2019 Kia Rio Review

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2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz
November 3, 2018

The 2019 Kia Rio gives used cars a run for their money with its great warranty, good ride, safety tech, and spacious interior.

The 2019 Kia Rio proves that simple is better when it comes to compact cars. This year, choosing a 2019 Rio is even simpler: Kia trimmed the Rio lineup in half, meaning color is the only thing most shoppers will need to pick.

The Rio earns 5.2 out of 10 on our scale for its bucks-up feel at a low price. This year’s slimmed-down lineup to LX and S trims doesn’t dilute its appeal since active safety tech is now available at a lower price than last year. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Available as a sedan or a hatchback, the Rio is offered with just one powertrain: a 130-horsepower 1.6-liter inline-4 paired to a 6-speed automatic. A 6-speed manual offered last year doesn’t return for 2019.

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A low curb weight keeps the Rio from feeling too sluggish with its modest power output and helps it achieve a reasonable 32 mpg combined according to the EPA. The automatic responds quickly, but considerable throttle is needed to keep up with fast-moving traffic. Quick, well-weighted steering helps the Rio feel surprisingly athletic for a small car, although its modest tires run out of steam when pressed. Its ride is firm and composed, more akin to the mid-size used cars the Rio is priced against.

Hatchback Rios are our favorites for their added utility, although they cost $300 more than sedans.

Regardless of body, the Rio’s spacious interior brushes away subcompact car blues with its comfortable front seats, enough room in the back for adults, and a well-made, quality feel. Standard infotainment on the Rio LX is nothing special, but the reasonably priced Rio S adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

An inexpensive option package adds automatic emergency braking and LED headlights that help the Rio earn a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS.

At around $18,000 equipped with the active safety gear we recommend, the Rio outshines nearly every other small car.

5

2019 Kia Rio

Styling

The 2019 Kia Rio cuts a stylish profile for a small car.

Channeling hints of its Stinger big brother, the 2019 Kia Rio is a cut above the small car norm.

We figure it’s about average when it comes to its looks against other cars, though, so it’s a 5 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The 2019 Rio is available as either a sedan or a hatchback. The two share a purposeful front end, with their wide front grille and swept-back headlights. From the side, the Rio sedan is conventional, while the hatchback’s long roof gives it a sportier flair. Both tail ends are tasteful and simple and look a few bucks above their reasonable prices of entry.

One caveat: no Rio can be had with alloy wheels this year, and that’s a shame. The standard hubcaps look fine but are prone to scraping, cracking, and even disappearing entirely over time.

Inside, the Rio has a simple dashboard design with some Audi inspiration to its wide look and trio of climate control knobs. Touchscreens for infotainment on both are mounted high like tablet computers festooned to the dash. Busy upholstery designs reveal some of the monotony from an interior that’s either black or gray, depending on the exterior. Only the unadorned door panels reveal the Rio’s low base price.

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4

2019 Kia Rio

Performance

Don’t look for the 2019 Kia Rio to thrill, but it has a composed ride and good handling for a small car.

The 2019 Kia Rio doesn’t try to be more than what it is: a basic, comfortable commuter car. Its honesty is refreshing, and for that it gets a 4 out of 10, with a point lost for its modest acceleration. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Under the 2019 Rio’s hood sits a 1.6-liter inline-4 rated at 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque, figures up to moving its roughly 2,700-pound curb weight adequately. The standard 6-speed automatic is up to the task, firing off reasonably quick shifts and doing its best to keep the engine from high RPMs where the relative lack of sound deadening becomes apparent. Around town, the Rio has plenty of scoot between traffic lights, but it struggles to keep up at highway speeds on hilly roads.

We like the way the Rio rides on its standard 15-inch alloy wheels, which take bumps in stride. It’s softer and more composed than the Hyundai Accent with its available 17-inchers that sacrifice imperfection-absorbing sidewall rubber in the name of vanity.

The Rio’s thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel is cribbed from sportier Kias and it feels good to hold. Road feel is nonexistent, but the Rio’s steering is well-weighted and precise. On a winding road at modest speeds, the Rio is composed and confidence-inspiring. Turn things up and its narrow tires reveal their modest, fuel economy-oriented intentions with considerable squeal.

Rios brake well, but the lack of rear disc brakes is a clear cost-cutting move.

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5

2019 Kia Rio

Comfort & Quality

The 2019 Kia Rio uses its small footprint well.

Small cars that can squeeze into tight parking spots usually don’t have much space inside for passengers and their gear.

Not the 2019 Kia Rio.

We rate it 5 out of 10, a perfectly average score that’s unusual for small cars that cost less than $20,000. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Rio’s seats are covered in tough, hard-wearing fabric—don’t look for leather or seat heaters here. They’re manually adjusted up front and are shaped for a wide range of bodies.

Rear-seat space for passengers is very good for a small car, although three abreast is wishful thinking.

The Rio rates above average when it comes to small item storage inside. Deep door pockets and plenty of space for larger smartphones in the center console near the standard USB port await loose change and other objects..

We prefer the Rio hatchback with its cargo bay that grows from 17.4 cubic feet to nearly 33 cubes with the rear seat folded. The sedan’s trunk holds about 13 cubic feet of cargo, which isn’t bad for a small car.

Though the Rio lacks soft-touch trim inside, its interior has a pleasant, low-sheen look with consistent graining across the dash, doors, and center console. Its unadorned door panels and the lack of bright accents reveal its low price, but they’re fair tradeoffs for space inside.

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6

2019 Kia Rio

Safety

In what crash tests have been performed, the 2019 Kia Rio has performed very well.

We don’t have a full set of government crash test scores for the 2019 Kia Rio, but it aced a barrage of independent evaluations.

For now, the 2019 Rio rates 6 out of 10 with a point above average for its Top Safety Pick+ score from the IIHS. A five-star rating from the NHTSA would elevate it to a 7 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

That award applies to Rios with the extra-cost Technology Package, an $800 option on Rio S trims that includes automatic emergency braking and LED headlights. While that’s a reasonable price for that safety gear, it’s worth noting that the Toyota Yaris comes standard with those features.

The Rio lacks the most advanced gear, so don’t look for active lane control or adaptive cruise control.

Otherwise, the Rio includes expected safety gear such as airbags and anti-lock brakes on every trim level.

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5

2019 Kia Rio

Features

The 2019 Kia Rio is priced right, but there’s not much customizability potential in its small lineup.

With its lineup pared to just three configurations and a single option package, the 2019 Kia Rio is short on personalization potential. That’s a shame for buyers who might want more luxuries, such as the leather seats offered last year, but it should make finding one on a dealer lot easy.

We rate the Rio at 5 out of 10, with a point dialed back for its limited trim lineup but one point added for its extensive warranty. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The base Rio LX—a sedan-only trim level—is outfitted with the basics and not much more. A 5.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Bluetooth and a USB port, a rearview camera, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, power windows and locks, and heated exterior mirrors are the highlights. That’s not much, but the Rio LX costs about $16,200 and it includes a 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty augmented by 10-year, 100,000-mile coverage for its engine and transmission.

Stepping up to the sedan or hatchback Rio S ups the price by just $800 and is worthwhile in our eyes not just for the 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, keyless entry, cruise control, and split-folding rear seat, but also for what can be added. The Rio S can be upgraded with an $800 package that includes forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, LED headlights, and a 3.5-inch display in the instrument cluster.

That’s money well spent, and it results in a $17,800 sedan or an $18,100 hatchback.

The larger touchscreen for infotainment is worthwhile for its smartphone compatibility alone, but even its native software works well and includes smartphone app-based features such as remote start and diagnostics.

We’d like to see alloy wheels make an appearance on the Rio again. They were optional last year but were dropped for 2019. Not only do they look better than hubcaps right out of the showroom, but they also hold up better over time.

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6

2019 Kia Rio

Fuel Economy

The 2019 Kia Rio is thrifty, but its engine works hard to deliver a balance between performance and fuel economy.

If using the least amount of fuel is your goal, the 2019 Kia Rio won’t impress. Its 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 32 combined figures are good—but some larger cars do better.

We rate it a 6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Rio’s small engine works hard to keep it moving, which means it uses more fuel than some larger but more powerful cars with comparatively relaxed engines.

Even some other subcompacts earn better numbers—36 mpg combined for the Honda Fit and 34 mpg combined for the Nissan Versa.

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5.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 5
Performance 4
Comfort & Quality 5
Safety 6
Features 5
Fuel Economy 6
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2019 Kia Rio Pricing Insights

  • 2018 and 2019 Rio is in stock
  • Incentive: Up to $1,000 customer cash
  • Finance: 0% APR for 60 months on 2018s
  • Lease: No current advertised offers
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