Like much of the current Kia lineup (except for the one-of-a-kind Soul), the 2014 Rio clearly draws its design inspiration from Europe, not Korea. Since the arrival of design director Peter Schreyer to the brand a few years ago, Kia has thrown away the bubbly, bland shapes and generic look of previous models, and pushed ahead with crisp, well-proportioned cars that look influenced collectively by everything that does well on the Continent.
The Rio is a great example of that--although the five-door hatchback stands out as a purer, better-conceived design than the five-door.
For either body style, the neat contrasting grille, swept-back headlights, and rounded rear end altogether call out to classic hot-hatch lines without getting too carried away. In an about-face from the brand's recent history, it's clean, perky, and very visually interesting. As for the sedan, it's a bit tall and proportionally challenged, as you might guess for a subcompact, but it does a better job of making the the shape work in such an abbreviated space.
Inside, the Rio gets it right in most ways. The cockpit's nicely finished dash hashes together 1980s econobox chic with airplane-style toggle switches, but it's refreshingly distinctive, sporty, and honest, in contrast to small-car interiors that make too much effort to mimick large-sedan or luxury cabins. A mid-size LCD screen, soft-touch panels on most trims, and simple, contrasting finished add up to a look that combined the glory days of Honda with a Euro twist.