by Roger Biermann
Here to take on the price-conscious, yet well-equipped hatchback segment is Kia’s latest Rio, and it doesn’t disappoint. With strong competitors like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Hyundai Accent, it’s got a lot to prove. It does well to impress with its looks too, taking all the right design queues from the former Audi designer in Kia’s arsenal.
Powering the new hatch is Kia’s own 1.6-liter inline-four-cylinder engine producing a modest 130 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed Sportronic automatic transmission, making the Rio’s powertrain undeniably Kia. Although a bit winded at higher speeds, it performs exactly as intended in urban environments where the Rio is right at home. With many of the creature comforts we’ve grown accustomed to packed as standard, this hatchback means business.
For the Rio, less really is more, with Kia opting to drop the EX and LX trims this year, making the hatchback available only in the S trim. What this means for buyers, is all three trim levels merging into one very well feature-equipped car straight off the showroom floor.
2019’s Rio carries over the fourth generation shape and design into its second year, with no exterior changes except the omission of alloy wheels, utilizing steel rims instead with full covers, and replacing its Ice Wine paint color with a much darker Phantom Gray.
At 57.1 inches in height and with 5.5 inches of ground clearance, the Rio is certainly an urban-friendly car. Furthering this goal, the Rio hatchback has a total length of 160 inches, 12.6 inches shorter than its sedan variant, which is distributed over a 101.6-inch wheelbase, keeping the center of gravity low and affording it its compact feel. With a curb weight of 2,714 lbs, it’s also slightly heavier than the Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Fit.
The color palette for the 2019 Kia Rio largely stays the same for the latest iteration, focusing on both strong and subtle colors. The soft golden color known as Ice Wine has been dropped in favor of a much darker metallic finish called Phantom Gray, which we’re rather happy about, as 2018 offered no dark colors except Aurora Black. The dark gray color does well to emphasize the contours of the Rio from any angle. The six colors available light to dark, are Clear White, Silky Silver, Phantom Gray, and Aurora Black, with the more colorful options being Currant Red and Deep Sea Blue.
This year’s Kia Rio only has a single engine on offer, Kia’s own 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder. Producing 130 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque, power delivery is both smooth and progressive through its six-speed automatic transmission. It makes easy work of the stop and go urban environment it was designed for, having very little hesitation and a predictable feel.
Under harder acceleration, the Rio does well to get up to highway speeds, making use of its peak torque sitting up high in the rev range. Overtaking at higher speeds, the motor does start to show signs of coming under strain, feeling winded when asked to deliver the grunt needed. With Kia’s decision to not have a manual transmission on offer for its 2019 model, it feels like a step towards keeping the Rio a more driver-friendly urban hatchback. That being said, the motor and gearbox pairing is very well suited for the Rio and the environment where most of its life will be spent.
2019’s Rio hatchback certainly does well to be a good urban driving companion. Feeling nimble yet comfortable in the city streets, steering feedback is just enough to let you know what the front wheels are doing, giving you a reassuring feel to point the Rio into the next corner. Although it has a firmer ride than its Hyundai Accent and Honda Fit rivals, it’s not overbearing.
The Rio hatch also feels quite composed at highway speeds, though small but frequent steering inputs are required to keep it focused. As for shorter distances, quick shopping trips and school runs has the Rio thriving, making short work of dips and bumps on those well-traveled roads. Kia brings a well-rounded option to the table this year, with the Rio delivering a good overall driving experience to both driver and passengers alike.
Gas mileage for the Rio comes in at 28/37/32 mpg for city/highway/combined cycles, as per EPA ratings, placing it average for the segment. With an 11.9-gallon fuel tank, driving range sits at an estimated 381 miles before finding yourself at the pump again, nearly the same as its Hyundai Accent counterpart. The Honda Fit, however, dominates the segment with a 36 mpg combined, leaving the Rio behind by quite some margin.
Kia has done well to give the Rio an interior that feels classy and premium, even at its budget-conscious price point. Sporting a mix of hard plastics, glossy trim pieces, and a dark interior finish, it feels refined and well laid out. The same is to be said of button and control placement, with a well thought out layout keeping everything within the drivers reach. Window sizes are also perfectly adequate, greeting the driver with good line of sight all around. To break the dark and clean-cut interior is the clear and concise, white backlit, instrument cluster and softly illuminated buttons on the dashboard. Audio is also controlled by a neat seven-inch touchscreen residing in the center, and cupholders are perfectly placed for driver and passengers alike.
Kia has opted to keep the trunk space as accommodating as possible, offering a mostly open rectangular shape by keeping the wheel arches at bay. Favoring a deep-set floor section, the result is 13.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the 60/40 split seats up, enough for about ten shopping bags or a few tall boxes. With the back seat down, that increases to 32.8 cubic feet, enough for a few large suitcases and a very generous shopping trip to boot. Interior storage is limited, with mediocre cupholders and limited storage cubbies throughout the cabin.
The 2019 Kia Rio hatchback comes well equipped with features, as its only available in the S trim, unlike its sedan counterpart having a less equipped LX base model. As standard, the Rio features power windows, power door locks, cruise control, rear-seat adjustable headrests, reverse camera, 12V outlet, dedicated USB charging ports, day/night rearview mirror, and remote keyless entry with a dedicated trunk opener. Air conditioning is also included as standard and only to the front, but void of any climate control options.
The infotainment system in the Rio is certainly one of its best-defining features. It boasts a vibrant, responsive, and easy to use seven-inch touchscreen display sending audio through six speakers to the cabin. There’s no shortage of connectivity options either, with Bluetooth as standard, native support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto covering smartphone integration, and dedicated USB and auxiliary inputs. It features AM/FM radio as well, but if you’re looking for more, the Technology Package adds SiriusXM satellite radio streaming too.
With no recalls issued for the Rio, and owners of the current and previous generations only reporting minor issues, the 2019 Kia Rio hatchback has a strong track record to boast with. The majority of buyers haven’t reported any issues since its fourth-generation release in 2018, with Kia having addressed any pressing issues with the release of each new generation. The Rio also carries an excellent ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty to boot, giving it a strong claim in this segment.
Despite its budget-conscious price tag, Kia has ensured the Rio keeps its occupants safe, achieving a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS. The NHTSA has yet to do testing at the time of writing, however. The Kia Rio sports Electronic Brake-Force Distribution, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, Brake Assist, and Forward Collision Warning systems. For more practical protection, it’s also equipped with driver and passenger airbags, curtain airbags, and seat-mounted airbags as standard.
As the second iteration of the fourth-generation Rio, the hatchback is certainly a well-rounded choice for prospective buyers. Both practical and economic, it leaves little to be desired with features too, with the S trim being the only available variant. What that means to buyers is a much better equipped and wholly featured car right off the showroom floor, but with limited choice and thus a limited price range. Where the Honda Fit surpasses the Rio in both economy and practicality, the Rio offers an excellent warranty and a safety rating to be proud of. We would’ve liked to see the inclusion of alloy wheels and a manual transmission, but it doesn’t take away from the Rio as a driving companion. Adding the Technology Package nets you LED headlights, LED positioning lights, even more safety features, SiriusXM satellite radio, and more, making the Rio a great little car for inexpensive travel in and around town.
With only a single model and trim on offer, the 2019 Kia Rio Hatchback carries a base MSRP of $16,490, excluding tax, licensing, registration, and $925 in destination charges. With only one trim, the price of the Rio5 is pushed up, meaning those on a budget may wish to look to cheaper, more bare-spec alternatives.
The Rio hatchback consists of only a single trim, namely the S. As standard, you get a seven-inch touchscreen radio, six speakers with two tweeters, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth connectivity, dedicated USB charging ports, cruise control with steering wheel mounted controls, hill-start assist, center console with a sliding armrest, 15-inch steel wheels with full covers, auxiliary inputs, rearview camera, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry with a dedicated trunk release and alarm, and manual air conditioning.
The Kia Rio hatchback has a tough time competing with the Honda Fit, being the segment leader. The Fit offers greater fuel economy (36-mpg to 32-mpg), better driving dynamics, and better practicality at an MSRP of $16,190, $300 less than the Rio hatch. The Rio isn’t completely out of the race though, boasting a superior warranty and is cheaper to insure. Cargo volume is in favor of the Fit as well, with 16.6 cubic feet of usable space compared to the Rio’s 13.2 with the seats up, and 52.7 cubic feet to the Rio’s 32.8 respectively. Things do start to look up for the Rio though in terms of infotainment, where it boasts two more speakers and a seven-inch display as standard, compared to the base model Fit’s five-inch. Opting for the Fit’s Sport trim does bolster the infotainment to match but at an additional $1,310.
The Kia Rio5 is the definition of simple driving enjoyment, but Ford’s own Fiesta defines a great driver’s car on a budget, undercutting the Rio5 in base trim with a starting price of $15,790 for the Fiesta SE hatch. The Fiesta is far more fun to drive, with a chassis in tune with the driver, communicative steering, and ride quality on the firmer side of things, and with a more responsive, better-performing engine. That does come at the compromise of efficiency, though, and the Rio5 has better mileage estimates at a combined 32 mpg to the Fiesta’s 30. Despite the budget price, the Fiesta is still well-equipped, boasting the excellent SYNC 3 infotainment system with full smartphone integration, air conditioning, and decent levels of standard safety. Both cater for five occupants, but the Rio is a little more spacious in the rear, while 14.9 cubic feet behind the rear seats in the Fiesta is more cargo volume than the 13.7 in the Rio5. Closely matched, the Rio is more passenger-focused, while the Fiesta is more driver-focused and with better technology. The Fiesta is our choice in this segment.