2018 Kia Rio 5-Door : Review

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2018 Rio 5-Door EX

The Kia Rio is the subcompact that sits at the entry-level end of Kia’s car lineup. We last drove and enjoyed the Rio back in 2013, when it was in its third generation. Now with the début of the fourth generation, we were recently invited 20 minutes up the road to Baltimore to drive the all-new 2018 Kia Rio.

“Value has always been a core tenet for the Kia brand and the all-­new Rio sedan and 5­-door continue to underscore our commitment to buyers looking for an entry-­level vehicle but desire more than what the subcompact segment offers,” said Orth Hedrick, vice president of product planning, KMA. “This fourth-­generation Rio makes significant improvements over its predecessor in design, technology and passenger comfort, resulting in an even better value proposition, while raising the bar in the small-­car segment.”

While the sedan was available to drive (and is expected to sell at a higher volume), we greatly preferred the 5-door hatchback version, and decided to make that the focus of this review. However, most of the information is applicable to the (not pictured) sedan. Our test vehicle is pictured below, parked in front of Kevin Plank’s fabulous new Sagamore Pendry Baltimore in the historic Fell’s Point neighborhood.

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In many ways, Kia is not unlike the city of Baltimore. Once suffering from poor reputations, both have made great strides in recent years and have begun to be recognized for what they are doing right. Baltimore was recently named as 2017’s #1 City to Watch on Conde Nast Traveler, and Kia has been rated #1 in Initial Quality by JD Power for two years running. Does that quality story continue with the new 2018 Kia RIo 5-Door? Read on to find out.

Exterior

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Above you can see the Rio parked in front of Baltimore’s famous inner harbor. This is just one of the many striking angles we found of the Rio, which has a definite European design influence, especially in the 5-door model. While it’s not generally the type of vehicle to turn heads (especially in the rather tame available color palette), we find the styling on this new Rio to be smarter and more sophisticated than the outgoing model, and much of the competition. There are more than a few design cues borrowed from the popular Optima.

As you can see in our photos from various locations around town, the entire vehicle is both lower and wider for a more balanced and athletic stance. The Rio is also widened visually with the styling of headlights, tail-lights, and fog lamps. The length has been increased modestly, but this is still a small car that looks comfortable being small. Overall it has much more presence and a sense of stability. Our test model was the EX trim, which includes sporty 15″ alloy wheels.

Interior

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Being honest, these images do not match our tester, nor did we take these interior photos. However this two-tone red leather interior looked so sweet that we just had to feature it in our review. It’s only available as an added $500 “Launch Edition Package” to the $18,700 top-of-the-line EX, but it would certainly be our choice. We like it whenever color finds its way into the interior of the vehicle, and the more there is, the more we like it.

The photos above show some of the available technology features. The base LX trim comes with a 5″ audio display with AM/FM/MP3, Satellite Radio, 4 speakers, and steering wheel controls. The S trim adds a rear-view camera, bluetooth, 2 more speakers, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and power windows. The floating seven-inch touch screen interface depicted comes with the EX trim, which adds UVO3, Android Auto, Apple Carplay, leather wrapped steering wheel, and Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB).

We were surprisingly comfortable driving the outgoing third generation Kia Rio, and the 2018 Kia Rio is even more spacious, modern, and upscale. While it’s definitely still a small car, it feels much larger inside than you would expect. The front seats have been redesigned to enhance comfort and occupants will enjoy more head room, leg room, and shoulder room. The ergonomic layout is familiar to rest of the lineup, as are some of the upgraded interior materials. Overall we found the interior quite impressive for an entry-level vehicle.

Performance

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What is there to say about a 1.6 liter GDI four-cylinder engine that produces 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque? It’s likely the least powerful car we’ll drive all year, however it also is the smallest and has the lowest price tag. So the question really comes down to, does it have enough power to get the job done? To that we can attest that it was surprisingly responsive and spirited to drive, and while you aren’t going to win any drag races, you can still have some fun with this whip. Fuel economy is rated 1 MPG better than the outgoing model at 28/37/32 MPG on the automatic. A manual transmission is also available for added fun (and less expense) on the LX, but it has a minimal impact on fuel economy.

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The real performance story is the new advanced platform that the Kia Rio sits on. It features a completely new suspension with MacPherson strut front suspension, and a torsion beam rear axle with revised spring and damper setup. The Rio is more solid than ever before due to the use of advanced high strength steel which increases durability, torsional stiffness, handling and ride quality. The solid exterior appearance is matched by the solid feel to the ride and that is one of the most noticeable improvements in the new Kia Rio.

Overview

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2018 Kia Rio 5-Door in front of Baltimore’s Power Plant

The 2018 Kia Rio is a great improvement over the outgoing model, and we think it’s an excellent entry-level vehicle that the brand should be very proud of. It takes many of the European styling cues from other popular Kia models, and we think it will make an attractive choice for young first-time car buyers. It should benefit from the heavy advertising that Kia does in the worlds of Sports and Music, and we hope to encourage those young buyers to embrace the hatchback. We wish it were available in more adventurous colors, however there is little else we would change about this car with a price range of $14,200 (LX M/T) to $18,700 (EX A/T). We have a good feeling about it, but only time will tell if the new Kia Rio is able to join the Forte, Niro, Sportage, Soul, Cadenza, and Sorento at the top of JD Power’s Initial Quality Study.