2013 Kia Rio Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 21, 2013

The 2013 Kia Rio is no longer an also-ran--it's a tough contender in a class filled with efficient, good-looking, smartly priced subcompacts.

Now in its second year following an overhaul in engineering and design, the Kia Rio sedan and hatchback return for the new year with very few changes. That's not a bad thing, though: Kia has finally discovered a formula that makes that cars feel and look as well-constructed and almost as point-perfect as the Honda compacts of the early 1980s and 1990s. The Rio is now one of our preferred subcompacts on today's market, beating out other models like the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent, though the Chevy Sonic remains our favorite of them all.

The Rio gets there with efficient drivetrains, great features and good packaging, but it's the snappy styling that first makes its case. The five-door hatchback's more winning than the four-door sedan, for sure, but both have sworn off the benign, bubbly shape of the prior car for a sculpted, neatly detailed look that wears Kia's signature grille with economy-car flair. As good as it gets outside, the Rio's interior seems even better: some throwback details recall the best of the 1980s econoboxes, down to the toggle switches for climate controls, but there's also a big LCD screen integrated neatly and soft-touch trim on most versions that rivals the glory days of Japan's best small cars of the past.

A single engine powers all Rio body styles and trims, and it's offered with a choice of transmissions. The front-drive Rio sports a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 138 horsepower and direct injection--identical to the Accent's output with the same engine, and to the output of the turbocharged 1.4-liter Chevy Sonic. The Rio doesn't feel as energetic as the Sonic, but the automatic we've driven has quick enough reflexes to keep the revvy four from bogging down. A stop/start feature, delayed from the 2012 model year, arrives this year and boosts the Rio's EPA city rating to 30 mpg (from 28 otherwise with automatic).

Compared with the former Rio, the new car rides and handles in an entirely different class. We prefer the Chevy Sonic's truly eager handling and the Fiesta's sporty electric steering, but the Rio fares better in its tuning than any small Kia before. For a car with such a short wheelbase, and such a basic strut and twist-beam rear suspension, the Rio damps its ride well, and doesn't bound or crash unless the road surface swells with lots of long, rising bumps or deep pits. The electric steering doesn't have much feedback, but the weight is dialed in at least to mirror the response rate of the suspension--and it's a little stiffer on the slightly more sporty SX.

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Kia pitches the Rio squarely in the subcompact class, with 88 cubic feet of interior space. Cars like the Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent put more cubes on paper with their boxy rear ends, and the Nissan Versa is a bit larger. The Rio lines up best alongside the Ford Fiesta, with a 101.2-inch wheelbase, an overall hatchback length of about 160 inches, and a cargo hold measuring 15 cubic feet (13.7 in the sedan, which goes on sale late in 2011). The Rio's front seats have good, long bottom cushions and great, long seat travel, putting a good foot forward for solo drivers or pairs of adults. The back seat is more confined than in the Fit, with no adult-sized knee or head room to spare; its Accent cousin does a better job of providing space for four, and in luggage room too, where the Rio's nicely squared-off cargo hold nonetheless leaves the right kind of space for roll-on bags and Costco boxes.

Safety scores aren't yet available from the IIHS, but the NHTSA gives the Rio four stars overall. It has the usual airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control, as well as hill-start assist. A rearview camera is an option, as is Bluetooth.

While we've confirmed the 2013 Rio is nearly identical to the 2012 model, pricing hasn't been made final. Last year's Rio five-doors came with a pricetag of about $14,350 including a $750 destination charge, and we expect the new model year won't bring much change. That model brings standard 15-inch wheels; a manual transmission; a rear spoiler; tilt steering; split-folding rear seats; an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio and a USB port; and steering-wheel audio controls. The Rio EX adds air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; and Bluetooth.

The Rio SX adds 17-inch wheels and sport tuning; bigger front brakes; fog lamps; power-folding heated side mirrors; and LED taillamp and headlamp accents. It also gets Kia's version of the Microsoft-powered voice controls sold by Ford as SYNC--only the Kia flavor has fewer available voice commands for phone and audio. Major options include UVO on EX models; a navigation system that replaces the UVO system on SX models; pushbutton start on the SX; and also on the SX, leather seats, a sunroof, and front seat heating. All models have Kia's five-year, 60,000-mile warranty.

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2013 Kia Rio

Styling

The 2013 Kia Rio tops the subcompact class with its catchy, well-crafted styling hooks.

The 2013 Kia Rio draws its design inspiration from Europe, not Korea. That's a relatively recent development, recent since the arrival of a new design director to the South Korean automaker. The bubbly, bland shapes of the former models have been ditched, and Peter Schreyer, Kia's new head of design, has penned a new range of cars with crisp, well-proportioned looks clearly influenced by cars from Peugeot, Opel, and Ford.

The Rio's a prime example, and the five-door's even more clearly descended from that talent pool than the four-door sedan. From the signature grille and its swept-back headlights, to the rounded rear end, the Rio five-door echoes classic hot-hatch lines without exaggerating them. It's clean, perky, and interesting, for the first time in the brand's history. And while it's tough to draw sedans on this scale, but the Rio succeeds better than just about any of its competitors.

It's even better inside. The cockpit's nicely finished dash hashes together 1980s econobox chic with airplane-style toggle switches, a medium-to-large LCD screen and a soft-touch panel on most trims for a distinct look with BMW outlines and glory-days Honda finishes.

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2013 Kia Rio

Performance

The Rio makes the most of its average performance by teaming it with exceptional gas mileage.

The Kia Rio's performance envelope doesn't stretch too far in the direction its Euro-themed shapes might suggest, but it's no longer a sluggish or listless performer. Its small-displacement four-cylinder's eager to rev, gets excellent fuel economy, and its handling makes the most substantial improvements of all.

The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that powers the Rio is also found in the similar Hyundai Accent, and here too, it's rated at 138 horsepower. With direct fuel injection, it's happy to rev smoothly around its powerband--and it's important to be nice when it takes almost 10 seconds to accelerate the Rio to 60 mph, no matter whether the front-driver's equipped with the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Throughout its rev range, the engine's mostly muted and doesn't have much vibration associated with high engine speeds, though there's some ticking generated by the direct injection that could use a damper of its own.

Kia says only a handful of buyers opt for the manual transmission, which we've spent only very limited time with. The automatic transmission in four different Rios we've driven has been the same--it has no performance shift modes or paddle controls, just well-spaced gears and smooth, quick shifts to make the most of the available torque and to help turn in excellent fuel economy.

Ride and handling hardly compare with the old Rio. We're still bigger fans of the Sonic's cheerful scrabble under turbo power, and the Fiesta's electric steering leads in tuning, but the Rio acquits itself better than any small Kia has, and mostly above the mean for such a short-wheelbase car with a basic strut and torsion-beam suspension. On fairly smooth roads the Rio rides comfortably, with little of the bounding and crashing that truly small cars used to count among their worst traits. The steering loads up on weight quickly, with the usual electric-steering lack of feedback. The feeling of continuity between those two systems is what works best, even with the slight uptick in heft in the more sporty Rio SX.

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2013 Kia Rio

Comfort & Quality

It's not quite as large as the similar Hyundai Accent, but the Kia Rio is bigger than some subcompacts.

The Rio stacks up against other subcompacts by carving a niche in the very middle of the segment. While the related Hyundai Accent and Honda's Fit venture close to compact-class interiors, as does the Nissan Versa hatchback, the Rio keeps its interior volume at 88 cubic feet, some of it shaved down versus the Accent due to its more sloped roofline.

By the numbers, the Rio sports a 101.2-inch wheelbase, has an overall length of about 160 inches, and offers up a cargo area of 15 cubic feet (or 13.7 cubic feet, for trunked sedan models). It's significantly larger than the previous model.

The Rio's front seats have good, long bottom cushions and great, long seat travel, putting a good foot forward for solo drivers or pairs of adults. Sporty SX models have more seat bolstering, and we wouldn't mind that applied to the base cars, either.

The Rio's back seat is more confined than in the Fit, with no adult-sized knee or head room to spare; its Accent cousin does a better job of providing space for four. It's the same story in luggage room, too, where the Rio's nicely squared-off cargo hold nonetheless leaves the right kind of space for roll-on bags and Costco boxes.

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2013 Kia Rio

Safety

Safety scores are good, and the Rio has options for a rearview camera and Bluetooth.

The 2013 Kia Rio doesn't have a complete set of safety scores under its belt--still, after a full year on sale. However, in those reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Rio can show improvement over the past--with a caveat. The NHTSA gives the latest Rio a four-star rating overall, but notes more door intrusion than it normally sees in its testing, something it also noted with the Ford Fiesta.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), meanwhile, has not yet crash-tested the new Rio. We'll update this rating as soon as official data is released.

Otherwise, the Rio improves its protection for passengers with more standard and optional safety gear. The usual dual front, side, and curtain airbags are standard, as are anti-lock brakes and stability control, as well as hill-start assist.

Bluetooth is available, and also a feature we recommend for safer driving. A rearview camera is an option--and recommended, since the five-door Rio has some notable blind spots at the rear pillars.

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2013 Kia Rio

Features

Leather seats and a navigation system are options on the Rio, one of the top subcompacts for upscale features.

One of the reasons we're so keen on the latest Rio and Hyundai Accent is the heavy dose of standard equipment offered on even the base editions.

All Kia Rio sedans and hatchbacks have a base price of less than $15,000--including destination charges--and that base price includes air conditioning; a USB port; and an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio. Hatchbacks get a rear spoiler standard, as well as 15-inch wheels; tilt steering; steering-wheel audio controls; and split-folding rear seats.

The automatic is a $1200 option on either Rio LX; the manual is only offered on LXs. The Rio EX five-door gets more standard features, including tilt/telescoping steering; power windows, locks and mirrors; Bluetooth; and cruise control.

The sporty Rio SX, which is offered in either body style, comes with its own package of features. They include 17-inch wheels; sport suspension tuning; larger front brakes; LED taillamp and headlamp accents; fog lamps; and power-folding heated side mirrors.

The SX model is the only version to come standard with Kia UVO, a version of the Microsoft-powered voice controls sold by Ford as SYNC. Kia's flavor of this technology has fewer available voice commands for phone and audio.

Major options include UVO on EX models; a navigation system that replaces the UVO system on SX models; pushbutton start on the SX; and also on the SX, leather seats, a sunroof, and front seat heating.

All models have Kia's five-year, 60,000-mile limited warranty.

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2013 Kia Rio

Fuel Economy

Stop-start arrives for the 2013 model year and lifts the Rio's city fuel economy by one mile per gallon.

With direct injection on a small-displacement four-cylinder engine and lightweight bodies, the 2013 Kia Rio gets reasonably good--albeit not class-leading--fuel economy.

The 2012-2013 Kia Rio is one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 30/40 mpg and 33 mpg combined (34-mpg combined with the manual) to the EPA, which allows automakers to self-certify fuel economy. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Rio's actual tested fuel economy to be 28/36 mpg (31 combined) with the automatic transmission or 29/37 (32 combined) with the manual transmission. The 2013 Rio Eco model was also downgraded, from an original 31/40 mpg (34 combined) to 30/36 mpg (32 combined). Owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.

This year, Kia's introducing a stop/start system that shuts off the Rio's engine at longer pauses and stoplights. At first due in the 2012 model year, it's now being offered on 2013 Rios. And considering that EPA adjustment, it now adds 2 mpg to the EPA automatic-transmission city rating--at 30 mpg city, 36 highway.

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December 12, 2015
2013 Kia Rio 4-Door Sedan Automatic EX

Great little car for the price

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The 2013 Kis rio is a great little car. It has all the option of a big car.
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October 24, 2015
2013 Kia Rio 5-Door HB Automatic LX

This has all the features of a luxury car and I only paid 13500 for it at

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I would definitely recommend this to a friend and am very pleased with my purchase
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September 9, 2015
2013 Kia Rio 4-Door Sedan Automatic LX

Good little car but poor exterior finish. It rusts in less than 2 years.

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Rust appeared on rain gutters discharge by rearview windon and inside the trunk water channels. This was spotted after roughly 19 months.
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April 14, 2015
For 2013 Kia Rio

Awesome Little Car!

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I've had my car for 2 years now and I absolutely love it! Its a stylish car for the size and has the best power in it's class, even if it still isn't a lot. Tons of features as well. My favourite features are... + More »
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Styling 8.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 8.0
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