2021 Kia Rio

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
January 14, 2021

Buying tip

The Rio’s Technology package comes only on the S model—and we consider it a must.

features & specs

33 city / 41 hwy
33 city / 41 hwy
Coming Soon

The 2021 Kia Rio feels bigger than its subcompact size, but skips some big-boy features.

What kind of car is the 2021 Kia Rio? What does it compare to?

The Rio’s a car in the most basic, dutiful sense. It’s a frugal sedan or hatchback with an excellent warranty and good infotainment but it needs to adopt standard automatic emergency braking. Cross-shop it with the Nissan Versa and Hyundai Accent.

Is the 2021 Kia Rio a good car?

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It drives well enough, and it’s a strong value once equipped with that vital safety technology. We give it a TCC Rating of 5.3 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What’s new for the 2021 Kia Rio?

A slightly refashioned front end joins an upgraded 8.0-touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment. 

The new front end doesn’t change the Rio’s anodyne appeal. It’s handsome in a generic way, with a clean and uncontroversial shape that pairs with like-minded looks inside. 

The Rio performs sans brio. It’s equipped with a 120-hp 4-cylinder and a CVT that would be unlikely to excite any driving passion even in a car weighing hundreds of pounds less. It’s competent and frugal, as it’s meant to be, and the Rio rides and steers well enough to please anyone who tasks it with commuter duty. 

Its 36-mpg combined EPA rating is likely all any shopper needs to justify its purchase, but the Rio has enough space to suit two adults and a couple of short-term, small-stature buddies. Hatchbacks sport far more cargo space, but two or three roll-aboard bags will fit, no matter who’s on board. 

The Rio only comes with automatic emergency braking when configured in the Rio S trim, and after spending more for an optional Technology package. That oversight aside, its outward vision is good, and crash-test scores are acceptable, though not award-winning.

The Rio is more spacious inside than its trim dimensions suggest, especially in Rio 5 hatchback guise for $17,615. Comfortable front seats and decent rear-seat room make it a viable option as a family car, too. Materials are durable, with a nice finish, and the standard cloth upholstery feels like it will stand up well to daily abuse. 

How much does the 2021 Kia Rio cost?

The best reasons to like the Rio are its value. Pass on the $17,045 Rio LX sedan and head directly to the Rio S, which has an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, keyless entry, a fold-down rear seat—and access to the Technology bundle, which includes LED headlights, automatic emergency braking, and active lane control. The 5-year/60,000-mile warranty? That’s standard on every Rio, no matter how much you pay.

Where is the 2021 Kia Rio made?

In South Korea.


2021 Kia Rio


Pert style keeps the Rio looking contemporary.

Is the 2021 Kia Rio a good-looking car?

Kia stripped the economy-car stereotype out of the Rio in this generation. It’s handsomely shaped with purposeful details—exactly what we want to see in a sub-$20,000 economy car. It’s a 5 here.

It’s a toss-up between hatchback and sedan body styles, but both Rios adopt a slightly different front end this year, with a slimmer grille and headlights that look more pinched and less pleasing than last year’s edition. Hatchbacks have a sporty stance missing from the sedan, which scales down a formal shape to subcompact proportions without any major miscues or flaws.

The Rio’s interior has a streamlined look, with a high-mounted 8.0-inch touchscreen and a welter of user-friendly toggles and control knobs. Choose between gray or black: the Rio doesn’t splash a lot of color inside its cockpit.

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2021 Kia Rio


No dazzle—but no razzle, either.

Is the 2021 Kia Rio 4WD?

No, all Rios are front-wheel drive.

How fast is the 2021 Kia Rio?

A disclaimer here: the Rio totes a newer 120-hp 1.6-liter inline-4 and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that it shares with the related Hyundai Accent. We’ve driven it in the Accent—but not in the Rio. Given how similar the vehicles are, we rely on those driving impressions to fill out the Rio’s performance scorecard. 

It’s not all bad, but the 4-cylinder has only 112 lb-ft of torque to pull its weight plus that of all its passengers. It doesn’t surge, the CVT responds with reasonable intelligence and speed—but it’s still sluggish compared to some rivals. 

We give the Rio a 4 here, deducting a point for that acceleration, but it handles OK. With 15-inch wheels versus the Accent’s 17-inch optional treads, the Rios we’ve driven have had a softer and more composed ride quality. Handling isn’t thrilling, but the gentle ride complements daily commuter duty. So does the Rio’s steering, which answers inputs with good feel and quick cornering cuts. It’s all classic economy car: careful squirts into traffic, infrequent trips to the gas station, jarring reactions to potholes.

The Rio has rear drum brakes, but it’s enough to handle its slim curb weight of 2,762 lb in base trim.

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2021 Kia Rio

Comfort & Quality

The Rio’s an economy car that’s not too small.

The Rio has plenty of room for a couple of passengers and some belongings. Four or more people tucked inside should know each other by first names, and not bring too much along for the ride. We give the Rio a 5 here, a good score for small economy cars.

By the numbers, the Rio sedan checks in at 172.6 inches long; the hatchback’s 160.0 inches. Both ride on a 101.6-inch wheelbase.

In either, front passengers get a limited range of adjustment in seats that don’t feel thin or poorly supported. Some small-item storage in the center console and door pockets holds a smartphone and some change, plus the stray cable or two.

In back Kia specs out 33.5 inches of leg room in front of a well-shaped bench seat. It’s far from a luxury lap, but it’s ample for smaller passengers and short trips.

We like the hatchback Rio’s 17.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which expands to 32.8 cubic feet when the rear seatbacks are folded away. Sedans sport a 13.7-cubic-foot trunk. 

The Rio wears durable-looking materials with low-gloss finishes, and it’s assembled as well as any other compact car without a luxury badge.

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2021 Kia Rio


Crash test scores have fallen.

How safe is the 2021 Kia Rio?

Kia has seen its IIHS crash-test scores drop from Top Safety Pick status to no award, so the Rio’s score here falls to a 5.

The NHTSA hasn’t tested a Rio recently. The IIHS says it’s “Good” in most tests save for front-passenger impact, where it’s rated “Acceptable.”

The Rio has good outward vision in either body style—that’s worth a point—but automatic emergency braking isn’t standard. It’s sold in a Technology package bundled with active lane control and automatic high-beam headlights. It’s relatively inexpensive, but it’s only available on the more expensive Rio S.

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2021 Kia Rio


The Rio’s still a bargain, even with all the trimmings.

Kia fits the Rio with all the basics we expect from an economy car except for one: automatic emergency braking. It’s an oversight that’s fixed with options on the Rio S, but it costs it points here. We give the 2021 Rio a 5 for features, with added points for infotainment and warranty lost to that and to its general lack of options.

Which 2021 Kia Rio should I buy?

Skip the $17,045 Rio LX sedan. It has power features, an8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, air conditioning, and USB ports, but lacks AEB.

Move directly to either the $17,685 S sedan or $17,980 S hatch, which add keyless entry and an armrest, as well as a fold-down rear seat.

How much is a fully loaded 2021 Kia Rio?

We also suggest spending up for the Technology package, which cost $800 in 2020. It gains automatic emergency braking, LED headlights, 15-inch wheels, and keyless start. Every Rio gets a 5-year/60,000-mile warranty and up to 10 years of powertrain coverage.

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2021 Kia Rio

Fuel Economy

Miserly fuel use is the Rio’s big deal.

Is the 2021 Kia Rio good on gas?

With EPA ratings of 33 mpg city, 41 highway, 36 combined, the 2021 Rio puts its best foot forward in fuel economy. Its scores earn it a 7 here, and it remains one of the greenest non-hybrid new cars available.

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MSRP based on LX IVT
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Expert Rating
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Styling 5
Performance 4
Comfort & Quality 5
Safety 6
Features 5
Fuel Economy 7
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