by Jared Rosenholtz
The Rio emerges into 2018 as the first iteration of the fourth generation of Kia's subcompact sedan. As a price-conscious car, the subcompact four-door sedan offers an appealing level of drivability along with leading safety ratings, impressive build quality, and industry-leading warranty coverage to boot. A refined version of Kia's 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor is carried over to power the front-wheel-drive lineup with outputs lowered from 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque in last year's engine to 130 hp and 119 lb-ft. Despite the lower peak outputs, Kia promises better low-end power delivery and torque access for improved daily commuting. While a six-speed manual transmission services the base LX trim, a six-speed auto gearbox is standard on the S and EX trims and optional on the LX. In a segment where rivals such as the Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent have ruled the roost for some time now, the Kia Rio has a lot to go up against.
Fully redesigned for 2018, the Kia Rio now comes with a fresh look inside and out and is afforded plenty more features such as either a five- or seven-inch infotainment touchscreen, an integrated rearview camera, and cruise control just to name a few. The Kia Rio's tried-and-tested four-pot motor has been reworked to convey better low-end power delivery and improved frugality but at the expense of eight ponies from the prior year's peak output of 138 hp. The 2018 Kia Rio lineup also widens its appeal with the addition of the Rio S trim which slots into the lineup between the base LX and top EX trims.
The exterior of the new Rio sedan wears the latest iteration of Kia's 'tiger-nose' grille flanked by newly designed swept-back headlights. The fog lamp skirtings have been spread wider apart for a larger, more aggressive front end appearance and the window lines around the cabin have been lowered to optimize outward visibility. Multi-reflector headlights with positioning lamps are featured across the lineup as standard, while the LX and S ride on 15-inch steel wheels with painted wheel covers, the EX rides on 15-inch aluminum wheels and is further equipped with front fog lamps and black and chrome exterior accents.
The new Rio's dimensions stay relatively similar to its predecessor with measurements typical of the subcompact sedan segment. The sedan rests on a wheelbase of 101.6 inches with a total bodywork length of 172.6 inches, a height of 57.1 inches, and a width of 67.9 inches. All trims ride with a minimum ground clearance of 5.5 inches. The base manual transmission equipped car LX model has a curb weight of 2,648 lbs while the automatic transmission increases the overall weight to 2,714 lbs.
The 1.6-liter inline-four provides the Rio with some zest not usually found in the segment. Off-the-line acceleration is in no eye-opener with the manual Rio's 0-60 mph time of 9.2 seconds, but low-end power delivery is punchy enough for zippy city driving. Power tapers off quickly from there, however. Reaching higher speeds and overtaking on the highway put considerable strain on the engine. Throttle responses are, nevertheless, linear and suitable for this type of vehicle. Though the six-speed manual transmission works better with the four-pot in terms of delivering precise and smooth shifting points, it's only available in the base LX trim. The standard six-speed automatic isn't much worse though and does hold gears when needed, while it upshifts when easing off the throttle and matches revs for smooth downshifts, just not very quickly.
Though equipped with a tautly-tuned suspension and with a firmer ride than most, the Rio still impresses by smoothing out smaller road imperfections and bumps with relative poise. More of the road can, nevertheless, certainly be felt through the chassis via the wheels which can slightly degrade ride comfort, albeit beneficial to the driver in terms of road feel and handling. While the chassis can feel slightly unsteady on initial turn-in, body roll settles down and is kept under control through most of the Rio's dynamic range. The steering effort is lightly weighted and its responses tighten up naturally. It can, however, get darty at higher speeds requiring a lot of correction. Feedback from the front wheels is also effectively conveyed via the steering wheel, affording the driver with some confidence. The Rio tracks straight under heavy braking and the brakes themselves provide adequate stopping power, are responsive, consistent, and easy to modulate.
The base-level LX trim equipped with manual transmission returns the best EPA ratings at 29/37/32 mpg in city/highway/combined driving cycles. The automatic transmission isn't too far off at all, proving only marginally less efficient in city driving which is one point down at 28 mpg. Taking a maximum of 11.9 gallons of regular unleaded fuel, the Kia Rio's full tank can sustain it for around a total of 380 miles in mixed driving scenarios before requiring a refill.
The Kia Rio Sedan can seat a total of five occupants in reasonable comfort. The front provides a decent amount of room overall while the rear is somewhat limited in every dimension. With taller occupants in front, adults in the rear will find little knee room to spare, however, with the near non-existent center tunnel that runs through the floor of the cabin, legroom remains favorable. The seats are nicely contoured and feature some bolstering for added support. They are, however, on the firmer side and only feature limited adjustability which could make them uncomfortable for extended periods of use. With the now lowered window lines, outward visibility in the Rio is ample and a standard-fit rearview camera in the S and EX aids reversing.
With 13.7 cubic feet of space offered in the Rio's trunk, there's more than enough room for a family's standard daily essentials such as a couple of school bags, a laptop bag, and a gym bag. Even though that trunk capacity is average for the class, the Rio offers favorable practicality with the trunk's wide and flat load floor along with a power trunk release featured in the upper-level trims. Up front are large door side pockets with integrated bottle holders, a sunglasses holder, a small center console storage shelf above a slightly bigger tray, dual cupholders, a moderately sizable center armrest cubby, and a sizable passenger-side glovebox. In the rear are door side bottle holders, a passenger-side seatback map pocket, and a single retractable cup holder.
The Rio LX is considerably bare-bones in terms of features with a tilt-only steering column, six-way manually-adjustable driver's seat, and standard air conditioning. The S and EX are outfitted with a little more including 60/40 split-folding rear seats, a center console with sliding armrest and storage area, cruise control with steering-wheel-mounted controls, power windows with driver's one-touch auto-down feature, and remote keyless entry with trunk release. The EX offers a little more quality with a tilt and telescoping steering column, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, a supervision cluster with a 3.5-inch LCD display, and black high-gloss center fascia. Standard driver assists are scarce throughout the lineup, with only the EX featuring an autonomous emergency braking system and along with the S, a standard rearview camera.
Installed as standard in the LX is a five-inch touchscreen display with AM/FM/MP3/Satellite radio capability linked to a four-speaker audio system and media hub comprising a single USB and auxiliary input jack. The S and EX's systems are upgraded with an integrated rearview camera and two additional tweeter speakers as well as Bluetooth wireless technology. An additional USB charging port is installed in the rear along with the standard 12V power outlet. The EX's display is upgraded to a seven-inch touchscreen display with UVO3 infotainment software which includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality.
There are currently no recalls out for the 2018 year model of the Kia Rio Sedan which appropriately received an above-average predicted reliability rating of 4.5 out of five from J.D. Power. The Kia Rio is covered by a ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty program along with a five-year/60,000-mile basic limited warranty.
The 2018 Kia Rio Sedan was dubbed a 2018 Top Safety Pick+ after being evaluated for its crash-test worthiness by the IIHS. There are no overall crash-test safety ratings for the 2018 Kia Rio Sedan from the NHTSA. Not to worry, as at the base level, the Rio is equipped with six standard airbags, an anti-lock braking system, electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring system and hill-start assist. An integrated rearview camera is standard-fit on the S and EX models.
With its budget-friendly pricing, exceptional crash-test worthiness, and favorable economy figures, the 2018 Kia Rio Sedan can be considered a good entry-level car. Along with its exceptional safety ratings and perceivably high-quality build, the Kia Rio was also given an above-average predicted reliability rating. In terms of its ride, the Rio impresses with handling dynamics that better most of its rivals and a ride quality comfortable enough to appreciate, albeit on the firmer side. The default powertrain moves the Rio through city settings enthusiastically while also remaining suitably frugal. The Rio's contemporary technology sets it ahead of many of its rivals too, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay offered in the lineup's top-tier trim along with a premium seven-inch touchscreen display. While the Rio's practicality is middling for the class, its wide and flat trunk floor adds to its appeal. You will need to stick to the upper-level trims for these perks as they are absent in the entry-level LX trim.
The Rio's relatively budget-friendly pricing gives it a slight competitive advantage over many class rivals with the base 2018 Kia Rio LX priced at $13,900, or $14,990 when optioned with the automatic transmission. The all-new Rio S trim has a sticker price of $16,100, while the top-level Rio EX sees an MSRP of $18,400 for 2018. Those are exclusive of any tax, registration, and licensing fees and exclude Kia's processing, handling, and delivery charge of $895.
With the entry-level Rio LX trim so short on even base-level features and the Rio S trim not adding all that much more, we recommend opting for the top-tier Rio EX trim. Not only does it come standard with higher-quality cabin and seating materials, but also with a host of worthwhile features. It is exclusively fitted with a tilt/telescoping steering column, a 3.5-inch LCD multi-function display, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob. The EX also comes standard with a more capable infotainment system with a larger touchscreen display and UVO3 software which includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality. It is also the only trim that comes standard with fog lights and an autonomous emergency braking system. We recommend including the $500 EX Launch Edition Package which adds a front door padded armrest and Red/Brown partial leather seat trim.
The Hyundai Accent is a top pick amongst the subcompact sedan segment and has been and still is a strong challenger for the Kia Rio. At only around $1,000 pricier than the Rio, the Accent comes standard with a better selection of features, especially at the base trim. With cruise control, Bluetooth, a rearview camera, and 60/40 split-folding rear seats featured in the base Accent, that small increase in price is met with a considerable amount more value. Furthermore, the top-tier Accent trim is accorded with standard features not available to the Rio at all, including a sunroof, automatic climate control, and heated front seats. In terms of drivability, the rival cars perform relatively similar with the Rio only offering better steering responses and feel. The Rio returned the better safety and reliability ratings along with better economy figures from its powertrain, but only to a marginal extent. From the base level upward the Accent offers significantly more value than that of the Rio and is in most regards slightly better.
If the Kia Rio isn't affordable enough, then the Nissan Versa most certainly is with its MSRP hovering at around $1,500 lower than that of the Rio's. Though equipped with a similarly sized engine, the Versa offers more sedate acceleration as it produces only 109 hp and 107 lb-ft, but it is more frugal than the Rio with 31/39/34 mpg returned on the EPA drive cycles. The Rio will be a lot more enjoyable to drive than the slow-going Versa, it handles more dynamically and rides more comfortably too. The Versa also offers a cabin subpar in build and material quality with even fewer standard features than the already bare-bones Rio. All the Versa really stands out for is in its leading rear cabin room and trunk capacity which is measured at 14.9 cubic feet. But with even Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality forgotten throughout the Versa lineup, the Rio once again tops the Versa in another regard. The Rio, though priced higher than the Versa, offers more value in nearly every aspect.