When you hear someone say “Kia Rio,” certain expectations follow, chief among them, a small size and a low price. The newest version of the Rio, redesigned for its fourth generation in the United States, hits those marks with a sub-US$15,000 starting cost and tidy dimensions. What you may not expect to find is refinement, sophistication, and a generous helping of features. That’s where the 2018 Rio delivers on the Kia brand’s tagline, “The Power to Surprise.”
Just as when it debuted in the early 2000s, the subcompact Rio remains the smallest Kia you can buy in the States. It’s available as a sedan or as the four-door hatchback tested here, and it rides on a platform shared with the Europe-market Hyundai i20 as well as the upcoming Kia Stonic and Hyundai Kona subcompact crossovers.
Classy but Cramped
The Rio’s interior also is a no-nonsense, high-quality affair. Our EX test car was equipped with the US$500 Launch Edition package that added flashy red accents to the dashboard and seats, but other than that, the instrument panel and dash prioritize function over form. The tachometer and speedometer flank a central LCD screen displaying trip-computer info, while a large 7.0-inch touchscreen dominates the center stack. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included on the EX model, although they’re not on lower trim levels with their 5.0-inch displays. The EX also is the only Rio that comes with automated emergency braking, a safety feature found on just a select few subcompacts.
The rear seat is however tight on legroom and headroom; although inhabitable by two adults, the Rio’s back seat can’t hold a candle to the rear quarters found in the Fit, which is a master of space efficiency. The Honda also shames the Kia’s cargo-hauling ability—and that of nearly all other subcompact hatchbacks—with its capacious cargo hold (up to 53 cubic feet of space) and flat-folding rear seats. The Kia offers the same 17 cubic feet of space aft of the rear seats as the Honda, but folding the Rio’s seat expands that to only 33 cubes, and the 60/40 split seatbacks don’t lie flat.