by Jared Rosenholtz
Sophisticated, contemporary, and affordable are the three words that best describe the latest Kia Rio 5-Door. It's a nimble and comfortable subcompact hatchback that boasts one of the most fuel-efficient naturally aspirated engines in the segment, making it ideal for the urban environment. It also comes reasonably well-outfitted with features that are modern and high in quality, while remaining friendly to buyers' pockets. The refined Rio5 is now equipped with an efficiency-minded 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with peak outputs of 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft of torque, coupled to an all-new continuously variable automatic transmission which drives those outputs to the front wheels of the agile hatch. Though now with less potency, the new powertrain has still strengthened the Rio5's standing within the segment by availing the hatch with class-leading fuel economy - a smart move by Kia as competition in this segment is tough, with rivals such as the Honda Fit and Chevrolet Sonic hatchbacks also buzzing around the urban streets of America.
There have been only a few major alterations made for the all-new Kia Rio5, most of which pertain to enhancements to the Rio5's powertrain. The most notable alteration is the replacement of the old Gamma 1.6L GDI engine, which has been swapped out for an all-new Gamma 2 1.6L MPI engine, as well as a new CVT replacing the old six-speed auto - the result is vastly improved gas mileage. The only other change for the new model year is the standardization of a seven-inch color touchscreen display that's compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard.
The Rio5 is a very modern-looking hatchback; it's discernible by its signature black mesh Tiger Nose grille that's headed by Kia's badge and underscored by a prominent lower air intake. Flanking the grille are halogen headlights with auto light control functionality. Moving along the body sees dual-body color side-view mirrors that are power-operated and heated, and the rear end features a high-mounted body-color spoiler. 16-inch steel wheels with full silver covers are standard on the Rio5.
Alongside the sedan variant of the Rio, the Rio5 Hatchback measures only shorter in overall length at 160 inches - 12.6 inches shorter than the sedan. Both models otherwise share a wheelbase of 101.6 inches, a height of 57.1 inches with a 5.5-inch ground clearance, and a width of 67.9 inches. The Rio5 has a curb weight of 2,762 lbs, which is only five lbs lighter than the sedan.
With peak outputs of 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft of torque, the Rio5's new 1.6-liter four-cylinder MPI engine is down ten horsepower and seven lb-ft of torque compared to the old engine. Nevertheless, the engine is still competent enough for suitably motoring the Rio5 around the stop-and-go urban conditions it was built for. Off-the-line acceleration and low-end power delivery feel peppy and smooth, however, when at higher speeds the engine does start to exhibit notable signs of strain, especially when commencing highway overtakes. The new CVT is a good partner for the efficiency-minded engine, but it's focused purely on economy and when combined with the low outputs of the Rio's 1.6-liter engine, it makes for a slow and unexciting experience.
The Rio5 is an ideal city runabout as it is impressively nimble, thanks to its compact dimensions and light curb weight. It's also suitably comfortable due to its finely-tuned suspension. The steering is appropriately weighted, too, and its responses to driver inputs are precise. On top of that, there's even a little feedback provided via the steering to let the driver know what the front wheels are doing. Though not nearly as overtly sporty as the Honda Fit, it does an apt job of controlling body roll when punted through corners and actually proves significantly more poised than the Fit. In terms of ride quality, the Rio5's basic chassis setup and damper tuning, along with its rigid structure, see it aptly deal with the imperfections and undulations typical of the excessively used urban streets.
While this year's powertrain is slightly less powerful than last year's, it's considerably more fuel-efficient. With the new engine and transmission, the 2020 Rio5 returns competitive EPA estimates of 33/41/36 mpg city/highway/combined, which is about a ten percent improvement over last year's EPA estimates of 28/37/36 mpg.
Those figures also beat both the Honda Fit and the Chevrolet Sonic hatchback's, with their EPA estimates of 33/40/36 mpg and 26/34/30 mpg, respectively. Equipped with an 11.9-gallon gas tank, the Rio5 offers a maximum driving range of around 428 miles on a single tank of gas.
The Rio5 Hatchback can seat a total of five occupants in reasonable comfort, although the rear center seat is more suitable for small children, especially with two adults in the outboard seats. The seats feature limited adjustability, but are all suitably comfortable and supportive. Passenger room overall is quite expansive, with more than enough head and legroom offered up front - it can be a little cramped for taller adults in the rear, though. The driver is ergonomically positioned behind the relevant controls, and, with good visibility of the road ahead, thin B and C pillars mean the rearward blind spots are minimal too, and the rearview camera sorts things out for reversing.
With 17.4 cubic feet of cargo room offered by the Rio5, there's 3.7 cu.ft. more space n the hatch of the Rio5 than in the trunk of the Rio Sedan. That's just about enough room for a month's worth of grocery shopping bags. The rear seats in the Rio5 are 60/40 split-folding, which, when folded down, expand cargo room to 32.8 cubes.
Passengers have many in-cabin storage solutions to utilize including a spacious center console armrest storage cubby, a moderately-sized glovebox, front and rear door side pockets with bottle holder slots, dual cupholders upfront in the console, and another two in the backrest of the center rear seat. A nice-to-have storage area is also included in the form of an overhead sunglasses holder.
Unfortunately, because the Rio5 is a budget-friendly entry-level vehicle, its standard features consignment is rather low. On the outside, the Rio5 boasts automatic halogen headlights and power-adjustable heated side-view mirrors. Remote keyless entry grants entry to the cabin, where the driver will find a multi-function steering wheel with tilt-only adjustment, a six-way manually-adjustable seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, a day/night rearview mirror, and a power window with one-touch auto-down functionality. Passengers are catered to with only manual air-conditioning. On the safety and driver-asst side of things is an integrated rearview camera, cruise control, hill-start assist, and the essentials such as ESC, ABS, and tire pressure monitoring. Forward collision warning is available for the Rio5 along with LED headlights, LED positioning lights, and a supervision meter cluster with a 3.5-inch display.
A crisp seven-inch color infotainment touchscreen display sits at the center dash of the Rio5, tethered to an AM/FM/MP3-compatible stereo with a stock six-speaker sound system. The screen itself looks somewhat dated with its thick bezels and big surrounding buttons, but its visuals are clear and the user-interface very intuitive and easy to understand. What's more, the system comes comprising Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Siri Eyes Free as standard, along with Bluetooth audio streaming and voice-activated capabilities. For device connectivity and charging, there's a single USB port and auxiliary input jack in the front dash; in the rear, there are another two USB ports for device charging only. There's a single 12-volt power outlet in the front dash as well.
There has not been a single recall sent out for any model of the current generation Kia Rio5, which is likely why J.D. Power gave the 2019 year model an above-average predicted reliability rating of four out of five which will likely carry over to the 2020 year model. Kia covers the Rio5 with a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and an industry-leading ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
While the NHTSA is yet to evaluate any model of the current generation Kia Rio5, the IIHS has, at least, put the 2019 year model through its paces - it is fundamentally similar to the 2020 year model, so ratings should remain the same, if not better. Of the six specified crash-tests implemented by the IIHS, the Rio5 scored top ratings of Good in five, and was awarded a Top Safety Pick title for the 2019 model year when equipped with optional front crash prevention features. The airbag consignment comprises only six standard airbags, while as far as active safety features go, there is available forward collision warning, a standard-fit rearview camera, cruise control, hill-start assist, and the essentials such as ESC, and ABS.
Choosing the 2020 Kia Rio 5-Door as a daily runabout is a great decision; it may not be the sportiest of hatchbacks around, but it's still reasonably peppy and agile around urban streets and parking lots. It's also exceptionally comfortable for this segment, which makes it an ideal daily cruiser for a small family as it delivers a pleasing experience for both the driver and the passengers. Furthermore, its standard infotainment setup is highly intuitive and user-friendly, and comprises full smartphone integration at the standard level. With that in mind, it's also a highly practical vehicle thanks to the expansive cargo hatch. Where the Rio5 does fall short, however, is in its general feature specification levels, with relatively little offered in comfort, convenience, and driver-assistance technologies. The lack of a manual gearbox may be beneficial for fuel economy, but the CVT is slow and all the fun has been removed from piloting the Rio5. It is, nevertheless, an exceptionally well-built, reliable vehicle, and a safe one at that, with the IIHS awarding the model with a Top Safety Pick designation.
Another significant and appealing aspect of the Kia Rio 5-Door is its highly competitive pricing, with the standalone Rio S priced with a budget-friendly MSRP of $16,690. The MSRP excludes any tax, registration, and licensing fees as well as Kia's destination charge of $925. Even fully-equipping the Rio5 won't cost a lot, with the only specified package costing $800 and the only additional cost color adding a mere $195.
1.6-liter Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
The Rio Hatchback has just a single trim on offer, with the S specification including a crisp seven-inch infotainment touchscreen display, full smartphone integration, and remote keyless entry. We'd recommend the $800 option of the S Technology Package, which adds LED exterior lighting upgrades, added SiriusXM satellite radio functionality, as well as forward collision avoidance - the latter being the sole reason the Rio was selected as a 2019 Top Safety Pick. As standard, the Rio5 is otherwise not much worse off in the way of features; specification levels are low, but still suitable for the daily runabout. The infotainment system, which comes standard with full smartphone integration, and, along with the numerous USB charge points, are a benefit for all passengers in terms of entertainment. There is a sedan body style version of the Kia Rio available that offers all the same in performance and features, but the hatchback benefits from a slightly more spacious cabin and extensive cargo room.
The Honda Fit is the Rio5's most direct competition, being that it's the class-leader here. The Fit is only a little less fuel-efficient than the Rio5 in highway conditions, delivering better handling dynamics as well as far greater practicality, too. The Rio5 may have more cargo room behind the rear seats, but the Fit boasts its magic rear seats that offer superior versatility in passenger and cargo loading capabilities. Where the Rio5 does stand out is in its infotainment layout, boasting a slightly larger touchscreen display and a couple more speakers at the base level. Things are uncertain for the Fit, however, with the release of the 2020 model year to the U.S. market having yet to be announced. Nevertheless, barring the Fit's superior handling dynamics and masterful versatility, the Rio5 is a decent alternative. It's a little more economical in town and offers a little more room in the hatch.
The Kia Rio5 and Hyundai Accent come from the same company line and are subsequently fundamentally similar in comparison. Both are equipped with the same engine and underpinnings which mean performance and gas mileage estimates will be matched by each other. Where the differences lie are in body style, trim options, and transmission options, with the Rio5 hatchback only available in a single trim, and with only the CVT in place. By contrast, the Accent is solely a sedan, available in a variety of trims, and with either a CVT or six-speed manual gearbox. The base model of the Accent is just under $2,000 less than the Rio5, which may appeal to some, while the top-spec model costs around $2,000 more. That means there's better feature specification levels offered within the Accent's lineup. The Rio5 has a lot more cargo room behind the rear seats, however, with the Accent offering 3.3 cu.ft. less. The Rio5 also presents some favorable handling prowess over the Accent, and more of a sporty feel, which, along with its advantages in practicality, make it the slightly better vehicle.