2008 Kia Rio Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 16, 2008

The 2008 Kia Rio is a good choice among subcompacts and it’s stylish, but standard anti-lock brakes and better side-impact protection would help its case against the Honda Fit.

TheCarConnection.com's editors read the latest reviews on the new 2008 Kia Rio to write this comprehensive review. Our car experts also drove the 2008 Kia Rio to be able to deliver our definitive opinion on the car, to compare it with other cars in the class, and to help you decide if the Rio is the best car for you.

The 2008 Kia Rio sedan is a near-copy of the Hyundai Accent, while the five-door Rio5 is a distinct model not shared by Kia's South Korean cousin.

The Rio and Rio5, both offered in LX and SX models, share a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 110 horsepower. It can be teamed with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic. Power is a relative term, but since the Rios are small, they feel quick on their feet. Fuel economy for the new model year hits 25/35 mpg for the automatic, 27/32 mpg for manual shift cars--good but not great numbers compared to the Honda Fit's 28/34 mpg.

The Rio SX versions have specific tires and suspension settings, and feel slightly more sporting. The brakes seem strong, but the Rio's manual shift linkage can feel imprecise. Engine noise is a problem, too.

Review continues below

There is nothing cramped about the interior, and even the rear seating area offers plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room for an average adult male. Remember, it's a subcompact, not an SUV, so the Rio should be used for four adults on shorter trips. The seats themselves are fairly comfortable, and the interior trim is of a good grade for this price class. On the Rio5, a fairly large cargo area tucks beneath the hatchback.

While the base model is fairly unadorned, the 2008 Kia Rio LX models have a CD stereo, and they offer a Power Package that includes power locks, mirrors, and windows; keyless entry; and heated mirrors. The SX version gets sport tuning for its suspension, fog lights, and a spoiler. An auxiliary jack for MP3 players is standard on all Rios.

Six airbags--including side, curtain, and dual front airbags--are standard, while anti-lock brakes are optional. Kia scores four- and five-star ratings for crash protection in the 2008 Rio and Rio5, but side impact protection lags with a three-star rating for passenger side protection.

7

2008 Kia Rio

Styling

The 2008 Kia Rio has relatively upscale styling for such an inexpensive vehicle.

TheCarConnection.com found that reviewers consider the 2008 Kia Rio to be somewhat attractive, but not thrilling, even at its low price.

The 2008 Kia Rio has two body styles to choose from: the Kia Rio four-door sedan and the five-door. Cars.com touts the exterior features that give both Rios a decent amount of pizzazz: a black mesh grille, "swept-back" headlights, bumpers with black inserts, and black body-side moldings. According to Cars.com, the Rio’s profile has what Kia calls a “subtle wedge shape, with sculpted arches at each fender.” Kelley Blue Book thinks it's "quite the looker," and J.D. Power says the Kia's "European-influenced appearance imparts a sporty and youthful character into an entry-level automobile."

According to Edmunds, the cabin of the 2008 Kia Rio, especially in beige, has an "airy feel that is unusual for a car in this price range." Cars.com notes the "chrome dashboard accents" of the Rio SX, and Kelley Blue Book says that compared to earlier models, the Rio has a "higher quality feel both inside and out."

6

2008 Kia Rio

Performance

The 2008 Kia Rio has great fuel economy, good steering, and decent road manners; acceleration is slow.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree that the 2008 Kia Rio’s performance, though still slow, is better than expected.

Cars.com is more pleased with the performance of this year's Kia Rio, saying, "Adding a few horsepower can make quite a difference in a small sedan." According to Edmunds, "Every 2008 Kia Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 with 110 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque." Kelley Blue Book concurs: "Kia has raised the power of its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which drives either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission." But Car and Driver complains that it takes the 2008 Kia Rio "11.5 seconds to run to 60 mph, which certainly doesn't win any awards."

The 2008 Kia Rio's manual transmission is an appealing choice for those wanting a sporty vehicle, and Edmunds says, "As expected, the manual transmission makes the Rio more sprightly and fun to drive," noting that "a five-speed manual transmission is standard across the board, while a four-speed automatic is optional on all but the base sedan." Cars.com finds that the redesigned Kia Rio shows improvement over "its original performance, even with automatic transmission." The Rio Kia's automatic does provide swift, well-timed shifts; according to Cars.com, the automatic transmission in the 2008 Kia Rio works smoothly "without any lurching or noticeable gear changes," but Edmunds rates the automatic transmission as "slightly below standard" when it comes to acceleration.

Car and Driver says that, surprisingly, the "automatic transmission of the Rio Kia gets better fuel mileage than the manual, in this case 3 more mpg, for a highway figure of 35," according to EPA city/highway estimates. Kelley Blue Book agrees, stating, "Fuel economy is excellent," especially its EPA-rated 35 mpg on the highway when equipped with the four-speed automatic.

The Rio Kia LX and SX come equipped with front disc/rear drums; in addition, "4 wheel disc brakes" and "4 wheel ABS brakes" are available options on both models, according to Cars.com.  Both models have rack-and-pinion, speed-sensitive steering. "Steering is light in the Kia Rio," but "the Rio is delightfully nimble in urban environments, tracks adeptly on straightaways and is easy to guide into turns," in Kelley Blue Book's opinion. Edmunds adds that when "pushed through corners, the Rio responds with predictable body roll and unexpectedly crisp steering"; however, they also state "the suspension isn't as composed over broken pavement as we'd like," saying that "large impacts tend to shudder through the cabin." Kelley Blue Book, on the other hand, finds that "even when the pavement gets troublesome, the Rio's suspension absorbs considerable roughness."

7

2008 Kia Rio

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Kia Rio provides a comfortable seating area for most passengers, although backseats could use improvement in head- and legroom, as well in seat comfort.

For such a small vehicle, the 2008 Kia Rio delivers good interior room, with better-than-expected materials.

The Rio Kia seats five, and "seat comfort is very good for most body types, though drivers north of 6 feet tall may get fidgety after more than an hour behind the wheel," Edmunds says. Additionally, "the back seat headroom is a bit tight for 6-footers," though legroom is "fully adequate and the tall bench provides good thigh support," according to Edmunds.

However, some reviewers found legroom is a problem for backseat passengers. Cars.com states, "Legroom even in the outer positions is marginal when the front seat is moved appreciably rearward"; additionally, "the hard rear seatback is reclined too far for true comfort" in the Kia Rio. Kelley Blue Book concurs, saying that the "front seats are roomy and comfortable in the Kia Rio, but the rear seat is hard and reclines excessively." But woe to the person in the middle, warns Kelley Blue Book, because "the center occupant straddles a tunnel." And while a fold-down armrest is standard for the driver in the 2008 Kia Rio, Edmunds would "prefer a more traditional center console box that provides this feature for both front occupants along with handy storage space."

According to Cars.com, "Increased exterior dimensions translate to more interior capacity in the five-passenger Rio. The 2008 Kia Rio's trunk is now 11.9 cubic feet." With the LX trim, this expands, "thanks to the 60/40 split-folding rear seat," states Kelley Blue Book, which also notes "a dashboard slot that can hold a parking ticket, plus a hook that can carry a purse." ConsumerGuide points out the rear seat doesn't lie flat; instead, "it rests above the level of trunk floor, and the opening is cramped." Other storage problems include the release, which "is awkwardly placed toward the center of the seats," and the "trunklid hinges dip into the load area."

When it comes to fit and finish, the Kia Rio gets mixed reviews. According to ConsumerGuide, "most cabin surfaces are hard plastic, and padded surfaces are pretty much out of the question." They admit, though, that "Rio equals some costlier cars for materials and assembly quality." Edmunds says "the materials quality is generally above average, though some trim isn't up to Honda levels"; they specifically complain about "some cheap plastic trim."

Many reviewers consulted by TheCarConnection.com found that engine noise is a problem with the Rio Kia. The engine can get loud in the 2008 Kia Rio while being brought up to freeway speed; it becomes a smooth cruise afterward. "The engine emits considerable buzz and blare when pushed hard," complains Cars.com. Kelley Blue Book concurs, but notes that even though "the engine gets seriously buzzy when accelerating, it quiets nicely at speed," and Edmunds says "at 75 mph, the cabin is hushed." But Car and Driver complains that the four-speed automatic produces "a grinding sound at highway speeds, not our soundtrack of choice to accompany five-hour journeys."

6

2008 Kia Rio

Safety

The 2008 Kia Rio has plenty of airbags, but poor side impact protection scores and optional anti-lock brakes are a concern.

While it is commendable that the 2008 Kia Rio comes standard with front, curtain, and side seat-mounted airbags and generally tests well, TheCarConnection.com notes problems with its side-impact crash-test scores.

The 2008 Kia Rio gets mixed results in governmental safety ratings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives it five stars in front passenger, front impact protection, but only four stars in driver-side front impact protection. In side impact protection, the Rio gets only three stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Rio a “poor” rating for rear impact protection.

Edmunds also states the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing gives a score of "acceptable" (the second highest of four) in frontal offset tests and "poor" (the lowest possible) in that agency's side impact test for the Kia Rio.

All 2008 Kia Rio models come standard with front, curtain, and side seat-mounted airbags. Other standard safety features for the Rio Kia are occupancy sensors and front seat pre-tensioners. ConsumerGuide lists an emergency inside trunk lid release as an additional "important safety feature." Another standard safety feature on the Kia Rio is "Child Door Locks," states Kelley Blue Book.

Most safety features are standard on the Kia Rio, but "anti-lock disc brakes are optional on those higher trim levels as well," according to Edmunds. "The LX and SX trims also come with adjustable rear headrests," they add.

Kelley Blue Book likes the fact that the "low cowl and sizable rear glass help create nearly unobstructed visibility." Cars.com agrees, stating, "Visibility is unobstructed."

7

2008 Kia Rio

Features

The 2008 Kia Rio is outfitted for high fuel economy, with some--but not all--of the high-tech features that have trickled down into competitors like the Honda Fit.

The 2008 Kia Rio has some features that aren’t found in many subcompacts, but in general, it’s a leaner list of standard and optional features than might be found on the competition, such as Honda’s Fit.

The base Kia Rio’s "standard equipment includes an eight-way manually adjustable driver's seat, variable intermittent wipers and a rear-window defroster," notes Car and Driver. The SX comes equipped with "Fog/driving lights," which is not an option on the LX, according to Cars.com.

The LX adds popular features, including "wider tires, air-conditioning, power steering, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tilt steering wheel and a CD player with an auxiliary audio jack," says Edmunds. Additionally, "those who prefer the five-door hatchback body style now have a cheaper way in, as the hatch previously only came in the top-dog SX trim level." Edmunds complains "cruise control isn't available."

Extra features in the Rio Kia LX and the Rio Kia SX include "air conditioning, a CD stereo with four speakers, a tilt steering column and a 60/40-split folding rear seat," according to Cars.com, which adds that in the 2008 Kia Rio, there is now "an auxiliary input jack for MP3 players in the LX and SX. The cupholder design has also been revised, and there's a new center gauge cluster and redesigned shift knobs for both the automatic and manual transmissions." ConsumerGuide reports such comfort and convenience features in the base model as "cloth upholstery, front bucket seats w/height-adjustable driver seat, center console, tachometer, rear defogger, variable-intermittent wipers, automatic-off headlights."

The 2008 Kia Rio SX models include "15-inch alloy wheels, sport seats with red trim, fog lights and a rear spoiler," according to Kelley Blue Book, and those "willing to spend a bit more cash can equip this little entry-level econobox with such upscale features as power windows, AM/FM/CD stereo and heated outside mirrors." Edmunds notes that the SX versions also "metallic interior accents, drilled metal pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a black-with-red-accents cabin theme."

Both the 2008 Kia Rio LX and SX have options for remote keyless entry and illuminated entry, power locks, and heated mirrors. Options for the Rio Kia SX include "the Power package (which adds full power features, keyless entry and tweeter speakers) and 16-inch alloy wheels," notes Edmunds. Off the list entirely are such features as fold-flat rear seats in the five-door model; satellite radio; a CD changer; and Bluetooth.

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March 14, 2015
For 2008 Kia Rio

I love my rio!

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After 70""" miles the acceleration is still in good shape, fuel consumption just fine, I'd recommend this car
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6.6
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Styling 7.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 6.0
Features 7.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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