The original Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Beetle, Datsun 510, Fiat 500, and Honda Civic were small cars built for the people with hearts bigger than their fuel tanks. The spirt of the subcompact car has always been to give the driving public an honest, versatile, and affordable means of transportation. In short, these were cars capable of delivering ‘big’ within a small package.
In an era where the word crossover is used more than the poop emoji, the 2018 Kia Rio stands proud as a true subcompact. During my week with this next-gen Rio I found myself remembering why I love small cars.
The Kia Rio is all-new for 2018. Kia refers to it as a global car, manufactured and sold in various countries around the world. The new design is a reflection of what Kia has learned through a program of global testing and test marketing, and we reap the rewards.
INTERIOR: Once in the driver’s seat the first thing you notice is how roomy it is. My first night with the Rio I was able to fill it with three friends for a drive, and no one complained about head or leg room. One friend even said it felt very European, thanks to its small-on-the-outside but big-on-the-inside dimensions. Granted, passengers in the front get more space but rear seating is not bad. My father stands at 5’ 10’’, and is over 200 pounds, but he was able to get in and out with ease. Plus, there is enough headroom to wear a ten-gallon hat.
The ride is smooth and quiet, which surprised me; riding in the Rio is a quiet breeze on a summer night. The spacious interior makes you forget that you are in a subcompact car. Kia’s infotainment is one of my favorites because it is so user-friendly. You get a touchscreen with clearly marked buttons on each side that take you to the menu page you desire, without having to scroll through or flick a screen while driving.
The 2018 Kia Rio is offered as a sedan or a hatchback, and both offer decent cargo space in the back. I was able to fit a 50 lb. sack of chicken feed and a big 32 qt. steam pot in the back, and still have room for holiday groceries.
The only drawback is that GPS navigation is not offered in the Kia Rio, but with Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity that shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
EXTERIOR: The previous generation of the Kia Rio wasn’t exactly a looker. It had headlamps that made it look like it was always surprised and wearing too much mascara. The new design is slimmer, tighter, and has squared-off body lines to supply its shape. A set of 15-inch alloy wheels come as standard in the EX trim level.
Subjectively, the new Rio looks better as a hatchback than a sedan, but both have a handsome front end. Clark Gable’s mustache presumably inspired the front grille, while narrow wing-back headlamps and stylish fog lights complete the Rio’s face for a photogenic little car.
PERFORMANCE: The 2018 Kia Rio offers just one engine option, an inline 1.6 liter four cylinder that delivers 130 horsepower to the front wheels. Base trim levels come with a 6-speed manual, but for an extra grand you can get the 6-speed automatic. The automatic transmission is tuned to be as smooth as possible.
Put your foot down and the Rio will respond; just don’t expect it to smoke its tires or lunge forward with gusto. A sport mode is available that adjusts throttle response and holds the gears longer, but even with that the Rio won’t be surprising people off the line.
That being said, I did not have any trouble passing semi-trailers on the highway, nor did I need to mash my right foot into the floorboard to get up to highway speed. The new Rio is quick on its feet, but prefers to be smooth about it. A real handbrake and skinny tires offer the opportunity to have some old school fun in this little hatch.
Handling is, as Kia puts it, engineered for fun. I took the Rio for a run-up and down a sleepy parking garage and had a barrel of laughs passing through pillars and speeding through narrow spaces. It may not be a hot hatch but is definitely a fun driver. With a full tank the Rio has a 400-mile range out of its 11-gallon gas tank. It will get 28 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on highway, for an estimated average of 32 mpg.
Starting MSRP for the 2018 Kia Rio is around $14K, with the EX model tested for this review having a sticker price of $19,725.
SUMMARY: The 2018 Kia Rio is endearing. It has a sense of honesty while taking pleasure in being more than you expected. It doesn’t feel small and fragile on the road, handles like a go-kart, can break the speed limit if asked to, and looks cute.
While speaking with a Kia Motors salesperson he mentioned that when customers see the Rio they always ask the same thing, “Does it come with a turbo?” That could be because turbos are in right now or that they want a little more zip in their Rio. I thought it was interesting that customers wanted more performance out of vehicles that usually do not garner that sort of attention. The new Kia Rio is going to be a popular choice with people who want a small affordable car…that doesn’t feel like one.