- Sharp, Euro-styled exterior
- On-point cabin
- Smooth drivetrain
- Features for the money
- Tight cabin
- Small back seat
- Adequate, but not quick
- Steering feel -- or lack thereof
The 2014 Kia Rio holds its own in a tough class of smart, efficient subcompacts -- and pulls ahead of the pack if value and style are top priorities.
The 2014 Kia Rio has never been among the top-selling subcompacts, but there are fewer and fewer reasons it shouldn't be. The latest iteration offers crisp, stylish European design; a point-perfect interior that's clean, functional, and far above economy-car standards; and agreeable, fuel-efficient powertrains. If we had to pick a single reason to put the Rio on the shopping list for budget-priced small cars, though, it'd be the snappy exterior styling.
For sure, the Rio five-door hatchback has more swagger than the four-door sedan--but the sedan isn't homely, and that's saying something among subcompacts. As good as it gets outside, the Rio's interior seems even better: some throwback details look to the best of the 1980s econoboxes, down to the toggle switches for climate controls, but but it's all better in both form and function, with some versions including a big LCD touch screen.
The 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter in-line direct-injection four-cylinder engine, which is indeed the same engine as in the similar Hyundai Accent, powers the Rio with just enough gusto. It revs smoothly up its powerband and is mostly muted, and you'll find either the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic to be an equally good ways to manage how the power gets to the wheels. Overall, the Rio stays very composed when driven either gently or at whatever the engine can deliver. It handles remarkably well for a small, inexpensive hatchback with a basic strut and torsion-beam suspension and a short wheelbase.
The interior is a little tighter on space than other subcompacts, but pleasing trims and materials and reasonably good cabin refinement keep it more cheerful than the other choices. 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 in the trunk, for sedan models). Good front seats, with relatively long bottom cushions cushions for the class and long seat travel should help bring enough comfort for the commute. The sporty Rio SX models get more seat bolstering--and it's mild enough here where no one's really going to object to the addition. In back, it's definitely more confining than in the Honda Fit, or even the Versa Note; with the front seats near the back of their travel (for an average-to-taller driver) you won't have any rear knee or foot space to space in back; and headroom is on the tight side.
In safety, the 2014 Rio isn't all cheers, but it looks squarely middle-of-the-road compared to other models in this class, when considering the crash-test ratings it's been given, and its level of standard equipment. It's a four-star performer in federal testing, and the usual dual front, side, and curtain airbags are standard, as are anti-lock brakes and stability control, as well as hill-start assist. A rearview camera is an option--and also recommended, since the five-door Rio has some notable blind spots at the rear pillars.
Even in its base editions, the 2014 Kia Rio offers a lot of features for the money. Base Rio LX sedans and hatchbacks start at around $15,000 and include air conditioning, a USB port, and satellite radio. On hatchbacks you also get 15-inch wheels, a rear spoiler standard, tilt steering, steering-wheel audio controls, and split-folding rear seatbacks. Features included in the sporty Rio SX versions include 17-inch wheels, sport suspension tuning, larger front brakes, fog lamps, and power-folding heated side mirrors, and LED taillamp and headlamp accents; options on the SX include a navigation system (that replaces the UVO system), pushbutton start, leather seats, heated front seats, and a sunroof.