by Gerhard Horn
The Kia Rio 5-door may not look like much, but it's close to the perfect car for the urban environment. Granted, it won't stir your loins if you're a proper gearhead, but cars like these need to exist to move the rest of the population around. The Rio 5-door is built to be efficient, simple, well-built, fun, and reliable without costing an arm and a leg.
Only one engine is available. It's a 1.6-liter four-cylinder built with one target in mind and that's efficiency. This naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder is mated solely to a CVT transmission, helping deliver the kind of fuel efficiency that lures young buyers to dealer floors. Smart move, Kia. The Kia no longer has any direct rivals now that the Honda Fit and Chevrolet Sonic have both been axed. But there are larger rivals like the evergreen Toyota Corolla and smaller rivals like the Chevrolet Spark.
For the 2022 model year, Kia is carrying over the 2021 Rio 5-door virtually unchanged, save for three minor differences. The first is that an engine immobilizer is now standard equipment, the second is that this year's car is proudly carrying Kia's new restyled logo inside and out, and the third is that the optional Technology Package gains rear disc brakes this year. The price has gone up too - by just $100.
See trim levels and configurations:
1.6L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
The new logo will be spotted by eagle-eyed onlookers, but other than that, it still looks the same on the outside. Kia's famous Tiger Nose design still features prominently, flanked by a set of halogen headlights that switch on automatically when the sun starts to disappear. From the side, you notice the body-color door handles and side mirrors. It can be optioned with LED headlights and chrome door handles. As standard, the Rio 5-door gets 15-inch steel wheels with silver covers, but the Technology package includes 15-inch alloy wheels.
Kia's Rio 5-door has the same 101.6-inch wheelbase as its sedan brother, but it's a little shorter thanks to the hatch. The overall length is 160 inches. The rest of the dimensions are the same. Both sedan and hatch are 67.9 inches wide, 57.1 inches tall, and have a ground clearance of 5.5 inches. The Rio 5-door hatch weighs 2,762 pounds.
The Rio 5-door's naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter four-cylinder has specs of 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft of torque which goes to the front wheels exclusively. That's not much but it doesn't have a lot of weight to power around. It feels nippy and smooth off the line, with the engine only starting to struggle at higher speeds. Merges with the freeway need to be planned carefully, and the same goes for overtaking. The CVT is the perfect gearbox, considering most customers will have fuel efficiency near the top of their must-have list. Enthusiastic drivers need not apply, as the downside is an uninspiring driving experience. Although 0-60 times are less important here than they are for a Kia Stinger, the Rio should accomplish the run in around ten seconds.
The compact dimensions and low curb weight result in a surprisingly fun FWD package. Power-wise it struggles a bit, but it has a finely-tuned chassis that's both comfortable and responsive. The steering has just the right amount of weight, and it even provides a little feedback. When you drive it, you can feel what the front wheels are doing, though the Honda Fit was better in this department. The ride quality is spot-on for a city car, as the damping deals with undulations with ease. It comes with disc brakes in front and drum brakes at the rear, with rear discs optional as part of the Technology Package. There's more than enough stopping power for the kind of driving it was built for.
While the Rio 5-door's engine might feel a little sluggish in certain situations, you'll be amped whenever you have to stop at the gas station. It has EPA-estimated figures of 33/41/36 mpg city/highway/combined. That gives it a theoretical range of 428 miles from its 11.9-gallon gas tank. The much smaller Chevrolet Spark CVT manages 30/38/33 mpg, while the similarly-sized and priced Nissan Versa CVT can do 32/40/35 mpg, which gives Kia the upper hand.
Although it's technically a five-seater, the Rio 5-door remains a small car so realistically you can only transport two grown adults or three kids on the rear bench. Adjustability for the driver's seat is limited, but space in the front is generous. It has 42.1 inches of legroom and 38.9 inches of headroom. The rear will feel cramped to taller adults, but kids should be able to cope just fine. The rear legroom is rated at 33.5 inches, while the rear headroom is 38 inches. All-round visibility is good thanks to thin B- and C-pillars. The standard rearview camera makes reversing easy.
The Kia Rio 5-door hatchback has 17.4 cubic feet of cargo space, beating its sedan sibling by an impressive 3.7 cubes. That's enough room for the school run for three kids or a month's worth of groceries. When the rear seats are folded flat in a 60/40 split, the luggage capacity increases to 32.8 cubes. Interior storage consists of front and rear door pockets with bottle holders, a center armrest storage bin, dual front cupholders, and an average-sized glove compartment.
Kia's Rio 5-door is a budget car, and the standard features reflect that. Exterior-wise, it comes with halogen headlights, body-color door handles, and power-adjustable and heated side mirrors as standard. Interior features include remote keyless entry, a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, power windows, manual air conditioning, a 12-volt power outlet, an immobilizer, a center console with a sliding armrest and storage bin, dual front cupholders, and a multi-function steering wheel with manual tilt-only adjustment.
Safety-wise, the Kia is equipped with a rearview camera, cruise control, hill-start assist, and basic active features like ESC, ABS, and tire-pressure monitoring. Passive safety systems include six airbags and front and side crumple zones. LED headlights with high-beam assist and a suite of driver-assistance features that includes forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning are available.
The 2022 Rio 5-door boasts an eight-inch color touchscreen display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Tech-savvy youngsters will love this feature. Bluetooth connectivity is also standard, and SiriusXM is available. When not paired with a smartphone, the interface is intuitive and easy to understand. There's a single USB up front as well as two additional ones at the back for charging purposes. A single 12-volt socket is included in the front. As for audio, it's channeled via six speakers.
The last time it was assessed in 2020, the Rio scored 82 out of 100 points from J.D. Power and an excellent 87/100 individual rating for quality and reliability. Among other small cars at a similar price point, the latest 2022 Hyundai Accent has an even better quality and reliability score of 90/100 but the 2021 Nissan Versa was worse with 83. Kia also deserves praise for designing and building the Rio 5-door so well. It has been recall-free for the last decade - that's one of the most blemish-free reliability records for any modern vehicle. Even better, the Rio 5-door is covered by a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and an industry-leading ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Roadside assistance is covered for the first five years or 60,000 miles.
The Rio 5-door was last rated by the NHTSA in 2017, when it received an overall rating of four out of five stars. However, this was for the previous-generation model. A more useful reference is the crashworthiness test carried out by the IIHS. In the agency's new Rio 5-door safety review, the hatch returned Good scores in every crash test besides the small overlap front passenger-side test, for which it managed an Acceptable score.
Standard safety features include six airbags, electronic stability control, stability control, hill-start assist, a rearview camera, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Yes, the Rio is a good car because it hits all the correct targets for entry-level budget motoring. Kia's Rio 5-door will be purchased for two reasons; a city runabout or a first car. It hits the mark by being nippy off the line, fun to drive, and comfortable as a city car. It can carry two adults and three kids with ease. The safety ratings are also good, despite the lack of standard driver-assistance features. The CVT is a bit dimwitted but easy to forgive once you see the gas mileage results.
That links us neatly to first-time buyers, who will love the frugality. As a young upstart, you likely don't have money to burn on gas, making the Rio a logical choice. Young buyers also demand the latest tech, and Kia delivers on that front. The eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system is a joy to use, not to mention the standard fitment of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Its main rivals have a lot of catching up to do in this department. Quality-wise, the Rio 5-door is excellent. The days of Kia being the butt of car-related jokes are long gone, and they offer the same kind of value and quality as Japanese cars. Finally, it's hard to ignore that ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. It shows a lot of confidence in the product, making the Rio 5-door an obvious choice for both target markets.
The price of the Kia Rio 5-door begins at $17,090 but this MSRP does not include the destination fee in the US of $995. There's only one Technology Package to choose from, retailing for $1,800. It includes alloy wheels, LED headlights with auto high beams, rear disc brakes, many driver-assistance features such as forward-collision avoidance and lane-departure warning, and automatic climate control, to name just a few.
Since there's only one Kia Rio 5-door hatchback model, we thought we'd look at the optional extras instead. It's worth adding the Technology Package because it improves the Rio 5-door in every department. The most noteworthy are the driver assistance features, including forward-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, and LED headlights with auto high beams. The Rio 5-door looks its best in Sporty Blue and Currant Red, both of which are no-cost options. Even when specced up like this, it remains good value at less than $19,000.
The Honda Fit was a great small hatchback, but, unfortunately, it's no longer available in the USA. It doesn't matter too much, but now we have to decide whether the five-door or sedan is best. They're basically the same car, featuring the same interior layout and functionality. The hatch is more practical, however. It offers 17.4 cubes of cargo capacity, while the Rio sedan has to make do with 13.7 cubes. We also think the hatch looks funkier, and that's why we wouldn't bother with the sedan.
Hyundai's Accent is the same car wrapped in a dull small sedan body with 4 doors and a traditional trunk instead of a hatch. It doesn't have much counting in its favor because for 2022, the formerly available a six-speed manual gearbox that made for a more engaging driving experience is no longer available; the base Accent SE now uses the same CVT as the Rio S and is now only $445 cheaper than the Rio. Since it's the same engine/gearbox combo, the consumption figures are identical. The entry-level Accent has a five-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity. To get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you have to buy either an SEL or Limited model. The SEL is $1,000 cheaper than a fully-kitted Rio 5-door, while the Limited is a little more expensive.
The final nail in the coffin is the Rio 5-door's additional luggage capacity, which is 3.7 cubes more than the Accent can muster. It doesn't seem like much, but in a small car, every little bit helps.