I liked the high-value Hyundai Accent sedan a week ago, so it stands to reason I’d like its cousin, the sportier looking Kia Rio hatchback this week.
Accent no longer comes in a hatch, so if you prefer this body style, which I do, the Rio is your low-cost, high-value option for this lineup. Although it should be noted that Rio also comes in a sedan, like the Accent.
I drove a metallic gray Rio EX hatchback, the top level as opposed to the entry-level Accent SE I tested last week. The price difference is minor, but significant if you’re looking for low cost transportation. Yet the EX comes with more comfort and safety features than the base Accent did.
First, the car is a bit longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. That translates to a bit roomier and a handsome, yet sporty look.
Rio has the same engine as Accent, a 1.6-liter direct-injected I4 that creates 130 horsepower. No pocket rocket, the Rio still gets up to highway speeds fairly easily and much more readily when the Sport mode button is depressed on the console, just in front of the shift lever.
There’s the same 6-speed automatic transmission here as in the Accent and it works fine. Shifts were not strained at all and I got 33.2 miles per gallon in pretty darned cold weather, several days near zero in the morning. The EPA rates the Rio at 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.
Handling, as in the Accent, is a strong point. Steering effort is low and the car feels light and easy to maneuver, the Rio checking in at just 2,714 lbs. There’s a little lean in sharp turns, but zipping in and out of tight parking spots is a breeze.
Ride though is jittery, like the Accent, once you get off smooth suburban blacktop and onto crumbling city cement streets. Definitely not punishing, but jiggly to be sure. Like the Accent the Rio hatch rides on a short 101.6-inch wheelbase. To be simplistic, the subcompact rides like a subcompact.
While there is no blind-spot warning system or lane departure (no loss there!), the Rio, unlike the low-end Accent, comes with forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking to help avoid a frontal crash. For the record, this is the least expensive car on the market today to offer this high-tech braking system.
Other standard safety features include ABS, traction control, stability control, hill-start assist and a tire pressure monitoring system. Note, in cold weather almost all these systems warn of low pressure.
Inside, the Rio delivers a completely sporty look that makes the nicely styled Accent interior seem boring. Here’s why. The test car added the EX Launch edition package available on early Rio models this year. It costs $500, but puts red accents on the doors and dash and red leather seat trim. This looks sharp and got a 20-something co-worker to declare he “loved” the interior.
But like the Accent, Rio also packs a handsome dash with easy to see and use controls. The EX model also comes with a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel, something the base models don’t include. The wheel’s hub houses phone, radio, cruise and trip computer buttons too.
The EX also upgrades to an enlarged, 7-inch touchscreen while the Accent and base Rio models have 5-inchers. This model also adds a backup camera, which naturally is a bit easier to see on the larger screen. Other EX upgrades include Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth, while outside there are sporty, multi-spoked alloy wheels, fog lights and a black and chrome grille.
While I preferred the Accent dash design and its blue-lit dials and buttons, this one is clean and functional. All knobs and buttons are clearly labeled and logical.
Seats are manually adjusted, but well-shaped to give good hip and lower back support. Since the weather was cold during these last two test drives, I liked the Accent’s cloth seats better. But in normal weather these leather-trimmed ones would be quite nice, especially considering the price. The driver’s seat includes a pump handle on the side to raise and lower the seat’s height too.
While the tested Rio hatch did not have a sunroof it did have power windows and sun visors that would slide for side sun protection. Plus the steering wheel was wrapped in leather and the outside mirrors are heated.
Rio will hold four adults provided none are NFL or NBA players, and the rear seats split and fold down to increase cargo area under the hatch, which wisely includes a rear window wiper. Still, this has a large cargo space at 17.4 cubic feet. Note though that rear seat room is a bit less generous in the hatch than sedan models as the hatch is 13 inches shorter than the sedan.
Rio also continues to use a switch-blade style key to start the car, no push-button start here yet. That seems old school, but then that’s why the price is so darned attractive.
Speaking of which, the tested EX started at $19,595, including delivery and ended up at just $20,225. This is a well-equipped hatch for that price.
Value though starts right with the base LX model, which is pretty basic at $15,095. The entry-level Rio comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, steel wheels, and get this, crank-up windows. But that price is tough to beat.
While all these price tags are value-oriented, it may be good to note that the 2018 Rio sedan starts $1,100 less than the 2017 model and the hatch prices also are down from a year earlier. Remember all Kia and Hyundai models come with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a 5-year, 60,000-mile basic warranty. Kia also is happy to let you know that J.D. Power ranks it first in initial quality of all car brands.
All that is icing on the cake to be sure. The down-low here is that if you’re looking for high value and good-looking wheels the Rio, like the Accent, is a great place to start your new car search. But I say, be sporty, go with a hatch!
FAST STATS: 2018 Kia Rio EX
Hits: Value priced, good gas mileage, and sharp-looking hatchback with wiper. Good power (has Sport mode) and handling, nice dash layout, a 7-inch touchscreen, backup camera and tilt/telescope steering wheel. Includes emergency braking, plus supportive seats with leather trim. Car hold four adults, has big cargo area under hatch.
Misses: Jittery ride on rough city streets, no push-button start, no blind-spot warning on this trim.
Made in: Pesqueria, Mexico
Engine: 1.6-liter GDi I4, 130 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/Shiftronic
Weight: 2,714 lbs.
Length: 160.0 in.
Wheelbase: 101.6 in.
MPG: 28/37 (EPA)
MPG: 33.2 (tested)
Cargo: 17.4 cu.ft.
Base Price: $19,595 (includes delivery)
Invoice: $18,729 (includes delivery)
EX Launch edition (red accent leather, trim), $500
Carpeted floor mats, $130
Test vehicle: $20,225
Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage