European designers draw European-looking cars, and that's true with the Rio, more so in the five-door hatchback than the four-door sedan. The bland bubbly shapes of the past have dissolved into a wedgy look with lots of body sculpting behind the front wheels, Kia's new signature grille in front (chromed on sedans, blacked-out on hatchbacks) with large trailing headlights and a rounded rear end. The five-door is pert and clean and interesting for the first time in the nameplate'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.