The last year has been a busy one for Kia. The South Korea-based automaker has introduced an all-new version of its full-size Cadenza sedan, put a new turbocharged engine in its top-selling Soul multi-activity vehicle, and is slowly launching the head-turning Stinger sports sedan. Not to be ignored is the smallest product in the automaker’s arsenal, the Rio subcompact.
Completely redesigned, the fourth-generation 2018 Kia Rio features a new look, updated tech, more safety, and—wait for it—a lower price. What? Indeed.
Available in sedan and 5-door body styles, the 2018 Rio can be paired with either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. A base model LX sedan equipped with a manual will start at $13,990, which is $175 less than the outgoing vehicle.
The starting price for an LX hatchback drops even more. With a window sticker of $14,290, the 2018 model is priced $1,205 less. However, this is due to the availability of the manual transmission for the hatchback, which wasn’t an option for 2017. Still, even the automatic’s price is down $205. Destination is extra and wasn’t released, but for those keeping score, 2017’s fee was $895.
To celebrate the redesign, a Launch Edition will briefly join the lineup, currently planned to include three trim levels (LX, S, and EX). What this special model will include wasn’t discussed but if it’s anything like what Kia offered with the Niro when it launched, expect exclusive cosmetic treatments and additional tech amenities. Pricing would be no more than $20,000.
For this first fling with the new Rio, I found myself behind the wheel of an EX 5-door hatch. From the downtown din of Baltimore to the lovely landscape that is north-central Maryland, the all-new Rio proved to be a sprightly and engaging traveler.
To be fair, the Rio didn’t get smaller and it really can’t without causing serious claustrophobia. My six-foot-three co-driver could attest to that. The Rio didn’t shed any weight either, gaining 154 pounds on the slimmest of models.
And although tweaked for the 2018 model year, the 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine now produces 130 horsepower and 119 lb.-ft. of torque, a slight decline from the previous generation’s 138 horsepower and 123 lb.-ft. Typically, more weight and less power equates to a bad recipe.
In reality, the numbers game is rather inconsequential as the all-new Rio handles with surprisingly precise steering and dynamic composure. Sitting on an all-new platform featuring increased utilization of high-strength steel and expected improvements in crash protection, the Rio boasts a 30 percent increase in rigidity. Coupled with a new suspension layout, ride comfort also is improved.
While the Rio won’t win any autocross sprints, it still performs well on the straights and in the corners, it exhibits little body roll. The improved suspension manages both smooth and uneven pavement with ease, absorbing rough patches with zero rattling and minimal vibration.
The new Rio boasts one of the longest wheelbases in its class at 101.6 inches. Overall length increases 0.6 inches for both the sedan and hatchback at 172.6 and 160.0 inches, respectively. Also 0.2 inches shorter but 0.2 inches wider, the slight adjustments on the already slight Rio make for an attractive visual.
Previously resembling a bubbly bean with bony cheekbones as a character line, this next-gen version is noticeably more sophisticated with a hint of snark. The exterior features a new front end with a larger air intake, new styles to the headlights and tail lamps, repositioned fog lights and rear reflectors, aggressive panel creases, and outside mirrors relocated from the door panel’s top side to the windshield pillar.
Updates to the interior are also immediately apparent, reflecting a driver-centric slant. Passenger room has increased from 88.4 cubic-feet in both the sedan and hatchback to 89.9 cu.-ft. in the former and 90.5 cu.-ft. in the latter. Carved to be less convex and more streamlined thanks to a relocated infotainment screen, the dashboard’s new layout also benefits occupants’ knees, for sure.
Once taking up valuable real estate within the center stack, the 7-inch infotainment touchscreen (EX only) now “floats” between the air vents while climate control knobs have been consolidated into a simpler presentation. Interestingly, the new infotainment display appears clunky and obtrusive in photos but in reality is quite well integrated into its space.
While the Kia Rio does make for an affordable daily driver, features laden and technology heavy it is not. Still, the Rio’s buyer demographic is not lost on Kia and so the subcompact is outfitted with the expected essentials of any modern vehicle.
The LX trim is as basic as transportation gets with 15-inch steel wheels with full covers, black exterior treatments to the door handles and outside mirrors, a tilt-only steering column, cloth upholstery, manually adjustable windows and front seats, a 5-inch audio display, a 4-speaker sound system, satellite radio, and USB/AUX ports. The 6-speed manual transmission is available only on this base trim.
Nevertheless, even with its plethora of plastics, the interior does not come off as chintzy due to the use of genuinely decent materials and finishes. The cloth seats are supportive without being overly bolstered and the new steering wheel offers intuitive controls.
Moving up to the Rio S replaces the black exterior pieces with body-color elements and adds heated outside mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, power windows and outside mirrors, Bluetooth, USB charging ports, two tweeter speakers, overhead map lights, and a sunglass holder.
The tested Rio EX features 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, an exclusive black- and body-colored rear bumper, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, a 3.5-inch driver information cluster, cloth seats with an embossed pattern, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a 7-inch infotainment display with an enhanced UVO3 infotainment system.
Navigation is not available on the Kia Rio but its UVO system does provide Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. This updated UVO system also offers vehicle diagnostics, a parking minder, and a curfew alert that works as an electronic nanny to younger drivers. In conjunction with a smartphone app, the program will inform worried (nosy?) parents as to the vehicle’s whereabouts and its timeliness in returning home. There are no additional packages available for the Kia Rio but red accent leather seats are listed as an option for EX vehicles.
Safety technology includes your standard list of government-mandated features. A rearview camera becomes standard starting with the S trim while EX models receive forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Don’t look for a blind spot warning system with this car, because there isn’t one.
Year-over-year fuel economy in combined driving has improved by 1 mpg for the manual and 2 mpg for automatic-equipped Rios. The estimated EPA numbers fall in the middle of the subcompact pack at 32 mpg combined regardless of transmission or body style.
Looking to remain competitive and relevant in an automotive landscape dominated by crossovers and light trucks, the 2018 Kia Rio has positioned itself nicely as a no-frills commuter car with surprising handling skills and a comfortable ride. Overall, it makes an impressive showing from the smallest guy in the room.