- 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 2015 Kia Rio is at least competitive among small cars if not the class leader, offering attractive design, plenty of features, and decent value.
The Kia Rio has tough competition in the low-priced subcompact category, and its sales haven't quite been the success Kia's larger models have seen in the States..
The Rio doesn't have any obvious flaws or omissions, although there are definitely areas, like safety, where it could do better. While the latest iteration offers crisp, stylish European design; a cleanly styled, feature-packed interior; and an agreeable, fuel-efficient engine; there are also simply models that pull off better packaging (Honda Fit), driving enjoyment (Ford Fiesta), or ride and comfort (Chevrolet Sonic).
But we do think that the Kia at least wins on exterior styling. The 2015 Rio is offered in two body styles—a four-door sedan and a five-door hatch. The Rio five-door definitely has more swagger than the sedan, but the sedan isn't homely, which is saying something among subcompacts. Both Rios have tidy dimensions and rakish bodies. The sedan avoids the odd tall trunk look of competitors like the Ford Fiesta, while the hatch has a sportier front end than its sibling. As good as it looks 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, and everything receiving a premium look that's only now becoming a consideration in other small cars.
The 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine is the only available engine. It's also the same one that's used in the Hyundai Accent that shares a chassis with the little Kia and here as there it 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 a good way to manage how the power gets to the front 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, although we would appreciate some more feedback from the steering.
The 2015 Kia 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). 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. Good front seats, with relatively long bottom 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--it's mild enough that 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 in back; and headroom is on the tight side.
The 2015 Rio isn't all cheers when it comes to safety, however. It's middle-of-the-road at best when compared to the crash-test ratings of other models in this class, and the same goes for its level of safety equipment. The Rio receives four stars in federal crash testing, with a caveat on its otherwise good side-impact score, and it does a bit worse in tests run by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 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 2015 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, 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, 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.
The Rio returns decent fuel economy, with both the manual and automatic rated by the EPA at 27 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway. If you add the optional Eco pack, it raises the city fuel economy by one mpg but leaves the highway figure alone. The Eco model adds an engine stop-start function, which has little effect on the EPA's city cycle but likely would improve real-world fuel economy noticeably, especially for those who sit in traffic often.