite its budget-friendly nature, the Kia Rio manages to hit the nail on the head with its infotainment system. Both trim levels are equipped with an eight-inch touchscreen display and an AM/FM/MP3 audio system. This system features an intuitive and sleek operating system that is easy to get to grips with. Sound is channeled through a six-speaker sound system including front tweeters. We have to admit that this system doesn't sound the greatest, but it is perfect for listening to podcasts and low-fi indie. Additional features include wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto integration, Bluetooth streaming, and a front USB input, as well as an auxiliary input. S trim models add two USB ports in the rear. The S trim is also available with optional SiriusXM satellite radio as part of the $1,800 Technology package.
It turns out that Kia builds some incredibly reliable cars: the current generation Rio, which made its debut in 2018, has not been recalled once, and J.D. Power's Kia Rio ratings will only improve peace of mind for prospective customers. The sedan has an above-average reliability/quality rating of 87 out of 100. Kia will cover the Rio with a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, a five-year/100,000-mile corrosion warranty, an industry-leading 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and five years or 60,000-miles of roadside assistance. For trouble-free motoring, it doesn't get much better than this.
Unfortunately, the 2021 Kia Rio has not been subject to reviews by the NHTSA, but the IIHS did award the 2019 car with a Top Safety Pick award when equipped with the S Technology package, which includes LED headlights and forward collision avoidance. According to the agency, the 2021 model mostly impressed with Good ratings for each crashworthiness test bar the small overlap front passenger-side test, for which it was rated as Acceptable. If it's safety you're after, we'd recommend spending the extra cash on the S trim with the optional package.
You're not going to find any of the latest advanced driver assistance systems unless you go for the top-spec S fitted with the optional Technology package, in which case you get a set of LED headlights, lane-keep assist, lane following assist, high beam assist, driver attention warning, and rear occupant alert. Standard features across the range include ABS brakes, EBD, six airbags including dual front, front side, and side curtain bags, as well as stability control, a rearview camera, hill-start assist, and LATCH anchors. By opting for the S model, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection is automatically included.
When it comes to buying a new car, the old adage "you get what you pay for" usually rings true, but in the case of the Rio, it feels as if Kia has gone the extra mile to make its product better than what one would expect at this price range. This little sedan might not look like much on paper, but in reality, it is a capable little thing that is a pleasure to live with on a day to day basis. Behind the wheel, the Rio won't set the soul on fire, but it's peppy enough to keep up with traffic, returns good gas mileage figures, and drives and handles like a larger car. The interior consists mostly of cheap materials, but the build quality is up there, and the infotainment system does a great job of lifting the overall experience of the cabin. There's enough space for four, and there's also a decent amount of luggage space on offer. For the price, this reliable little runabout is a safe bet.
The keyword here is 'affordable.' The Rio doesn't pretend to be anything other than an affordable little sedan, and with a growing number of people in the US downscaling to cheaper cars, the Rio is undoubtedly in a good position. The base price for one of these vehicles is surprisingly low: with an MSRP of only $16,050, you can get your hands on the LX base model. The top of the line S will cost you $16,690, and depending on how much you want to spend, the final Kia Rio price can climb to around the $20,000 mark with enough options. These prices exclude a destination charge in the USA of $995.
Those looking at Kia Rio models can choose between two trim levels: the LX and S. Both cars are fitted with the same 1.6-liter naturally-aspirated four-pot engine, mated to a CVT continuously variable automatic transmission. No other powertrain configurations are available.
Standard features across the range include halogen headlights and 15-inch steel wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth streaming, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, a USB input, air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system, a six-way manually-adjustable driver's seat, and a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines.
The S trim adds a center console with sliding armrest and storage, rear-seat adjustable headrests, a split-folding rear seat, driver assistance features such as forward collision avoidance, and available upgrades like lane-keep assist and driver attention warning.
There are few optional extras on offer: the base model can be equipped with basic carpet floor mats for $155 or an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and compass for $350. If you want the added safety systems on offer, you'll have no choice but to upgrade to the S derivative. Here, you can spec the $1,800 Technology Package with items like lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, driver attention warning, LED headlights, SiriusXM satellite radio, push-button start, and more.
The whole point of buying a Kia Rio Sedan is to keep costs low, with little regard for fanciful features such as satellite radio and LED headlights. For that reason, we would suggest going straight for the entry-level LX model, which shares its drivetrain with the more expensive S Trim. You still get excellent gas mileage, a user-friendly eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and enough space to fit three of your pals for that trip to go see Cannibal Corpse play live in Maryland.
For a price increase of roughly $2,000, you can opt to go for the larger Kia Forte. The Forte is not only a larger car, but it offers a more refined ride, more standard features, and more powerful engine options. Under the hood of the forte, you get to choose a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-pot producing 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque or a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 201 hp and 195 lb-ft. These engines provide far more thrust than the Rio, but the turbocharged variant is in a whole different league. The Forte also feels more refined on the open road but won't deliver the same excellent gas mileage figures as the Rio. The Forte interior is of higher quality, both in terms of design and materials used, and there's more passenger space. Both share a similar base feature list, but the Forte gains more advanced safety features higher up in the trim levels. If you can spare an extra $2,000, the Forte is the way to go.
The Hyundai Accent and Rio Sedan share the same platform, all the way from the chassis through to the powertrain, so making a comparison between the two will boil down to the finer points. Where the Accent differs from the Rio is the fact that you can get one with a six-speed manual transmission, which will naturally be more entertaining to drive, not that it matters much in this class. The Accent is offered in three different trim levels and starts slightly cheaper as well. This means that the base model misses out on the great infotainment system we've come to love in the Rio. Inside, the Accent is well put together, but the Rio's cabin feels slightly more refined and easy on the eye. Both trunks are exactly the same size. These cars might seem very similar on paper, but the Rio does a few small things better, which in the end adds up. Get the Rio.
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