- Crisp European lines
- High-quality cabin
- Powertrain smoothness
- High feature content
- Among smallest subcompacts
- Back seat quite cramped
- Power sufficient, hardly zippy
- No steering feel to speak of
The 2016 Kia Rio is starting to fall behind, though an attractive design and good feature content offset its cramped rear seat and only adequate safety ratings.
The 2016 Kia Rio offers crisp, stylish European design; a cleanly styled, feature-packed interior; and an agreeable, fuel-efficient engine. But the Honda Fit, new last year, offers far more interior room and better packaging, the Chevy Sonic has a smoother ride and is more comfortable, and the Ford Fiesta is simply more fun to drive. The Rio is also now somewhat behind on safety ratings as the tests get tougher every few model years.
The Rio is now in its fifth year on the market, and this year it's facing twin hurdles: low U.S. gas prices and steadily improving competition in the subcompact segment. The Rio has never done quite as well as Kia's larger models, but the Korean carmaker is trying to keep it fresh with some mild updates this year—including revised front styling and some interior trim-material upgrades.
Still, we continue to like the Rio design that was launched as both a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback for the 2012 model year. Both Rios have tidy dimensions and rakish bodies. We applaud the sedan's stylists for avoiding the odd tall-trunk look of competitors like the Ford Fiesta, although the five-door definitely has more swagger than the sedan—and a new front end design updates the Rio to the same corporate Kia identity as the larger Soul and Optima.
Inside, the materials convey a premium feel despite some throwback details like toggle switches for the climate control system. A large touchscreen display is included on high-end models, and for 2016, Kia has added satin-finish bezels around the air vents—which we like—and a new piano-black center console around ancillary controls and the audio system—which we don't like. Kia also added additional noise-suppression foam to various structural members to soothe cabin noise.
Kia offers only a single engine in the 2016 Rio, a 138-horsepower 1.6-liter inline-4. The Rio sedan has a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard, with an optional 6-speed automatic, while this year the hatchback is offered only with the automatic. The engine revs smoothly up its power band and is mostly muted while moving the Rio along with just enough gusto when driven aggressively. The Rio handles remarkably well for a small, inexpensive economy car with a basic strut and torsion-beam suspension and a short wheelbase, though we'd like a bit more feedback from the steering. The car stays composed no matter how you choose to drive it.
Inside, the 2016 Rio is now on the small side even for this small segment. Good front seats, with relatively long bottom cushions for the class and a lot of rearward seat travel, should make for a comfortable commute for one or two people. 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, though, the seat is more confining than those of the Honda Fit and Versa Note. When the front seats are near the back of their travel, required for an average-to-taller driver, there's precious little rear knee or foot space in back. Rear-seat head room is on the tight side too. The cargo area in the Rio hatchback is rated at 15 cubic feet (or 13.7 cubic feet in the trunk of the sedan).
Safety is an issue, however. The 2016 Rio is at best middle-of-the-road when compared to the crash-test ratings of newer entries, like the Honda Fit, or heavily revised models, like the Ford Fiesta. 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 IIHS. Its side-impact score is "Acceptable," one notch below the top rating, but we're concerned with its "Marginal" rating on the new small-offset front crash test. That's only one step above the worst rating, and various competitors have done better. Hill-start assist is optional, and so is a rearview camera—and we recommend it, since the five-door Rio has some major and noticeable blind spots at the rear pillars.
The 2016 Kia Rio has an impressive list of features for its price. Even base Rio LX models 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 seat backs. The middle trim level, the Rio EX, adds cruise control with steering-wheel mounted controls, power windows with driver’s one-touch auto-up/down control, remote keyless entry with trunk release and a tilt/telescope steering column.
For 2016, Kia offers two options packages on the EX: the Eco Package, with not only the start-stop system but also an updated UVO telematics system with integrated backup camera; and the new Appearance and Designer package, with a two-tone interior treatment featuring black cloth with gray leatherette trim and gray contrast stitching.
Step up to the top-of-the-line Rio SX, and you'll get 17-inch wheels, sport suspension tuning, larger front brakes, power-folding heated side mirrors, fog lamps, and LED taillights and headlamp accents; options on the SX include a navigation system (that replaces the UVO system), keyless ignition, leather seats, heated front seats, and a sunroof.
Fuel economy, one of the reasons for buying a subcompact car, is only average. Both powertrains are rated at 31 mpg combined, with variations in their city and highway ratings, and the Rio Eco model oddly carries the same rating, with a 1-mpg bump in the city rating only. 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 for those whose driving involves lots of stop-and-go traffic.
2016 Kia Rio
The 2016 Kia Rio has clean, almost European lines and a pleasantly coordinated interior.
The 2016 Kia Rio is now a five-year-old design, and it wears its age well. Formerly known for bland, rounded shapes, Kia has tossed out its generic look since the arrival of design director Peter Schreyer a few years ago. Now its cars, the Rio included, are crisp and well-proportioned. They look influenced collectively by everything that does well on the Continent, and the Rio too has an obvious European influence from Schreyer's hand.
Of the pair of Rio body styles, the five-door hatchback stands out as the more cohesive design. But while the sedan seems a bit tall and proportionally challenged, as is often the case with four-door subcompacts, it does a far better job of making the the shape work in such an abbreviated length than do cars like the Ford Fiesta four-door. On either body, the neat contrasting grille, swept-back headlights, and rounded rear end call out to classic hot-hatch lines without getting too carried away. The Rio has a rakish visual stance thanks to angled creases in its body sides.
A slightly restyled front end and changes to the lights front and rear will really only be noticed by Kia aficionados, but they do distinguish this year's model from its aging brethren. The designers have also given the Rio two new colors: Urban Blue and Digital Yellow.
Interior materials convey a premium feel despite some throwback details, including toggle switches for the climate control system. A large touchscreen display is included on high-end models, and for 2016, Kia has added satin-finish bezels around the air vents (which we like) and a new piano-black center console around ancillary controls and the audio system (which we don't). Honestly, we've been tired of piano black trim for a while now. Kia has also added more noise-suppression foam to various structural members this year to soothe cabin noise.
2016 Kia Rio
The 2016 Kia Rio gets points for relatively smooth powertrains, but they're what you'd expect in a small car.
The 2016 Kia Rio has looks that may evoke a European hot hatch, but its powertrain doesn't deliver anything like that promise. It's not painfully slow, but it won't be setting records for acceleration either.
Only one engine is offered, a 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter direct-injection inline-4. It revs smoothly up its power band and is mostly muted, and you'll find either the 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic to be a good way to manage how the power gets to the front wheels. For 2016, by the way, a manual gearbox is no longer offered on the Rio hatchback, just on the sedan. Either transmission delivers relatively slow acceleration times—about 10 seconds from rest to 60 mph.
The automatic has no performance shift mode, but its gears are well-spaced. An "Active Eco" button is optional on the base trim and standard on all other Rios; when pressed, it softens the throttle response, and on automatic models it changes shift timing for improved efficiency.
As for on-the-road handling, the little Rio stays 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. In fact, it's on the numb side of average. And the Rio has none of the Chevy Sonic's eager scrabble, though it handles pretty well for a small, inexpensive hatchback with a short wheelbase and basic strut and torsion-beam suspension.
The ride is comfortable, without the bobbing, bouncy, harsh aspects of small-car ride quality. The top-of-the-line Rio SX models add a little more steering heft, to befit their "sportier" character (which is largely in appearance), and are perhaps slightly harder riding due to lower-profile tires one larger wheels. The sacrifice in ride quality is minimal compared to other, larger SX models in the Kia lineup, where the engineers seem to have substituted "rough" for "sporty."
2016 Kia Rio
Comfort & Quality
The 2016 Kia Rio is nicely appointed, but that doesn't make up for a cramped cabin.
The 2016 Kia Rio has less interior space than a number of its subcompact competitors—especially the Honda Fit hatchback and the Nissan Versa sedan, which are the giants of the segment. The Rio has a sloped roofline, which puts it just behind its sibling the Hyundai Accent in overall interior space. If you're after cargo versatility, the Honda Fit is still a far more flexible pick, but compared to some other small cars, including the equally small Ford Fiesta, 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. But in the back seat, with the front seats near the back of their travel (for an average-to-taller driver), there's very little rear knee or foot space to speak of, and head room is on the tight side too.
The Rio hatchback offers up a cargo area of 15 cubic feet, whereas the sedan has 13.7 cubic feet of trunk space. Overall, cargo space is no better than you'd expect of a subcompact—although big boxes and travel bags will fit within the nicely squared-off cargo hold or the sedan's sizable trunk.
For 2016, Kia has added additional sound-deadening foam to some structural members, to quiet the cabin. The interior materials are soft where needed, and made of harder plastic where occupants aren't likely to touch them. The material design and assortment doesn't get too crazy, which is a welcome change from certain small cars that are obviously targeting the youth market by laying on a thick layer of infotainment that gets in the way of basic functions.
2016 Kia Rio
The 2016 Kia Rio has respectable, if not top-notch, safety scores and an available rear-vision camera.
The 2016 Kia Rio is hardly at the head of the class for safety, and it's rapidly moving toward the less-impressive end of the scale. That applies both to its safety ratings and the standard and optional equipment offered on the lineup.
The IIHS gives the Rio the top "Good" ratings for moderate frontal impact protection, roof strength, and rear impact. Its side-impact gets just an "Acceptable" score, and the real concern is the new small-overlap front collisions. There, the IIHS rates the Rio as "Marginal," just one step above its lowest rating. Several new or updated subcompacts do considerably better on that latest test, by the way.
As for federal regulators, they give the Rio a four-star rating overall, with four and five stars in frontal and side impact testing, respectively, and a four-star rollover rating. But there, too, the federal testing includes a few cautionary notes. During side impact testing, the NHTSA noted intrusion at the area of the left rear door, and the interior door panel actually struck the torso of the rear passenger dummy—at a level of force that it says could have resulted in thoracic injury.
As for safety equipment, the usual list is present: dual front, side, and side-curtain airbags are standard, as are anti-lock brakes and stability control, plus a hill-start assist function. Bluetooth pairing is available, and a feature we recommend for safer driving. A rearview camera is optional, and also a part of the Eco package for the Rio EX model this year. It's recommended too, because the five-door Rio has some notable blind spots at the rear pillars.
2016 Kia Rio
The 2016 Kia Rio offers a high feature level for a subcompact, including full navigation and leather seats.
One of the 2016 Kia Rio's strong suits is the features it offers for the money, even in its base Rio LX configuration. That trim level includes air conditioning, a USB port, and even satellite radio. On hatchbacks you also get 15-inch wheels, tilt steering, steering-wheel audio controls, split-folding rear seat backs, and a standard rear spoiler. The sole option on the base LX is a Power package that adds power windows and locks, as well as a keyless entry.
If you want a manual gearbox, by the way, you'll have to stick with the base LX—and this year it's only available on the sedan. All Rio hatchbacks are now automatic only, one of several ways in which the Rio configurations are more limited than some buyers may want. The automatic adds $1,240 to the cost of the Rio LX sedan.
The mid-level Rio EX models add 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, and for 2016, it now includes the rearview camera that's also a separate option. New for 2016 is an Appearance and Designer package, which jazzes up the cabin with a two-tone interior treatment that features black cloth with gray leatherette trim and gray contrast stitching.
At the top of the range, the (theoretically) sportier 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 taillight and headlamp accents. Kia's UVO infotainment setup, a Microsoft-powered system with voice controls for phone and audio, is standard on the SX and optional on the EX.
Options on the SX include a navigation system (which replaces the UVO system), as well as a $2,500 Premium package that bundles keyless ignition, leather upholstery, heated front seats, and a sunroof.
2016 Kia Rio
The 2016 Kia Rio delivers adequate but hardly stellar fuel economy at a time when efficiency is rising across the board.
As fuel-economy rules continue to tighten, the 2016 Kia Rio is slipping behind in its segment, which is now led by the 36-mpg combined rating for the Honda Fit. By comparison, the Rio can only manage 31 mpg combined from either the manual (27 mpg city, 38 highway) that's now available only on the sedan, or the 6-speed automatic (27 city, 37 highway). There's an Eco model in the EX grade, but its improvements are hardly noticeable: 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 31 combined with a 6-speed automatic.
The ratings that came with the car in 2012 were higher, but Kia reduced them after an investigation into testing issues with a number of Kia and Hyundai models.
The Eco package offered on the Rio EX adds stop-start technology that will automatically turn the engine off at some stoplights to save fuel that would otherwise be wasted at idle. It automatically restarts as soon as you start to release the brake pedal. Also included in the package are low-rolling resistance tires, a few aerodynamic improvements, and new for 2016, the rear-vision camera as well.
The Eco package doesn't do much for EPA ratings, but it may be helpful for drivers who habitually encounter a lot of stop-and-go traffic.