- Superb base price
- Better-than-expected interior
- Decent powertrain
- Good overall mileage
- Cramped interior
- Bad rear seat head room
- Poor safety record
- Bad option packaging
features & specs
The 2017 Kia Rio is a subcompact competitor that's falling behind the times. There are better cars out there for sure, but are there better deals?
The 2017 Kia Rio is a subcompact that appeals to buyers' wallets first, hearts second. It's an agreeable package that can be configured in hatchback or sedan form, but not without some compromises.
Base LX cars aren't places you'll want to be for long, while EX and SX (hatchback only) models are more suited for everyday buyers.
The Kia Rio earns a 4.7 out of 10 our overall scale. Its fuel economy and style are its highlights, safety and features are another story. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Styling and performance
The hatchback is the shape we admire most in the Kia Rio, but the sedan brings together the proportions better than other subcompact four-doors. We like the crisp lines and European attitude about the Rio, but we found that a stylish swooping roofline writes a bad check that rear seat passengers pay for in head room.
Inside, the Rio is wholly acceptable with some soft-touch surfaces and flair found in more expensive competitors. We prefer the confines of the Honda Fit above the Rio, but we wouldn't fault Kia designers for being lazy—effort is apparent.
Under the hood, the Kia makes do with a single engine choice mated to a 6-speed automatic or manual transmission. The 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-4 quietly works away in the background without interfering—or inspiring—in day-to-day drives. The autobox will be more commonplace, the manual is reserved for base LX sedan models only. In either configuration combined mileage hovers at around 30 mpg.
We've found that the steering isn't as nicely weighted as the Ford Fiesta—or as communicative—but the Rio performs as expected for its price. Our only demerit: The ride in the Rio can be jarring over less-than-ideal pavement.
Comfort, safety, and features
Comfort may not be the Kia's forte (see what we did there?) but it is functional. We prefer the hatch for its versatility, but either model can get the job done. Kia's packaging doesn't use the space as efficiently the Hyundai Accent or the Honda Fit, so either drive or call "shotgun" early and often when faced with the Rio.
The seats are bolstered properly and adjustable for most models, and the Rio received much needed sound deadening materials last year. It'll hold five adults, but please, make it quick.
The Kia Rio won't impress on its safety record, either. Federal testers gave it a four-star overall rating (out of five) and noted that rear seat passengers risk increased injury in side collisions. Put simply: there are more, safer cars on the road today.
The story for features isn't much better. Base cars are one of the few on the road today without power equipment (it can be added) and options include an "Eco" variant that adds start-stop to the engine, or a "Designer" package that throws in leather accents. Pick one, not both.
Don't ask for a sunroof or heated seats in the Kia Rio, they're just not in the cards at all.
One good note: The Kia Rio comes with a comprehensive 5-year/60,000-mile warranty that's better than most of its rivals.
2017 Kia Rio
The Kia Rio is short, sharp, and relatively handsome for a small subcompact.
Known for its bland, rounded shapes, Kia's effort in the Rio shows in crisper lines and better edges.
Like the Accent, we'll say it looks good on the outside and average on the inside. It gets a respectable 6 out of 10 on our style gauge. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Between the two body styles—hatchback or sedan—we say the five-door hatch wins out with the more cohesive shape. 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.
The cost for that better-looking shape comes in terms of a quickly plunging roofline that cuts into rear-seat head room. We wouldn't suggest putting many people in the back of the Rio for reasons beyond the head room, maybe find shorter friends?
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.
The interior materials have a premium touch, despite being in a budget subcompact. Favorable details such as toggle switches for climate controls caught our eye, but so too did the copious amounts of piano-black trim. Don't. Just, stop.
Two-tone treatments look relatively good in the Rio and top SX hatchback models wear the corporate 7.0-inch touchscreen so well that it looks like an IMAX screen in the dash. Well played.
2017 Kia Rio
The Kia Rio is perfectly adequate for daily use. Don't ask much more.
The 2017 Kia Rio doesn't make promises about its potential, so it's best to keep expectations tempered where the subcompact can match them.
Only one engine is available, a 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-4 with direct injection, that can be mated to a 6-speed manual or (more likely) a 6-speed automatic.
That's reasonably average for the class and average by our books too. The Rio's only performance shortcoming is a bumpy ride, which drops it one point below average for a 4 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The manual transmission is only available on base sedans, something we don't recommend performance-minded buyers consider unless they're looking to take hand-cranked windows to the max too.
The 6-speed autobox doesn't have a performance mode, but its gears are well spaced. An "Active Eco" button deads the gas pedal a little for improved efficiency, or if 0 to 60 mph in 10 seconds sounds just too brisk for you.
On the road, the Rio stays relatively composed, provided you're not making any extraordinary requests. 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.
Just like the Hyundai Accent, the ride can run close to harsh—especially on pitted roads ravaged by frost—that's usually true of short-wheelbase cars.
2017 Kia Rio
Comfort & Quality
A sloping roof and cramped interior quarters mean fitting five in the Kia Rio could be a challenge.
The 2017 Kia Rio has less space than some of its competitors, but still manages to carve out a relatively useful package from such a small wheelbase.
We give it a 4 out of 10 for comfort, deducting a point for seat comfort. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Despite having a wheelbase that's 2 inches longer than a Honda Fit, the Kia Rio hatchback has less interior room with 7 fewer cubic feet of space. It's nearly the same story when comparing the sedan versions of the Rio and Nissan Versa. The Versa is an inch longer between the wheels, but 3 cubic feet bigger in the cabin and one cube bigger in the trunk.
The Rio has a sloped roofline that cuts into rear head room, and puts it behind the related Hyundai Accent in overall interior space. All the news isn't bad: The Rio stacks up favorably to the Ford Fiesta in cramped interior quarters for five adults.
We say the view's better from the front anyway. The Rio has good front seats with relatively long bottom cushions for its class. Sporty SX models get more bolstering (although we're hard-pressed to notice a difference).
Last year, Kia 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.
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.
2017 Kia Rio
If you must, please keep the Kia Rio safely on the road at all times.
The 2017 Kia Rio isn't a class-leader in safety, and just like our lousy poker hands, the more we look at the numbers, the less they change.
Federal testers gave the Kia Rio a four-star overall score, with a special note that the left rear door could intrude further into a rear passenger in a side collision and increase risk for thoracic injury. The IIHS is just as mixed, with a combination of "Marginal," "Acceptable," and "Good" crash scores.
Those federal scores and note, coupled with the lack of a standard rearview camera, net a 2 out of 10 on our safety scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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.
2017 Kia Rio
Not particularly lavish in base trim, the Kia Rio claws back some ground with a stellar warranty.
The 2017 Kia Rio is virtually identical to last year's version right down to the final price, which makes it one of the most affordable new cars on the road today.
Base LX sedans start at just over $15,000, and upgrading to EX sedan—which are better equipped for daily use—adds more than $3,500 to the final price. Rio hatchbacks start at $16,345 for LX models, and step up to EX and SX trims, which can top more than $22,000.
Excuse our phrase, but the base Rio sedan is still a stripper: hand-crank windows, locks and a row-your-own 6-speed. Air conditioning is mercifully thrown in—even satellite radio—but the base cloth won't impress many.
For such a low entry price we weren't expecting the Taj Mahal, but we still have to say the base content is poor. As are the packages, which lump everything into large bins, including some features we wish were just a la carte. The Rio loses two points there, but steals one back in a good 5-year/60,0000-mile basic warranty that's above and beyond the norm. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
We'd suggest starting at EX models for livable confines. Those models are equipped with power windows, a 4.3-inch touchscreen for its infotainment with Bluetooth connectivity, upgraded cloth seats, 15-inch alloy wheels, and chrome surrounds for the grille.
From there, buyers can opt for an Eco package add-on ($600) or a Designer package add-on ($750), but not both.
The Eco package adds a rearview camera and stop-start fuel saving technology that may be more convenient for city drivers. (The EPA rates Eco models the same as regular models.)
The Designer package adds leather-trimmed cloth seats, contrast stitching, and a rearview camera.
Top-of-the-line SX models, which are only available in hatchback configuration, add a 7.0-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, keyless ignition, and a sport-tuned suspension.
If you're looking for standard a la carte options like heated seats or a moonroof, may we interest you in a warm jacket and a walk in the park instead?
2017 Kia Rio
The Kia Rio is more efficient than most other cars, but not as frugal as many in its class.
Compared to the universe of automobiles, the 2017 Kia Rio is fuel efficient. Compared to other subcompacts? Not so much.
According to the EPA, the Kia Rio sedan and hatchback manage 27 mpg city, 36 highway, 30 combined with a 6-speed automatic. We're basing our rating on those versions, which we anticipate will be the most popular pick for many buyers, and that's good enough for an 8 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Opting for the "Eco" version—which deletes exterior styling elements, swaps out alloys for steel wheels with covers, and removes the soft-touch dash cap—has a near negligible impact on fuel economy: 27/36/31 mpg. Rare base sedans with a manual transmission are rated the same.
Those numbers are well behind the leading pack for subcompact efficiency, which includes the Honda Fit (36 mpg combined) and 3-cylinder Ford Fiesta (35 mpg combined).