It’s a real kick to test a car that exceeds your expectations. The 2018 Kia Rio is that kind of car. Although it is the lowest priced car in the Kia lineup, it was a pleasant surprise.
Kia redesigned the Rio this year, and buyers of this entry-level car are going to like it a lot. It sports fresh styling, a new infotainment system, a more responsive engine and it’s flat out fun to drive. Furthermore, you can get it in either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback.
The new Rio is a bit longer, lower and wider, but what you’ll notice most is its new nose. The front end is more upright now, and features a larger lower grille. Above the grille is Kia’s signature “Tiger Nose” design taken from the larger Kia Niro. The whole front facia comes together nicely in a cohesive way
Inside, the dash is straightforward and highlighted by an attractive instrument panel with back-lit gauges and a small digital screen in between. The designers did a nice job of integrating a tablet-like touchscreen into the center dash. It was rather small on my test car, but measures 7.0 inches on the top-of-the-line model. As you might expect, the surfaces are made of hard plastic, but it’s good quality, and doesn’t look cheap.
The Rio seats four passengers—five in a pinch. The seats are clad in sturdy fabric with contrasting stitching. The ones up front are well-contoured and comfortable. There’s even a height adjuster on the driver’s side, which should help shorter drivers. Surprisingly, there is adequate head-and legroom for six-footers in the back, but the passenger in the middle better be a kid. Cargo space on the sedan is the same as last year, 13.7 cubic feet, but the hatchback version is a couple of cubes larger now at 17.4 cu-ft.
Kia offers the Rio in three models, LX, S and EX. The base LX is fairly bare-bones, with windup windows, and manual mirror adjusters. However, it does have air conditioning, and surprisingly, satellite radio. The S trim adds a rearview camera, cruise control, power windows and Bluetooth. Move up to the EX, and you’ll also get the bigger touchscreen, alloy wheels and upgraded interior trim. There are no significant options for any of the models, except an automatic transmission for the LX.
Under the hood, Kia powers the Rio with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine with 130 horsepower. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic on most Rios, but a six-speed manual is standard on the base LX model. The spunky little engine has been tweaked this year to give it more thrust in the lower rev range where you need it most. The result is much improved pickup. Drivers with the automatic gearbox can also select a “sport” mode, which alters the shift points for even better response.
The Rio is fun to drive. The engine is perky, and ready to do your bidding. The automatic transmission that most drivers will have does a credible job, and you can use the manual shift mode for really vigorous driving. Adding to the fun is a revised steering system that delivers more feedback to the driver now. Small, 15-inch wheels and tires limit the Rio’s cornering ability, but even then, it’s still pretty good. Moreover, the ride is surprisingly supple for a small compact car.
The Rio delivers practical fun for not much money. The LX sedan with manual transmission is $14,795. (An automatic adds $1,000.) The S sedan sells for $16,995, and the EX goes for $19,295. Hatchback versions cost only $300 more.
Fun To Drive