2018 Kia Rio Review

2018 Kia Rio - Kia updates Rio with fourth-generation effort


 With virtually all trims, including a top-notch, fully-loaded EX available for under $20,000 out the door (including freight and handling) Kia's well-established, diminutive Rio gently temps first-and long-time buyers delivering upon rudimentary travel needs, friendly fuel figures and long-duration, 10-year powertrain warranty.

While subcompacts such as the front-wheel-drive Rio remain the domain of largely younger, cost-sensitive shoppers here in the States, in Europe, they carry a larger foot print. Having just returned from a 10-day Ireland jaunt, it's quite the spectacle to absorb the sheer number of subcompacts tooling the streets especially while learning on-the-fly to master the Euro-dominated right-hand steering layout, left-lane driving and pesky right-hand turns.  Ireland's quant but narrow local roads coupled with significantly higher fuel prices contribute to the dominance of five-door subcompacts.

The first-generation Rio came on line in 2000 as a 2001 model year product.  This 2018 version kicks off a fourth generation, built at a new Kia facility in Mexico opened in 2016. 

Two Rio body styles return for 2018 including a four-door sedan and our tester, a potentially more versatile five-door hatchback. All three trims (entry LX, top-trim EX and new-for-2018 mid-level S) motivate from a sole powertrain source: a 1.6-liter gas-direct, naturally aspirated (non turbo charged) four cylinder delivering 130 horsepower, enough to motivate this rather light 2,714-pound vehicle easily through the Chicago suburbs, but not a finalist for a zero-to-60 mph timed competition .

A six-speed manual transmission comes standard in LX while a six-speed automatic adorns S, EX and is available as a $1,000 LX option. Rio offers only a conventional internal combustion engine.  For those seeking gas-electric hybrid or plug-in hybrid opportunities, Kia's compact Niro crossover fills the void.

Rio excels at delivering fuel economy of 28 mpg city and 37 highway through the six-speed automatic (up one mile per gallon in both categories compared with 2017 without pricy hybrid underpinnings). The rather diminutive 11.9 gallon fuel tank utilizes regular, 87-octane fuel.

Generous use of high-strength steel in this redo helps improve tensile strength by 30 percent, reducing weight while improving maneuverability. Body roll during hard cornering is minimal with a ride tilting toward comfort, not luxury, an expected outcome of uni-body subcompact underpinnings.

With few stand-alone or option packages to ponder, purchasing a Rio requires a quick study of standard content found in each trim level. Base LX trims retain the long forgotten manual roll-up windows but does feature air conditioning.

Sales of Rio in the 2017 calendar year here in the States reached a modest 16,760 units. Kia also markets another subcompact offering, the boxy, urban-inspired Soul five-door hatchback (with U.S. sales topping 100,000 units last year) tapping into potential Rio sales numbers here in the States. That said, worldwide, Rio stands tall as Kia's best-selling model with sales exceeding 400,000 units in 2017.

Rio's diminutive size also lends itself to easier parking lot maneuvers.  While stationed in Ireland, significantly narrower 'Car Park' (Ireland's reference to a parking lot) slots remain the norm, another argument for subcompact travel.

 Rio's styling tilts toward a "Euro" ambiance since a majority of sales take place across the Pond with sophisticated flairs in greater abundance than the third-generation. Front "A" pillars stand with a more upright pose and wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) grows a modest half inch.

Our EX trim tester with six-speed automatic transmission checked in with an attainable $18,700 starting price.  The bottom line snuck in under $20,000 at $19,725 after factoring in a $895 destination charge and $130 carpeted floor mats. The lowest-priced Rio five-door, a LX with six-speed manual transmission checks in at a very attainable $14,200.

Rio remains one of a handful of subcompacts offering Apple Car Play and Android Auto allowing cell phone interplay through the in-dash screen, although one must opt for the top-trim EX for this privilege. In-dash navigation is off the table for all trims, so those in need of guidance need to bring along a portable electronic device.

The user-friendly, single-zone ventilation unit consists of three easy-grasp dials, the diminutive center orb controls fan speed, the left temperature and the far right direction. Below the temperature dial resides a button controlling A/C while below the fan direction dial, one finds a rear window defrost control. This simple, effective design still represents the best mouse trap as expensive luxury vehicles continue experimenting with HVAC controls built into touch screens, overcomplicating simplicity.

A five-inch upper central dash flat audio display adorns LX and S trims while a larger seven-inch size resides in EX. Both include two twist dials to speed along volume and station adjustments. Sirius Satellite radio and front USB/auxiliary jacks come standard in all three trims. The EX and S trims add USB charging ports in front and back along with Bluetooth wireless technology. Only Top EX adds autonomous emergency braking in 2018, a safety nuance rare in subcompacts.

The flat instrument panel also provides quick, easy reads at a glance with two circular analog gauges and an interior digital window with panel selections on the steering wheel's 3 o'clock face, the same region were cruise control functions (in EX and S trims only) reside.  Secondary audio controls reside at 9 o'clock on the wheel's face.

With rear seats prone, expect a rather diminutive 17 cubic feet of space available for 'stuff' behind row two (two cubic feet greater than the subcompact Ford Fiesta).  Fold the 60/40 seats forward and cubic girth grows to 33. While front bucket seats (now slimmer with added cushioning and padding) offer occupants an acceptable ambiance, rear leg room is a bit wanting.  Front riders enjoy additional head and shoulder room when compared to the previous generation. Two travelers fit with optimal comfort in the back region.

Expect a rather high decibel audio output of engine and wind noise inside the cabin, despite new-for-2018 efforts (greater use of bonding adhesives) to muffle sound. Nonetheless, interior sound intrusion may not dis-sway entry buyers.

Rio slots under the compact Forte in Kia's U.S. lineup.  The 2018 four-cylinder Forte also arrives in sedan and five-door body styles. The South Korean's lineup historically zeroes in upon fuel efficient small to mid-sized offerings priced within reach of the working class.  Pickup trucks never have been part of the mix, but in 2019, Kia takes an upmarket turn with the low-volume yet scrumptiously stylish high-performance Stinger sedan. A halo car for Kia, the all-new 2018 Stinger certainly gets heads turning and tongues wagging.

2018 Kia Rio

Price as tested: $19,725

Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder

Horsepower: 130

Wheelbase: 101.6 inches

Overall Length: 160 inches

Overall Width: 67.9 inches

Curb weight: 2,714 pounds

Powertrain warranty:  10 years/100,000 miles

Fuel economy:  28 mpg city/37 mpg highway

Assembly:  Mexico

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.