- Responsive, sharp upgraded touchscreen
- More responsive at low speeds
- Quieter cabin
- Composed ride compared to outgoing model
- Cleaner lines, especially on hatchback
- Pricey for its class
- Base version isn’t well-equipped
- Tapped and sapped at highway speeds
- Conservative style
New-car buyers seeking the comforts of a factory warranty can be limited in budget picks. The 2018 Kia Rio does many little things right for not a lot of cash.
Getting the little things right in a small car is a big deal. The 2018 Kia Rio is new this year and improves on the outgoing model in numerous small ways.
The power, which comes from a frugal-first 1.6-liter inline-4, is delivered in a more immediate way, belying its budget-minded mission. The Rio’s nose is a little taller this time around, rightfully sticking its schnoz up at used cars that may cost the same but don’t feature a factory warranty for five years or 60,000 miles.
Same goes for its new, responsive infotainment and a better hatch opening, and so on and so on. The 2018 Kia Rio earns a 5.4 on our overall scale, which is above average for new cars. Its final rating is awaiting a safety score—not typically a strong suit for small cars—so stay tuned. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The 2018 Kia Rio starts at $14,885 for a manual-equipped base model, which is thousands more than competitors. The Rio is offered in LX, S, and EX trims with little flexibility in options from those trims—in fact, there’s none.
Opting for the hatchback’s versatility adds $300 to the bottom line, and a 6-speed automatic is a $1,000 option on the base model only; it’s standard everywhere else.
For that much money, the Rio delivers modest good looks, made better through sharper creases in the sheet metal all around the car. The insides look best (good, because most owners see the car from the inside-out) with a lowered dash and a well-considered central touchscreen.
To our eyes, the hatch wears the new look best but it still suffers from chunky rear roof pillars that make changing lanes a challenge.
The Rio’s new engine is a 130-horsepower inline-4 that’s down on numbers from its predecessor, but up on drivability. It’s reasonably bright from stoplight to stoplight, with pleasant sounds and an eagerness to please. A 6-speed automatic is the likely partner for most Rio models sold, and it’s adequate, but sometimes indecisive.
Kia hasn’t outlined the cost for each trim of the Rio (it goes on sale sometime after October), but springing for the top models will be advisable. The EX trims get standard automatic emergency braking, an excellent 7.0-inch touchscreen, upgraded brakes, and better seats.
But around $18,000 for those models will be a big ask for such a little car.
2018 Kia Rio
Sleeker and a little sharper, the 2018 Kia Rio looks best as a hatch.
Pull out your protractor before starting with the 2018 Kia Rio. The compact sedan and hatch are new for this year and sharpen the dowdy lines found in the outgoing model, particularly up front.
Sharper lines don’t a good design make, so we’re forced to take away a point for the sedan’s frumpy proportions. (The hatch looks better, but it’ll likely be outsold 2 to 1, according to the automaker.) The news inside is better, so we give that point right back for a wash at 5 for style. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
On both body styles, Kia has opened up the lower front bumper for a more expressive face, although the exposed forward collision sensors on EX-trimmed cars make us wish they hadn’t. The grille is taller and more upright now, punctuated by the new tiger nose grille borrowed from the Niro. The headlights sit up higher on the wheels, but reach further back into the front fenders like a facelift gone awry.
The wheels have been pushed out toward the corners of the car, which look better on the hatchback model and cut down on the gangling overhangs from the outgoing car.
The rear end looks best on the hatch, we say, mostly because the quick drop from the roof doesn’t leave the same odd rear quarter blanked window that the sedan’s sloped shape leaves behind. Both sedan and hatchback carry a character line around back that turns the decklid of the sedan up slightly, or creases a line across the back window in the hatch.
Inside, Kia moved the instrument panel lower in the Rio and made it more upright. The center touchscreen sits front and center in the dashboard, but doesn’t look like an afterthought. It’s well-integrated, and on EX models with a 7.0-inch touchscreen may as well be an IMAX screen in the small car.
2018 Kia Rio
The Kia Rio does the best with the power it has, and that’s good enough.
The tale of the tape doesn’t tell the whole story with the 2018 Kia Rio.
On paper, the Rio is down on power with the same number of gears, and the same ride setup that earned the outgoing model a sub-standard score last year.
But this year each area has been improved, particularly the ride, which earns it a 5 out of 10 on our performance scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The suspension of the Kia Rio hasn’t changed from its struts up front and rear twist beam combo from last year, but the ride has been made more compliant by revised spring and damper settings that soak up more road imperfections. Those modified settings are helped with unambitious 15-inch wheels with plenty of sidewall give that are standard on every trim level.
The Rio still sports an unexciting 1.6-liter inline-4 that now makes 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque, which are down 8 hp and 4 lb-ft from the outgoing model. What it lost in straight specs it makes up for in real-world drivability thanks to a revised power delivery. The engine sports more lower-end grunt than the outgoing model, which helps the Rio feel brighter in stop-and-go traffic than its predecessor. It won’t win many drag races (or any of them), but its far more livable than the outgoing model. Tapping passing power between 60 and 80 mph will require a little advance planning and a little more shouting, but at least the Rio sounds willing to hit the mark—unlike other small-displacement units saddled with continuously variable automatic transmissions.
So far, our experience with the Kia Rio has been limited to the 6-speed automatic that was carried over from last year’s car. It performs admirably to keep the 1.6-liter inline-4 in its most efficient gallop, but the autobox suffers from some searching and indecision when it’s time to do something different. We stop short of taking away a point because the transmission’s behavior can be tempered by stabbing at the “Sport” button that holds gears for longer, but expect a resulting fuel economy hit.
A 6-speed manual is available on the Rio, but not common. It's limited to base models only and appears less often than Rick Moranis.
The Kia Rio EX comes equipped with four-wheel disc brakes, while less expensive models make do with drums in the rear. Regardless of setup the brakes feel confident, especially through the pedal, but the Rio’s stopping power is front-loaded, which helps explain the nosedive in panic stops.
Kia made significant improvements to the steering feel of the 2018 Rio, including a revised steering rack with more teeth to accurately point the small car in the intended direction—that’s good. But with a generous on-center spot for long highway tracking, and a light weight to the wheel (even by small car standards), those improvements are somewhat spoiled.
2018 Kia Rio
Comfort & Quality
The Kia Rio is quiet and comfortable for adults, which is an improvement over outgoing models.
Mission creep means featherweights like the Kia Rio now punch out of their class. By the EPA’s measuring tape, the Rio is a compact car (also true of its predecessor) that benefits from good packaging.
Adults can sit behind other adults, and even our 6-foot-3 editor could sit behind himself in the passenger seat and rear row. The seats are comfortable, albeit not very adjustable, and the Rio boasts some small-car storage tricks up its sleeves to do its best with the space. It gets a 5 for comfort, which is admirable for the class. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
By the numbers, the Kia Rio is lower, longer, and wider than the outgoing car, but not much of that translates into interior space. The new Rio is only 0.5 cubic feet larger inside than the outgoing model and sedans have identical cargo capacity (13.7 cubic feet) to the old model.
The Rio hatchback gets the lionshare of the new model updates, including a wider opening for the hatch that swallows 17.4 cubic feet of cargo with the seats up (2 cubes more than last year) or 32.8 cubic feet with the seats down.
The ride is made quieter through more use of adhesives in the chassis to quell nasty noises coming from the tires and roads, although an upgraded sound system in S and EX models can drum out all of the above.
Driver and front passenger will have the best seats in the Rio, although only the driver’s seat adjusts up and down. That could be a problem for shorter passengers looking for a place to rest their right elbows; the window line is deceptively tall, and the door armrest and center console armrest aren’t exactly ergonomic and may require a little horse trading with the driver to free up space.
The front seats are comfortable and thinly, but adequately, padded. Unsurprisingly, there’s no way to dial in lumbar support—a feature that many budget cars skip—much to the chagrin of T12 to L5 vertebrae.
The back row is a two-adult or three-intern affair. The seats are generally comfortable, but aren’t suited for long hauls.
A split-folding second row is standard on S and EX trims, but not available on the base model.
2018 Kia Rio
It’s not hard to improve over the last-generation’s scores, but the new Kia Rio opts out of some common-sense safety equipment.
Federal and independent testers haven’t tested the 2018 Kia Rio, which is new this year.
Until they do, we’re withholding our safety score. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
It should be noted that it won’t be hard to improve over the last-generation’s scores. That car’s budget roots were evident in ratings from federal regulators who noted an increased protrusion into the cabin in side-impact crashes. According to Kia, those scores should be improved for 2018 thanks to more high-strength steel in the Rio’s construction.
Even if it manages to ace its crash battery, the Kia Rio’s safety score will still suffer from some head-scratching decisions by the automaker.
A rearview camera is not standard on all models, flouting an upcoming federal mandate next year that all new cars will need one equipped. The Rio will go on sale for all of six months before it needs to comply with that law, so we’re unclear why Kia cheaped out for the beginning.
The Kia Rio will also skip advanced safety equipment in all but its top model, despite other automakers making it standard across the board. Only the top trim Kia Rio EX comes equipped with automatic emergency braking. Blind-spot monitors aren’t offered on any model despite chunky rear pillars (especially in the hatchback) that limit rear vision.
2018 Kia Rio
Buyers won’t be blown away by the 2018 Kia Rio’s content, but what’s there is good.
Cheap and decadent don’t usually appear together unless we’re talking about millionaire cookies, and then we’d ask you to pass the milk.
The 2018 Kia Rio is a small bite for budget buyers and doesn’t offer many top-end options like heated seats, leather, or surround-view camera systems. To be clear, the Rio doesn’t offer any options at all—pick a trim among LX, S, and EX, and be on your way.
The LX trim level is the entry point this year, and those cars are equipped with 15-inch wheels, cloth seats, manual windows, air conditioning, and an owner’s manual (probably). It skips Bluetooth, cruise control, and a rearview camera.
Other competitors do better, which is why we dock the Rio a point for basic supplies. The Rio lacks optional extras—or more specifically, doesn’t offer any to begin with—and loses another point there and another still for lack of features compared to its rivals. The news isn’t all bad: It gains one back for a good warranty, and another for a good infotainment system, even in the base model. We give it a 4 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The economics of small cars relegate the manual transmission to all but the base model, so if you’re looking to row your own gears, you’ll also need to row your own windows.
Stepping up to the mid-grade S trim level adds a rearview camera, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows, and a split-folding rear seat for more cargo capacity.
At the top, EX-trimmed Rios get an upgraded 7.0-inch touchscreen, rear disc brakes, 15-inch alloy wheels, a 3.5-inch information screen between instruments for drivers, uprated cloth upholstery, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
A limited few launch edition versions of the Rio will offer leather inserts into the seats.
Our test cars were equipped with the 7.0-inch version of Kia’s touchscreen fitted with its latest infotainment system, UVO 3. The system, which will make its way across multiple Kia models is remarkably slick with a natural swipe and response that outperforms many in its class. The system boasts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, which will be a selling point for many first-time buyers, but Kia’s operating system shouldn’t be overlooked: it’s very well done.
2018 Kia Rio
Four doors or five, two pedals or three, the Kia Rio’s fuel economy is simple: 32 mpg combined.
Regardless of transmission or body style, the 2018 Kia Rio is relatively fuel efficient. Of course, that it’s a small car with a smaller engine doesn’t hurt either.
Equipped with either a 6-speed manual or automatic, the EPA says the Rio dances to 32 mpg combined. That’s good enough for an 8 out of 10 for our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The only differences between the two transmissions are in the small details. Automatic-equipped cars, which will be far more common, are rated at 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 32 combined. Manual versions add just 1 mpg to that city figure.
Last year’s car had a much wider gulf between the two transmission selections, closed this year by a reworked engine that prioritizes power lower in the rev range so the manual’s gears aren’t as tall.
Among very small cars that the Rio competes against, the Kia fights like a heavyweight. The Honda Fit manages 36 mpg when equipped with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), and the Nissan Versa isn’t far behind at 34 mpg with a CVT. To do much better would require an attached battery pack like the Toyota Prius C, which generally comes with a higher price tag.