By on May 2, 2018

2018 Kia Rio EX

2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door

1.6-liter four-cylinder (130 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm; 119 lb-ft @ 4,850 rpm)

Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

28 city / 37 highway / 32 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

8.5 city, 6.4 highway, 7.5 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $18,700 (U.S) / $20,598 (Canada)

As Tested: $20,945 (U.S.) / $22,869 (Canada)

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,685 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Cheap cars often get a bad rap. That’s not surprising – our status-obsessed society tends to look down upon any low-cost product, unless that product is so superior to its competition that it can be labeled a “value” or a “bargain.”

The Kia Rio probably isn’t good enough for that status, and there are other relatively inexpensive automobiles that perform better across various metrics, but if you need cheap wheels and don’t want to be punished, you could do worse.

Hatchback bodystyles remain useful, which is why Kia gives buyers the choice between sedan and 5-door versions.

At a glance, the Rio screams simplicity – in a good way. It’s plain looking, but “plain” sometimes translates into “functional” with ease.

The exterior design is inoffensive and unremarkable, yet still attractive. Plain can also be handsome, and the Rio blends nicely. You probably won’t notice the Rio in traffic, but if you do, you’ll likely nod politely in approval.

[Get new and used Kia Rio prices here!]

Simple but effective is the interior’s theme, as well. The A/C knobs are simplistic and there isn’t much in the way of buttons below the tacked-on infotainment system that hangs on top of the center stack. Add Kia to the list of automakers who’ve decided tacking a tablet-like screen on to the top of center stack is enough to just call it a day. At least the various menus are intuitive and easy to use.

2018 Kia Rio EX

Kia has blessed this car with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 130 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque. It’s not really enough power to win you any small-car shootouts, and it does feel a tad underpowered. Perhaps unsurprising, but disappointing nonetheless. The engine is also a bit coarse in terms of noise/vibration/harshness.

You do have to make sacrifices to save a buck, after all.

The six-speed automatic shifts fine, but you can sort of feel the mechanicals at work through the shifter. It’s an odd sensation. You will hear a little bit of road noise, which is unsurprising at this price point.

The Rio is infused with just enough sporty handling (and well-weighted steering feel) that you won’t be bored, but of course there are other hatches that offer more sporting spirit. Ride is a bit on the hard side, despite the 15-inch wheels, but not unpleasant.

Interior space up front is acceptable, even for taller folk, but the rear is a bit tight. Not bad, just a little tight.

2018 Kia Rio EX

Feature-wise, the only option on my EX test car was floor mats. That’s it. The standard features list wasn’t barren, however. It included fog lamps, air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB, tilt/telescope steering wheel, Kia’s UVO infotainment software, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. A little basic – the seats are cloth and manually adjusted, but still not a bad list for a car with a price under $20K.

My test vehicle started at $18,700 and, with D and D and the floor mats, it ran up at $19,725.

2018 Kia Rio EX

Like the larger and pricier Niro, the Rio is a Kia that just works. It’s not sexy or remarkable or memorable – it just does its job. You get in, start it, and drive.

That drive isn’t totally boring, and you aren’t punished too badly for saving some dough. Kia may be trying to do some cool things at the top of its line – witness the Stinger and its handsome design – but the brand knows its bread and butter is cars like the Rio. To that end, the product planners have cooked up a car that won’t win many awards or much praise from enthusiasts, but will do well enough on the showroom floor.

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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76 Comments on “2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door Review – This is How to Do Cheap...”


  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The exterior almost looks like Mazda circa 2006, which is high praise.

    Still, the biggest enemy of the subcompact car is the used compact, midsize, or full-size sedan. Then again, I doubt if these ever transact for MSRP.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      I don’t think many people shopping for a compact/subcompact hatchback will be cross shopping midsize or full-sized sedans. I am such a shopper and I would never buy a sedan.

  • avatar

    I don’t hate it, really. It looks alright in that color, and the wheels are nice and don’t cheapen it with wheel covers.

    They should’ve put a bit more effort into the rear hatch handle though. Poorly integrated, so it looks tacked-on.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    You have got to be joking?

  • avatar
    make_light

    This is a good looking little car, and probably drives much nicer than the Fit, even if most publications won’t admit it. Too bad the Accent only comes as a sedan now, the Canadian hatchback version is MUCH better proportioned than the sedan and has more available options than the Rio.

    • 0 avatar
      Malforus

      Given that many outlets have compared the two previously and never made that assertion I think you might be reaching in such a statement.
      The Fit has long been lauded for its handling specifically driving feel and verve.

      • 0 avatar
        make_light

        I haven’t seen a review comparing the latest model of each, not sure any are out there. At any rate I’d imagine most people would find the Rio much more pleasant on a day to day basis, without being a total snooze to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        The current Fit isn’t as fun to drive as its predecessor.

        The Autoguide comparison lauds the Rio for having better driving dynamics.

        “Where the Kia really excels is the driving experience. The first thing you notice is that it is much quieter than the Fit. It also feels much smoother and responsive than the Honda. This is especially true with the steering and suspension, which makes the car feel more planted and confidence inspiring. ”

        http://www.autoguide.com/car-comparisons/2018-kia-rio-vs-honda-fit-comparison

        C&D has noted, in particular, the Fit’s “lifeless steering.”

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    “fog lamps, air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB, tilt/telescope steering wheel, ”

    How many decades of this 66 year old’s life passed where a list like this was basically only on the very priciest models?

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I’m 20 years your junior and compared to my high school car (an ’85 Civic) this Kia is LOADED. My Honda had A/C and nothing else, even the passenger side mirror was an option.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “passenger side mirror was an option.”

        I remember those as well. like, really, wtf were they thinking? You can’t have this $10 mirror prole unless you buy the X pacakage.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          My 67 Mustang convertible with V8 and automatic DOES NOT have the optional passenger side rear view mirror. I’ve seen literature that referred to the passenger side mirror as a “turnpike mirror.”

          You don’t need to see that side of the vehicle unless you are on a 4 lane or greater highway apparently. ;-)

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    I can remember heaters being a option on some GM product in the 60’s, oh and radios too.
    Ace of base back then was a very different thing.

    • 0 avatar
      2manycars

      Heck, I remember in the very early 1970s electric windshield wipers were still optional on AMC cars. (Electrics were not made standard until 1972.) Back then base cars were really stripped to the bone.

    • 0 avatar
      ScarecrowRepair

      Now there’s an interesting idea — ace of base for old cars! How far back can ace of base go? 20s? 30s? At least the 50s, please.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Ttacgreg: My 63 Valiant Signet 2 door hardtop, top of the line Valiant [it and the convertible], had radio and heater and possibly whitewalls. No auto, PS, PB, or 225 Slant Six.

      Personally I could do without most of that stuff on this “a little basic” [!] Rio that comes standard. All of it could go except the tilt wheel and AC.

    • 0 avatar

      I once had a car with four wheel drums, so yes….

  • avatar
    sutherland555

    I love how we consider 15′ tires small now.

    Growing up the 90s, 13′ tires were standard for the base model sub-compact, 14′ was the upgrade and 15′ tires were reserved for the sportiest, most expensive version.

  • avatar
    NG5

    I always appreciate reviews of affordable cars.

    One question, though. When the author writes:

    “Ride is a bit on the hard side, thanks perhaps to 15-inch wheels (one downside of the low cost) but not unpleasant.”

    I was a little confused. Aren’t smaller wheels (or, really, taller sidewalls) generally regarded as more cushy riding?

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    It looks like it has alloy wheels, but you didn’t mention that. Also, if you want a softer ride, wouldn’t you want smaller diameter wheels, and taller sidewalls, instead of something like 17s? My daughter’s 2012 Forte Koup SX has 17″ alloys with 45-series tires, and the ride is punishing, at least over any road imperfections larger than a BB.

    Kia also just reshuffled their trim levels, so EX is now the top trim. It used to be LX (crank windows), then EX, then SX, but now it’s LX, S, and EX.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      That generation of Forte had a harsh ride regardless of what you put on there as tires—obviously the 45-series tires did not do it any favors either.

  • avatar
    TwoBelugas

    18,500 base is now cheap for a Korean subcompact? LOL

    • 0 avatar

      Have you been car shopping recently? 18,5 is very competitive in this class, and equipment levels are high in the Kia.

      • 0 avatar
        TwoBelugas

        “equipment levels are high”.

        And I am shopping for a subcompact, incidentally. My local dealer quoted me 13k for a Fiesta hatch with auto, power door/windows, bluetooth, yada yada yada.

        Not sure what “high end equipment” you demand in a subcompact hatch, but the Rio isn’t exactly leaps and bounds better than Fiestas in the quality or dependability departments. And they are both made in Mexico.

        • 0 avatar
          SC5door

          “isn’t exactly leaps and bounds better than Fiestas in the quality”

          The Rio isn’t stuck with the PowerShift transmission, so your statement there is very wrong.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Fiesta can be had in manual should one be interested. Between the two, I think I might choose to walk.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      That does seem like a lot of money, but bear in mind that the Rio5 EX is pretty much the top of the Rio line. I checked some online new car listings, and only about 5% of the Rio5 listings are the EX trim line. If you want a lower trim with less equipment, you could save $3,000 or more. Also, you could try the Rio sedan for even less money. That should get things down into the price you expect. (And, admittedly, I would expect it to be cheaper too. For $19,000, I might be able to talk my way into a base trim Mazda6.)

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The base version goes for around $14,000. But, yeah, $19000 for a car with this equipment level is still cheap.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        They made more sense when you could get one for $9,999 back in the early 2000s.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Yeah, $9999 plus all the breakdowns you could handle…LOL

          You can still get a Versa for about that much…and then invest heavily in anti-depressants.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Honestly they were never that unreliable. A lot of ancillary stuff would crap out and for a while Koreans really seemed to suffer from premature clutch wear (30k miles) and fast wearing wheel bearings, but the engines and transmissions were fundamentally sound.

          • 0 avatar
            packardhell1

            I purchased our 2003 Hyundai Accent in March 2003 for $12,400. It is an auto (added $1k to the price) and it is the 4-door GL model (which added a bit more). I still have the car, still drive it to work every day, and it has never left me stranded. Everything still works and the seats still look incredible for whatever cheapo fabric it is. The HVAC and electrics (doors/windows) still work just fine.

            It is an incredibly boring car to drive and sometimes I feel like I need anti-depressants like FreedMike mentioned, but I am happy with the product.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          You might want to check out what $9999 works out to with inflation – not that far off the $14k base price it has now.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            What a f*cking joke – even if this sells for $15,000 in the real world – $20,000 MSRP

            One can get a VW Golf for that, or even a base (but well-equipped) Accord.

            This has to he some kind of sick joke.

            This car will be worth 8 G’s 18 months post-purchase with 20,000 miles on it.

            SICK JOKE CRACK PIPE KIA PRICING THAT ONLY MENTALLY HANDICAPPED MORONS WOULD BITE ON.

          • 0 avatar
            TwoBelugas

            I’m with deadweight, for 20k MSRP I will take my chances with VWs. Their warranty is great now and frankly I think their quality is no worse than the Koreans.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Little motorized mailbox of a car with that legendary KIA badge, incredible KIA dealership tactics, and post-purchase warranty support (on disintegrating garbage).

            Anyone buying this for even 15k deserves to be separated from their money/put into debt he!!, given what a little hard-nosed haggling can get in the 25-30k “MSRP” space.

          • 0 avatar
            SC5door

            Love the “KIA PRICING” comment and you’ll go to an Accord, yet no mention on the pricing on the Honda Fit which can be optioned to be more expensive than the base Accord.

            But yea, since it’s a KIA Deadweight is back at typing in all capital letters again.

            Get a grip.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Sorry. Not sorry.

            If the facts/truth hurt your feelings, that’s on you.

            KIA and Hyundai can’t properly engineer a decent suspension to save their lives, KIA and Hyundai interiors do not wear well; their resale values suck; their dealerships are full of slimeballs and tat-rats (befitting most of the clientele); corporate KIA and Hyundai fight warranty claims and reject customer warranty claims on trivially technical issues, or often, for absolutely no avoid reason whatsoever.

            I had hopes for both Hyundai and KIA back in 2008 as it looked as if they would keep their discounts relative to Honda and Toyota while continually improving their vehicle quality and solving their suspension tuning issues, but then they raised their prices and failed to improve reliability any further and did not figure out their suspension issues.

            Like I said, it’s insane that this tinsel box has anything remotely near a 20k MSRP; this is a real, true subcompact, disposable, cheapo tin can.

            These should be labeled with a MSRP no higher than $17,000 in highest trim, and sold for $12,000 new in lower trims and MAYBE $13,900 in higher trims.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I would need some data to back up most of what he is saying, but I can confirm the resale is atrocious and i agree asking anywhere near 20K for this POS is laughable. Toyota will put you in a Corolla or Corolla IM (better value) for 22,5ish including dest. As tested 20K? Was that crack you smoked good KIA?

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            “KIA and Hyundai can’t properly engineer a decent suspension to save their lives,”

            DeadWeight are you still on this? When’s the last time you drove a new Hyundai/Kia? I rent them all the time and there was a notable change for the better in 2015 ish when all of a sudden they started to ride really well (they always handled okay). I’d say they are fully class competitive in this regard.

          • 0 avatar
            bd2

            As usual, DW is several years behind the times.

            H/K suspension tuning has become pretty good as of late (actually have been lauded for it by the auto rags for certain models).

            In fact, the Tucson has even bested the venerable Mazda CX-5 for combination of ride/handling in Australian reviews (H/K Australian tuners are very good, better than the H/K American engineers).

            The i10 and Picanto are the only 2 city cars that have been able to compete with the duo of VW up! and Skoda Citigo for refinement.

            The Soul, depite being a “box-ute” and having a shorter wheelbase, was deemed to have a better ride than the Corolla (speaking of which, Toyota had ruined the ride of the previous Camry, Avalon and ES when they tried to make them “sportier” but just ended up giving them a brittle ride).

            H/K is still working on steering feel/feedback, but even that is improving as can be seen in the refreshed Sonata (nevermind models like the i30N or the Genesis G70).

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      First off, the $18.7k is for the EX trim – which is the highest level trim for the Rio.

      The base Rio hatch can be had for $13.9k.

      The base Fiesta hatch starts at $14.5k (note – higher than the Rio) and is at $19.5k for the Titanium trim (also higher than the top Rio trim).

      The Honda Fit starts at $16.1k for the base and goes up to $20.5k for the EX-L trim.

      Methinks TB and DW should learn about something called trim levels.

  • avatar

    Count me as one of those impressed with newer Hyundai/Kia products. If you told me a few years ago that our driveway would go from a Honda Civic and an Acura TSX to two Hyunadi Elantras I would have laughed at you.

    Still in 2015 we replaced the 2005 Civic with a 2013 Elantra Coupe with 23,000 miles and a stick for $11k and just last month replaced a 2006 TSX with a 2016 Elantra GT with 13,000 miles and a stick for $14k.

    Both cars run smoothly and quietly. Equipment levels are high, and while they are not as fun to drive as the previous vehicles, they can be fun when asked to perform. The interiors are also well assembled with nice materials.

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    HVAC controls I don’t have to look at to operate while driving? YES YES YES!!!

  • avatar
    bd2

    Wouldn’t exactly consider the Rio to be one of Kia’s “bread and butter” models (at least not in the US).

    The Rio has sold about 5k YTD.

    The Forte, Sorento, Soul and Optima have all sold around 20k (or more) YTD.

    The Niro (6.3k) outsells the Rio and the Stinger isn’t that far behind (nearly 4k).

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      The Rio was once kias most popular car -worldwide. Not sure if this is still true.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Yeah, but talking about the US market; and worldwide, presently the sales leader for Kia is the combo of the Forte/Cerato and the Ceed, but the Sportage is closing (Kia needs greater production capacity for the Sportage).

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    Don’t know why PR offices do this often—-they should’ve loaned out a car in a different color, like white or black. Blue-gray looks awful, especially on a cloudy Chicago? day.

    The sweet old lady who lives across the street from me just got one of these in black. Looks great, especially after wash ‘n wax.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I like the clean simplicity of these. And a greenhouse you might be able to see out of.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Price as tested is the same as a base Golf (and $2K more than a base Jetta). Why would you buy this? I doubt the discounts on this are any higher than what you can get from VW.

    • 0 avatar
      EX35

      This. Zero reason, especially given VWs new warranty. And VW actually honors warranty repairs.

      • 0 avatar
        TwoBelugas

        And VWs are, hands down, one of the few of the small car game where the engineers actually drive their cars around the block a few times to see if drives well, rather than walking back to the Seoul apartment tower after a night of drinking with the group manager. Even the craptacular 2000 Jetta my wife had was a good handling car that was not harsh the ride in.

        Dishonorable mention: Nissan Versa. People who buy that car retail honest deserve the 15% interest they are paying.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      B/c a lot of buyers don’t want a base model (they want all the bells and whistles – esp. these days w/ all the safety tech), but the relatively low value proposition of a subcompact versus a compact holds across all manufacturers – which is why subcompacts sell so poorly in the US (where a premium is placed on interior space) as a compact can be had for not much more $$ (even if it doesn’t come with all the kit).

  • avatar
    TNJed

    If any car ought to be widely available with a manual transmission, its this one, yet you can only get a stick in the base model with roll up windows and steel rims. Would it hurt the bottom line so much to offer at least the mid level trim with a manual trans? With just a minimal effort Kia could make a mildly sporting version of this, like an original Golf GTI, and at least upgrade the image and hopefully add sales.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      That would be the Kia Cee’d, but they only want to sell that in Europe.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        It’s now just “Ceed” and that’s the Euro version of the Forte/Cerato (altho it seems with the latest iterations, the new Forte and Ceed are being converged).

        Previously, the Rio had the SX trim but has been discontinued and it doesn’t seem that Kia has any intention of doing a US-spec version of the GT-Line that Europe will be getting.

  • avatar
    tmport

    The article has a typo–it says the Rio has a 1.4 liter engine, when it’s actually a 1.6 liter. The info box has it right, though.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Hatchback reviews should mention cargo area. Can I fit a 36″ CRT TV in it?

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Friends, if I may hijack this thread for a second… i was searching on Autotrader for “manual + hatch + $10k maximum” and came across a few Elantra Touring hatch/wagons. Strictly in SE trim and stick shift, should I look more into them? They seem like a good value. I of course don’t expect much in terms of handling and engine refinement, but are there any other major knocks against them (FE, reliability, safety, etc) I should be aware of?

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Are you talking about the old ‘i30’ Euro bodystyle ones? I’ve always heard they were surprisingly thirsty for their size/power due to being geared really short on the highway. They’re also tuned for smooth European roads (read: kind of stiff). I like to think of them as the spiritual successor to the old Protege5. I haven’t heard of any major reliability pitfalls.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick_515

        yes that’s them gtem. tuning sounds good to me. too bad about the gears, that means it will be way too loud at 80 mph. but that’s not a surprise for these kinds of cars, and not a deal breaker after all.

    • 0 avatar

      Not exactly equivalent but we bought a 2013 Elantra coupe with a stick in 2015 for $11k with 23,000 miles on it. It has been very reliable. Only issue was a check engine light that was reset and did not reappear.

      I recently bought a 2016 Elantra GT hatch and like the car so far. Gearing in my 6 speed is nicely chosen on the highway and driving at 65 MPH I can pull high 30s for milage.

  • avatar
    MrGrieves

    One of the things I like about TTAC are honest reviews of regular cars like this one. No, it’s not a 911 Turbo. But – I’d rather read about a Kia Rio 5-door because next time I’m in the market for an inexpensive hatch to do grunt work I’ll know where to look.

    The profile kinda reminds me of a Golf / Mazda 3 Hatch combination.

  • avatar
    chiefmonkey

    It’s a cute car. Vaguely European in appearance. Certainly better than the Corolla hatch…I do have mixed feelings about the Kia grille.

  • avatar
    pdl2dmtl

    Tim, I’m confused: is it a 1.4 or a 1.6 liter engine?

  • avatar
    Hogey74

    I know every car market is different but it’s still surprising Americans don’t buy more of these. They and their Hyundai brethren don’t appeal to me but the Koreans have been making solid cars for ages now. Even when they were ugly and tinny they were already getting the quality up. The Koreans benchmarked Toyota maybe 2 decades ago and Toyota knew they were their only real long term threat. Now Kia has a hero model, the Stinger, which is going to have more than a halo effect on the range. People ask my opinion and I tell them they need to seriously consider the Koreans.

    Also, hatches. They are the natural end game for practical cars regardless of what we all grew up with. Sedans are simply less practical.

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