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Actual rating will vary with options, driving conditions, habits and vehicle condition.
The standard features of the Kia Rio LX include Gamma 1.6L I-4 138hp engine, 6-speed manual transmission with overdrive, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), side seat mounted airbags, curtain 1st and 2nd row overhead airbags, airbag occupancy sensor, air conditioning, 15" steel wheels, ABS and driveline traction control, electronic stability, power mirrors.
Starting at: $14,165
Rio is a mix of small-car bonuses and shortcomings. The 1.6-liter engine runs and revs smoothly, and sounds are largely subdued when underway. Though short of swift when driven gently, it’s not fully sluggish. Energy is sufficient as long you push the pedal somewhat aggressively when necessary. With either transmission, though, acceleration is relatively slow-paced. Think 10 seconds or so, to reach 60 miles per hour, which is lethargic performance.
For a small, economy-focused car on a short wheelbase, Rio handles surprisingly well, remaining composed and collected under just about every driving condition. Steering does not provide sufficient feedback, though it’s a little better with the sportier SX. Still, no Rio matches the Ford Fiesta in suitably weighted, responsive steering.
The ride is comfortable, lacking the bounciness, or overreactions that tend to be typical of small cars. Sporty SX trim brings a slightly stiffer ride, largely because of its lower-profile tires, but the difference is minimal.
As for fuel economy, the most thrifty Rio gets an EPA estimate of 27/38 mpg City/Highway (31 mpg Combined) with manual shift, or 27/37 mpg with automatic. The Honda Fit earned a Combined estimate of 36 mpg. An Active Eco button, optional on LX but standard on others, can soften throttle response. With an automatic transmission, it can alter shift timing as well.
By employing clean, almost European body lines, Kia stylists working on the Rio sedan avoided the tall-trunk appearance of some subcompact sedans. Still, the five-door hatchback has a more coherent look, resulting in a higher level of vitality than the four-door sedan. In comparison, the sedan doesn’t seem quite proportional, and looks slightly tall. Even so, the Kia Rio sedan profile appears more successful than some other subcompact sedans, including the Ford Fiesta.
More than the typical subcompact, the Rio’s contrasting grille, coupled with swept-back headlights and a neatly rounded rear end, suggest the lines of a classic hot-hatch rather than an econocar. Angular bodyside creases yield quite a rakish visual persona for a budget-priced car.
Because the Rio is comparatively small, occupants are more likely to feel cramped. Interior space falls short of several rivals, including the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa Note. A sloping roofline doesn’t help.
On the other hand, the Rio benefits from a well-coordinated, carefully appointed interior that imparts a premium, almost upscale aura. Comfortable front seats have relatively long cushions, as well as helpful fore/aft seat travel. Seats in the sporty SX have more bolstering than other trims, but are still on the mild side.
Backseat occupants will feel more snug than in a Fit or Versa. When front seats are pushed all the way rearward, there’s little space for passenger knees or feet. Headroom also is scant.
Honda’s Fit leads the subcompact pack in cargo versatility, but the Rio hatchback isn’t so far behind.
Adding the optional rearview camera would be prudent, because the five-door Rio suffers from some serious blind spots.
The Kia Rio subcompact has an impressive feature and equipment list for the price, as well as a smooth powertrain and a more dashing design than most competitors. Those virtues are offset by meager safety ratings and a snug back seat. The Honda Fit has far more interior space, while the Chevrolet Sonic rides more smoothly, yielding greater comfort. The Ford Fiesta is more fun.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.
The 2016 Kia Rio LX comes with manual gearbox ($14,165) or automatic ($15,395), air conditioning, cloth upholstery, four-speaker audio, CD player, satellite radio, USB port, steering-wheel audio controls, tilt steering, split-folding rear seatbacks, power mirrors, and 15-inch steel wheels. Hatchback is automatic-only. An LX Power package adds power windows and door locks and remote keyless entry.
Rio EX ($17,755) has an automatic transmission, knit cloth upholstery, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows with one-touch auto-up/down for the driver, power locks, remote keyless entry with trunk release, foglamps, a tilt/telescopic steering column, and 15-inch alloy wheels.
Rio SX ($20,755) adds 17-inch wheels, a sport suspension, bigger front brakes, paddle shifters, LED taillight and headlight accents, automatic headlights, sunroof, rearview camera, navigation, leather seat trim, and heated front seats.