New & Used Kia Rio: In Depth
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The Kia Rio is most likely to be compared to the Chevrolet Sonic and Ford Fiesta, though the more basic but fun-to-drive Mazda 2 is a strong alternative. The Hyundai Accent, which shares underpinnings with the Rio, is also a competitor — as is the all-new 2015 Honda Fit, which remains one of the best subcompacts and now offers even better fuel efficiency.
The subcompact Rio is the Korean automaker's least expensive and smallest U.S. offering and comes in both five-door hatchback and four-door sedan varieties to also compete with the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris.
The current-generation Rio, launched in 2012, significantly boosted the model's refinement, style, features, and available options. While the earliest Rios were firmly anchored in the most basic economy-car set, the current model is a worthy competitor in the sportier, more stylish end of the segment. For 2016, the Rio gets a mild face lift.
The 2012 model year marked the beginning of the third generation for Kia's Rio. While it is priced considerably higher than the 2011 car it replaced, the latest Rio is not only sportier and more stylish inside and out, but also much more engaging to drive. Crisp details, lots of body sculpting, and a European-inspired interior bring the nicely proportioned Rio into full competition with rival models. The sedan is a particular standout, with a design that doesn't look bulky and awkward like many of its competitors' four-doors do.
Only one engine is offered in today's Rio. The smooth, 1.6-liter, direct-injected four-cylinder engine makes 138 hp and is paired with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The Rio's safety ratings have improved, but they are still somewhat middling—four stars overall from the NHTSA, and one 'marginal' and one 'acceptable' rating from the IIHS, among 'good' ratings in other categories. The latest model offers many more technology features--both standard and optional--than before.
Among other features, the new Rio offers steering-wheel audio controls, standard satellite radio compatibility, and a USB port. The EX model adds air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering, power accessories, and Bluetooth. Finally, the top-of-the-line SX models get heated mirrors, fog lamps, LED exterior lighting, and other upgrades. An optional navigation system or UVO connectivity interface can also be specified.
One black mark on the otherwise cheerful Rio's record is that it was one of several vehicles for which Kia (and also Hyundai) were found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia self-certified that the Rio automatic achieved 33 mpg combined (30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway), with the manual higher at 34 mpg combined. But after complaints from buyers, the EPA tested several vehicles and found that the actual numbers should have been 31 mpg combined (28 mpg city, 36 mpg highway) for the six-speed automatic, and 32 mpg combined (29 mpg city, 37 mpg highway) for the six-speed manual. Perhaps more embarrassing, the 2013 Kia Rio Eco model was busted down from 34 mpg to 32 mpg combined, with its magic 40-mpg highway number falling to 36 mpg as well.
Kia will reimburse owners of all the affected cars for the extra gasoline costs reflected by the more accurate lower ratings. (The company attributed it all to test-cycle errors on its part, and apologized profusely and repeatedly.) Owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.
For 2013, the only change to the Rio lineup was the arrival of a long-delayed engine start-stop option, priced at $400. The company calls it Idle Stop & GO (ISG) as it smartly shuts off the engine when the vehicle is stopped to save fuel, restarting it as soon as the driver begins to lift off the brake pedal. The impact is about a 1-mile-per-gallon increase for the Rio's city fuel-economy rating, though we're not convinced the option will find many takers.
There were no changes to the Rio lineup for the 2015 model year.
For 2016, the Rio gets a mild mid-cycle face lift. The changes consist of a restyled front end, revised lighting elements, and some new color options. Kia also claims to have added sound deadening to reduce interior noise, which is also a welcome improvement. The 2016 Rio went on sale early in 2015.
Earlier Rio Models
When it was added to the lineup back in 2001, the Rio became the third Kia model to be offered in the U.S. after the Sportage small crossover and the Sephia sedan (a car later succeeded by the Spectra, and most recently the Forte). That first Rio used a 96-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine (upgraded to 104 hp for 2003), along with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. At a price below $9,000, we found it well-built but coarse and unrefined, with substandard interior materials. In 2002, a Rio Cinco five-door hatchback (or, arguably, a wagon) joined the lineup, offering low-priced cargo volume and versatility.
In 2007, the second-generation Rio shared its running gear and underpinnings with the Hyundai Accent (Hyundai owns Kia, though the two brands operate fairly separately in the U.S. market). The revised Rio had had one of the better interiors in its class—even though it wasn't that exciting in design—as well as much better ride quality. It caught up with competitors on several levels and remained one of the better-equipped subcompacts in the class for several years. A smooth new 110-hp, 1.6-liter four gave it more gusto, while transmissions remained a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Unfortunately, despite its standard side airbags (hardly ubiquitous at the time), its crash-test ratings were some of the lowest in the class. A Rio5 five-door hatchback model was introduced for 2008, although only in the somewhat more expensive LX trim.