Automotive journalists are sometimes encouraged by our editors to avoid talking about how many cars we drive on a weekly basis. It can come across as if we may be jaded from driving expensive cars, or out of touch with the average car buyer. If anything, I believe that’s one of the few things that qualifies us to do this job. If I didn’t drive a lot of cars, I wouldn’t have the perspective on just how good Kia vehicles are right now. Plus I run this site and I can do what I want.
I have been driving a lot of small cars lately, including some recent stuff from Toyota that were small, and smaller. They actually bookend this 2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door with regard to price; the Yaris iA coming in at a paltry 16 grand and the Corolla close to 25 large. Today’s test car has a base price of $18,700 and only has $630 in options including $500 for the “EX launch edition” package and $130 for floor mats. I’ll do the math for you, it’s almost $20,000 even.
Before we continue to delve into this little grey Kia hatchback, let’s take an aside to see where Kia is at the moment. My very first press car was a Sorento and I was pretty impressed, and since then the RFD crew has had quite a few cars from the South Korean manufacturer. Mike Thompson drove an EV Soul, and a Sportage SX, Sean O’Donoghue drove a cool Optima Turbo, and we even interviewed Peter Schreyer the night of the Kia Stinger launch in Detroit! So we’ve had some decent seat time in their cars, where does the new Rio fit into the lineup?
The fourth gen Rio, brand new in 2017, is at the bottom of the Kia lineup. You can get a Rio sedan for $13,900 starting MSRP. That’s cheap. The 5-Door bumps you up to $14,200 which means the hatchback costs just $300, a bargain since hatchbacks are better. It’s just science. From there you jump up to $16,800 for the Forte and $18,300 for the Forte5, which is a hatchback version apparently. Worked for Mazda I guess. So the Rio is the cheapest car that Kia sells, which makes its fit and finish all the more impressive.
I’m starting here first, for a reason. The interior of an “inexpensive” car, which is in “quotes” because it’s relative, is a make-or-break moment for me. The quality of the materials and how they are fitted together matter a lot, and Kia has worked some special sauce on the inside of this Rio. The red accents, part of the aforementioned upgrade package, aren’t for everyone; my wife wasn’t a fan. But she’s never a fan of any shade of red inside a vehicle, so that’s just how it goes. I actually really liked the swath of metallic-looking plastic crossing the dashboard. The way it surrounds the infotainment screen really set it off.
Speaking of infotainment, Kia went the direction of Mercedes, Audi, and others by having their 7″ touchscreen pop out of the dash. Only they did a much better job. I’m really over the iPad-mount-looking install that so many expensive cars are flaunting these days. At least the screen in this Rio sits lower in the dash rather than looking like its glued onto the top of the dash. It works too, redundant (real) buttons on the outer edge mean that you can quickly bounce between the various functions. There was no navigation, but the Android and Apple Play integration was more than sufficient to make up for not having an integrated nav system.
The rest of the interior was simple and easy to use. I liked the old school simplicity of the dials for climate control, and I particularly liked the way they were laid out. Choose warm or cool, set your fan speed and where the air is coming out, done. I know, “set it and forget it” automatic climate control is better. But I didn’t really find myself missing it all that much over the week I spent with this Rio. That’s probably because this is just a well equipped car, plain and simple. The EX come standard with stuff like a leather wrapped wheel and shifter, a nicely bolstered multi-adjustable seat (upgraded to leather in this car), and lots of safety stuff that I’ll mention later.
It’s hard to argue that the Rio is an attractive car, Schreyer’s “tiger-shark nose” styling has found itself in just about every Kia model and it looks fantastic. The Rio has just the right proportions for a hatch. Up front it doesn’t overuse chrome accents, just a touch around the upper grill, leaving the lower grill to act as the “shark’s” gaping maw. Integrated fog lights on either side give a more upscale look.
Along the side profile, Kia used multi-spoke 15″ alloys which aren’t huge by today’s standards, but fit the car’s overall size and shape nicely. The back is classic Rio, looking similar to models dating back to the second generation that came out back in 2005. It’s a solid look, and the EX variant in particular looks like a more expensive car.
All Rio models, including the 5-Door, feature the same 1.6 Liter, Inline 4 engine with a scant 130 hp and 119 lb.-ft. of torque. That means 28/37/32 city, highway, and combined MPG respectively, which is about what you would expect for a fairly small hatchback. Interesting that Kia hasn’t gone the CVT route with the transmission, which is a bonus in my book. The Rio has a “Sport” button, which basically just ups the revs a bit. This isn’t a sporty car necessarily, but it wasn’t any slower than the Corolla XSE I just tested which only has 2 more horses.
The Rio comes with a bunch of the latest safety tech standard. Stuff like autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning are typically only available on more expensive cars. Take a look at the specs list, it’s pretty impressive.
Driving around town, the Rio operates like most small cars. Push it around some tight corners and the 15″ all-seasons protest about like you would expect. I would rate the handling at about average if slightly erring on “capable”. I wouldn’t be concerned about having a teenage son or daughter driving a car like this, it should keep them out of trouble.
This is where I say whether or not the Rio EX 5-Door is worth buying, and if you’ve been paying attention you already know its a resounding “yes”. The Rio punches way above it’s class, sorry I know that’s cliche. It’s true though, if you have $20,000 to spend, it’s a hell of an option.