It still amazes me every time I hop into a new Kia product just how good they have become in such a short time. It was just a few years ago I was working for a dealership where I’d cringe when required to drive a Kia Rio for any distance. All the way up to 2011, the Kia Rio was a cheap and dreadful car that was only purchased because you couldn’t afford to have anything better. The interior was incredibly cheap with hard plastics and unattractive cloth. The engine was lackluster and neither the 4-speed automatic or the 5-speed manual transmissions assisted in enthusiasm. Needless to say I wasn’t a fan, but in the last few years, I’ve driven some Kia products like the Optima, Soul, and the new Sportage that have just stunned me, so I was really keeping an open mind with the new Rio.
I’ve actually been wanting to drive this car for a while now as it was really revised in 2011, but it was never on the top of our list, so it has taken a few years to end up in our garage. We’re finally in a 2013 Kia Rio SX sedan for a week and ready to answer a few questions that have been perplexing us. Is this new car in line with others out of Kia’s stable and improved or is it still a cheap economy car worthy of only a desperate buyer?
We’ll start with the newly designed exterior. The new headlights feature LED inlays with a stylish and more upscale design. The grille identifies this as a Kia product with the buck-tooth like front grille. The overall appearance is wider and lower, making it appear to be more of a competent handling car. You might also notice some broadened shoulder lines and well defined lines down the side of the car. Around the back are taillights you might have mistaken for European just a few years ago with LED’s fixed within. You can have this car in either a 4-door sedan, like our tester, or a 5-door hatchback that provides for more cargo space and adds even more sporty looks. Stock, you’ll find 15-inch wheels with pretty ugly covers. Upgrading to a higher trim, much like ours, you’ll get some quite nice 17-inch wheels and sport tuned suspension.
So we’ll say right off that the exterior design is far and above what the previous generation cars once were, but the real test comes when you sit yourself into the drivers seat and begin to look around.
I’m happy to report that inside the Rio, at least in the SX trim we tested, is a decent place to be. Our seats were leather and actually comfortable. Most of the plastics were soft to the touch and the controls throughout the cabin were well thought out and felt good when operating. I especially liked the HVAC controls that were big toggle-like buttons toward the bottom of the dash. You were also afforded some premium options not normally associated with budget cars like heated seats, a sunroof, power folding side mirrors, navigation, and push-button start. Also inside this car is Kia’s UVO system which allows bluetooth connectivity, voice control, apps, and more. After a week in this car, I can say that I’m really pleased with the new interior. It’s not stellar, but for the price point of which the Rio is based and the history of their products, I think it is now on par with the offerings of their competitors.
Tackling another issue, we move under the hood. Powering all trims is a 1.6-liter direct injection 4-cylinder engine. This engine can be matched up with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission and pushes 138-horsepower and 123-lb.-ft. of torque. This isn’t a great power plant, but is much better than the previous generation. With the addition of direct injection and the 6-speed transmissions, the Rio is also able to achieve better fuel economy than the previous car. The EPA ratings for this car with the automatic transmission are 28-mpg city and 36-mpg highway. After a full week of testing we were averaging just around 30-mpg.
Much like other cars offered from Kia, the Rio has made great changes. This car is better looking, more economical, and a much better all around vehicle to be in than any of the previous generations, but with all the good comes the inevitable price jump. The new car has a base price of just $13,600 which is still a great value. Our tester on the other hand, granted was packed to the max, weighed in with an MSRP of $21,340. That might sound like a lot of money to spend on a Kia Rio, and we’ll agree, but start looking at what’s out there to compare it to with.
The Ford Fiesta is one of our favorite cars in this segment and the last one we drove priced out at $21,135. The Toyota Yaris we reviewed and were not too pleased with the exterior or interior was priced just over $17k. The Chevrolet Soinc turbo we drove was also one of our favorite compact rides and was just under $19k. So the Rio really has a lot of stiff competition and I think it fits right up there with some of the best, but the Fiesta and Sonic are still on the top of my list.