2015 Kia Rio Review

Consumer Reviews
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The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 23, 2015

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.

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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. 

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2015 Kia Rio

Styling

The Euro-look exterior and nicely coordinated cabin add up to a stylish small-car family.

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. That goes for the Rio, which gets an obvious European influence from Schreyer's hand.

We're happy with both Rio body styles, although the five-door hatchback stands out as a more cohesive design than the sedan. 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. There's a rakish visual stance thanks to angled creases in the body sides. We prefer the five-door's tighter grille and split lower air intakes, which give it a sportier look, not to mention its more practical interior layout. As for the sedan, it's a bit tall and proportionally challenged, as is generally the case with four-door subcompacts, but it does a better job of making the the shape work in such an abbreviated space than do cars like the Ford Fiesta four-door.

Inside, the Rio gets it right in most ways. The 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 finishes add up to a look that combine the glory days of Honda with European flair. The look is more premium than in many small cars, and the Rio's cabin avoids the disjointed look that is such an obvious grab for youth attention that it should look nice for years to come, no matter who's driving it.

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2015 Kia Rio

Performance

Powertrains are smooth and refined -- and performance for the 2015 Rio is about what you might expect it to be.

The Kia Rio isn't painfully slow, but it also doesn't quite deliver on the promise its Euro hot-hatch looks make. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, a car that won't set any records for acceleration.

A 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine is the only available engine. It's 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. The automatic has no performance shift mode, but its gears are well-spaced. With either transmission, you'll contend with relatively slow acceleration times—about ten seconds to 60 mph. An "active eco" button is optional on the base trim and standard on the rest; when pressed, it softens the throttle response, and on automatic models it changes shft timing for improved efficiency.

The Rio stays very composed when driven either gently or at whatever pace the engine can deliver. The steering isn't as nicely weighted or communicative as that of the Ford Fiesta, and there's none of the Chevy Sonic's cheerful scrabble, but it handles pretty well for a small, inexpensive hatchback with a basic strut and torsion-beam suspension and a short wheelbase.

In most models, the 2015 Rio rides comfortably, without the bobbing, bouncy, harsh aspects of small-car ride quality. Sportier (mostly in appearance) Rio SX models do add a little more steering heft and are perhaps slightly harder riding due to tires and wheels. But they don't make the big ride sacrifice that's usually a problem with Kia's SX models, where the engineers seem to have confused "rough" with "sporty."

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2015 Kia Rio

Comfort & Quality

Interior space is a weakness for the 2015 Kia Rio lineup, although it's nicely appointed inside.

The 2015 Kia Rio's cabin is a bit tighter than some of its competitors'. It is at least nicely trimmed, with a premium, grown-up choice of materials, avoiding the cost-cut look of some other small cars.

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). The Rio has a sloped roofline, which puts it just behind the related Hyundai Accent in overall interior space. If you're after cargo versatility, the Honda Fit is still a far better pick, but compared to most other small cars, the Rio is a competitive package.

The Rio has good front seats, with relatively long bottom cushions for the class, and long seat travel. 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 to space in back; and headroom is on the tight side.

Cargo space is also no better than you'd expect for a subcompact--although big-box boxes and travel bags do fit nicely within the squared-off cargo hold or the sedan's sizable trunk.

Cabin materials are soft where needed, and harder plastic where you aren't likely to touch them. The material design and assortment doesn't get too crazy, which is a welcome change from some of the small cars that are obviously and a little sadly going after the youth vote by laying it on pretty thick.

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2015 Kia Rio

Safety

Safety scores for the 2015 Kia Rio are respectable; and a rearview camera system is available.

The 2015 Kia Rio is somewhere in the middle of its class, or perhaps now toward the less-impressive end of the scale, when it comes to crash-test results. And the same goes for its standard and available safety features.

In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) testing, the Rio earns a four-star rating overall, with four and five stars in frontal and side impact testing, respectively, and a four-star rollover rating. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, it gets top 'good' ratings for moderate frontal impact protection, roof strength, and rear impact; an 'acceptable' score for side impact; and a 'marginal' score for small-overlap front collisions.

The federal testing does include a few cautionary notes. During side impact testing, the NHTSA noted intrusion at the left rear door, in which the interior door panel struck the torso of the rear passenger dummy--to a level at which it could have resulted in thoracic injury.

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

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2015 Kia Rio

Features

Small-car shoppers who want a lot of features should put the Rio on the shortlist, as you can get things like leather seats and a full navigation system.

The 2015 Kia Rio offers a lot of features for the money, even in its base configuration. Three models are offered: LX, EX, and the sporty SX.

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. If you want a manual gearbox, you'll have to stick with the base LX--one thing that some shoppers won't like about the limited ways you can get a Rio. The automatic is a $1,240 option on either Rio LX. A Power package is the only other option on the LX, adding power windows and locks as well as a keyless-entry remote.

In the middle of the lineup, the Rio EX five-door hatchback adds the automatic as standard equipment along with tilt/telescoping steering, cruise control, Bluetooth, and power windows, locks and mirrors. The Eco package and its "Idle Stop & Go" engine stop-start system is available only on the EX model. Options include 

The sporty SX model includes standard automatic headlights, a slightly different appearance, 17-inch wheels, sport suspension tuning, larger front brakes, fog lamps, power-folding heated side mirrors, a rearview camera, and LED taillamp and headlamp accents. The SX is the only version to come standard with Kia's UVO infotainment setup, in this case a Microsoft-powered system with voice controls for phone and audio. You can option up to that system on the EX as well. Options on the SX include a navigation system (that replaces the UVO system), as well as a $2,500 Premium package that bundles pushbutton start, leather upholstery, heated front seats, and a sunroof.

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2015 Kia Rio

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy numbers for the 2015 Kia Rio are good but not great.

The 2015 Kia Rio gets reasonably good fuel economy, thanks to direct injection technology in the engine, and the car's rather lightweight construction in general. But with 31-mpg combined scores in all configurations--and none hitting the 40-mpg highway mark--it's not a standout in the segment.

The Rio is rated at 27/37 mpg (31 combined) with either the six-speed manual or automatic transmission; fuel economy was reported higher when this generation first came out but has since been corrected by Kia.

The Rio EX is offered with in an Eco package, which includes ISG (Idle Stop and Go) technology that will automatically turn the engine off at some stoplights to save gasoline and automatically restart it when you lift off the brake. Also included in the package are low-rolling resistance tires and a few aerodynamic improvements. It only returns limited improvement in EPA testing—at 28/37 mpg, it bumps the city number up one but leaves the highway rating alone—although the EPA city test doesn't include much idling, so you could probably expect better results in real-world driving, especially f you sit in traffic for long stretches.

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March 18, 2015
For 2015 Kia Rio

Nice Looking Car

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Nice car.Has sporty looks. But dissapointing when you enter the rear seats. leg space is very low and rear seats are cramped as well.
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March 10, 2015
For 2015 Kia Rio

Performs much better than I expected.

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I always preferred subcompact cars for obvious reasons. I live in a countryside and a small car is the more sensible and more economical way to get to work or simply get around. I'm too busy and don't really... + More »
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Styling 8
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 7
Features 9
Fuel Economy 8
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