Celebrating 20 years since the first generation Rio's original release, the 2019 Kia Rio is still running strong, and unsurprisingly so. The budget-conscious yet practical subcompact model that faced a cloud of uncertainty, keeping curious buyers at bay from the South Korean manufacturer just years ago, now boasts a household name for the segment, standing toe to toe with much better-established rivals like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Hyundai Accent.
2019 pushes the fourth generation Kia Rio forward with changes you can both see and feel. Dropping its top-level EX trim in favor of just two trim levels (LX and S), it still offers the no-nonsense interior and exterior design that feels clean-cut, welcoming, and a good divider between generations both young and old. Drawing 130 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque from its 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine, mated to Kia's six-speed automatic transmission, it's a strong competitor in the segment.
Kia has elected to get rid of the manual six-speed gearbox altogether, putting faith in its six-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission instead. The EX trim package has also been dropped from the line-up, with an additional Tech Package available on top of the S trim, offering LED headlights, Forward Collision Avoidance, UVO3, and SiriusXM satellite radio. With the shift in the lineup, Bluetooth, power windows and a rearview camera are now standard on both trims.
See trim levels and configurations:
The 2019 Kia Rio does well to be both practical and comfortable, but still remains nimble. Steering input, although a bit muted, has the right amount of resistance and feedback to give you the reassurance necessary to let you know what the front wheels are doing. Despite its refined sedan exterior, it is rather nippy bordering on fun. Most notably however, is how predictable the Rio is. Smooth throttle response, consistent braking, and good handling inspires a heightened sense of control.
Absorbing bumps and dips in the road, it really comes to life, wandering its playground with a sense of purpose. Admittedly, the Rio has a firmer ride when compared to its Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent rivals, but not to the extent of being uncomfortable. At the other end of the spectrum, highway speeds feel like the steering needed constant small adjustments, and road noise insulation could definitely get an upgrade here. Corners and city streets are where the Rio feels most composed and where it would spend most of its life. Ultimately, it's quite comfortable to drive and be in, and spending your time with the Rio on the daily commute or the quick shopping trip would certainly be a great way for inexpensive travel in the segment.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
We quite like the Rio. For the comfort, practicality, and economy it provides at its reasonable price point, there isn't a lot left to be desired. The base-model is rather bare-bones in regards to features and trim, but the range-topping S trim is a fully featured car that knows its purpose and the market it was designed for. Paired with an excellent warranty as standard and a safety rating to be proud of, it takes care of all the basics without pricing itself out of the market. It boasts endearing driving dynamics and a comfortable disposition, with the only letdown being the automatic gearbox that doesn't extract the most from an at-best lackluster engine. We recommend you opt for the Technology package on the S trim, as it adds LED Headlights, a plethora of safety features, LED positioning lights, satellite radio and much more. We would've liked to see options manual gearbox and leather seats, but it's certainly a strong contender from Kia this year around.
Even at the Rio's budget-conscious price tag, the Versa takes the lead with a starting MSRP of $12,460, $2,930 cheaper at base trim. The Versa, unfortunately, makes use of a very dull and unresponsive motor, producing a mere 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque compared to the Rio's 130 hp and 119 lb-ft of torque, despite both cars utilizing a 1.6-liter engine to get the wheels turning. Fuel economy also favors the Rio when sticking to the five-speed manual of the base model Versa, where it only achieves 27/36/30 mpg compared to the Kia's 28/37/32 mpg. The S Plus trim Versa does net you a CVT transmission which improves figures to 31/39/34 mpg, but at $2,140 extra. The Rio also sports a much more premium-feeling interior, with the Versa's price tag blatantly apparent in the use of plastics and the lack of features, robbing it of any sense of refinement. Rear legroom and trunk space does favor the Nissan, though that's overshadowed by the lack of practicality with no center armrest, minimal stowage compartments, and a rather unimaginative interior layout.
In a numbers game, the Accent and Rio stack up equally with power figures, sharing the same motor and a near identical platform. That trend doesn't last though, with the Accent boasting a cargo space of 13.7 cubic feet compared to the Rio's 13.2. Gas mileage is in favor of the Rio though, with 32 mpg overall compared to the Hyundai's 31 mpg figure. The Rio also exhibits better driving dynamics, where the Accent feels stiff and strained at the steering wheel. Warranties between the two competitors are also matched, both offering ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain and five-year/60,000-mile limited warranties. At base trim, the Accent barely takes the lead at an MSRP of $14,995 compared to the Rio at $15,390, but the Accent offers a manual gearbox, which in our eyes makes it the better option.
The most popular competitors of 2019 Kia Rio: