By on October 2, 2018

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door front quarter

2018 Kia Rio 5-Door EX

1.6-liter dual overhead cam I4 (130 hp @ 6300 rpm, 119 lb/ft. @ 4850 rpm)

Six-speed automatic transmission, 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)

35.2 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $19,595 US / $22,669 CAD

As Tested: $20,225 US/ $22,669 CAD

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,724 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

A few Beloit College professors have made plenty of hay over the years by publicizing their Mindset Lists — lists of the things each new class of incoming freshmen will not be able to relate to. For example, a new class in college right now doesn’t know a world with Tupac or JonBenet Ramsey.

Kids today, amirite?

I’m of a different mindset when it comes to car prices. As I turn forty later this year — meaning if I had any sort of game in high school, I could have been the daddy of one of those incoming freshmen — I can clearly recall a time when a new car could be had for around $4,000. Not a good car, mind you — that would have been closer to $10k in 1986 — but it gives me an appropriate reference point for a modern car.

Thus, I clench a bit when I see a sticker price over $20k for a subcompact hatchback, like the one on this 2018 Kia Rio EX. It takes a mental reset to realize I can’t buy basic transportation so cheap anymore. I have to consider exactly what it is I’m getting for the money, and at that point the numbers start to make sense.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door profile

By no means is the Kia Rio the least expensive new car on the market. I drove (and mostly loved) the 2018 Hyundai Accent a few months ago — a subcompact from Kia’s sister brand that shares a great deal beneath the surface with the Rio — and that base-model stickered for four grand less than this top-trim car.

For roughly the price of a brand-new 1986 Yugo GV, a Rio buyer opting for the EX over the Ace Of Base LX trim drives away with:

  • Alloy wheels
  • Fog lamps
  • Tilt-and-telescoping steering column (lesser models only tilt)
  • Lighted visor mirrors
  • 7-inch center screen with Kia’s excellent UVO system
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking
  • Bluetooth
  • Cruise control

Not mind-blowing options, by any means, but together the EX package makes a spartan subcompact decidedly less so.

One thing you’ll note is that the base trim is the only one offering three pedals. For those of us who prefer to shift for ourselves, the blingy bits from the EX aren’t available. In a modern car, I don’t need much, but Bluetooth and cruise control are hard to live without once you’ve been so spoiled.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door dash

The 130-horsepower four-cylinder really could use the manual — the six-speed automatic does noticeably blunt the performance. It can be slow to downshift when acceleration is called upon. I simply learned to mash the throttle a second or two early when merging onto a fast-moving interstate to compensate for the slow downshift.

The automatic is rated for basically the same fuel economy as the manual, but the stick ekes out an additional MPG in city testing. I was quite pleased with 35.2 mpg in my testing — especially considering the frequent mashing of the right pedal when merging onto that fast-moving interstate.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door gauges

The Rio EX five-door rides better than a subcompact hatchback really should — credit the 101.6-inch wheelbase for the composure over rough surfaces. Fifteen-inch alloy wheels are sensibly sized, giving plenty of meat on the sidewalls to help soak up imperfections or guard the wheels against curb rash. Handling isn’t exactly sporty, but neither does the suspension keel over during a quick lane change or a switchback. It’s simply a pleasant car to drive.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door infotainment

The interior of this tester was loaded up with the $500 Launch Edition package, adding a swath of red plastic across the dashboard, plus red/black two-tone leather seating. It livens up an otherwise bland scene. The interior is laid out functionally, and that 7-inch UVO touchscreen works simply, and simply works.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door interior

Seats front and rear were plenty comfortable, and the kids had just enough legroom in the back. They might not be thrilled on a long journey where they’d feel the need to stretch out a bit, but for shorter trips around town it’s perfectly serviceable. The hatch gives plenty of rear cargo room even with the rear seats in place — 17.4 cubic feet — with a heroic 32.8 cubes with those seats folded.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door front seats 2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door rear seats

Go ahead and make your “Fat American” jokes, but the Rio does a brilliant job with the front-seat cupholders. They are spaced widely enough to fit a pair of large soft drinks from INSERT DRIVE-THRU BRAND NAME HERE without the cups interfering with one another. Too often in other cars, I’ll lift my drink only to knock the lid off my wife’s drink. Not in the Rio.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door front 2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door rear

Styling, to these eyes, is handsome. I did have one tween call it “cute.” Maybe we will finally turn the tide and make hatchbacks an object of desire rather than derision! The Rio looks much better as a hatch than as a sedan, with better proportions. The corporate Tiger nose grille connects a pair of wide headlamps, making the little hatch look much wider than it really is. I’m a fan. The silver/grey pictured here — Kia calls it Phantom Grey — looks better in person than my pictures, but I’d prefer a bit more character if I were to buy one. The lovely Deep Sea Blue would be perfect for me.

After all, if you’re spending twenty grand on a car, might as well show it off — right? Yeah, twenty thousand dollars isn’t what it used to be, but a twenty thousand dollar car in 1986 never had Bluetooth or satellite radio. What a time in which we live — where a budget-priced subcompact like this 2018 Kia Rio EX can best some serious machinery from not that long ago.

And as “the kids” love to say mockingly, get off my lawn.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door rear quarter

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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24 Comments on “2018 Kia Rio 5-Door EX Review – Reset Your Calibration...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    Doesn’t this push close to the price of a Hyundai Elantra GT (which has more power AND can be purchased with a manual trans)? Granted, I rather like the styling of both hatchbacks. They’re clean without being overwrought.

    • 0 avatar
      tmport

      Yes, it does. You can get a reasonably well-equipped 2018 base Elantra GT with a manual for about $17,500 + TTL (in the DC area, anyway). It has a lot more power than the Rio, but it gets bad fuel economy for a modern car (23/31). The Elantra GT is made in Korea, too, whereas the Rio and Accent are made in Mexico (which may or may not matter…I haven’t heard any bad things about Kia’s plant in Mexico yet.)

      It all comes down to personal preference. I think I like the Rio more, but it’s pretty tough to find one because Kia’s only making a half-hearted effort to sell the things in the U.S.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    As little crapboxes go, you could do a lot worse than a Rio. I bought a brand new, hail-damaged 2001 Rio 5 speed,A/C stripper model for $4750, drove the wheels off of it for 2 years, GIFTED it to a family friend who was in a bind. Bought a new 2003 Rio, 5 speed, A/C, some sort of decor package that gave me a tach and sunglass holder?!? for $9900 and that little beastie lasted through 180,000 miles of abuse by me and a house full of teenagers before it went kaboom. Nothing fancy, nobody at the country club will be impressed, but for waht they are, I have no complaints.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Looks like another nice one from Kia. I’ve had good luck with their cars in the past, they’re definitely high on my list for the next one.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Your Kia Rio will also give you ABS brakes, traction control, stability control, air bags, side air curtains and possibly 4 wheel discs and a back-up camera. Try to get all of those on a model year 1986 car.

    Like that this model has an instrument panel with actual colours.

    As for ‘mashing’ the power pedal, doesn’t the auto have a manual shift option? Or is it just ‘drive’ and ‘low’?

  • avatar
    IBx1

    The kia rio, dredging from the bottom of our society, and they want $20,000 for it? The rio is always a $12,000 car at best.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Disagree. We have talked performance and feature set, and mentioned safety features; but the fact is, a head-on collision in a Yugo or similar car of the 1980s would have resulted in death or serious injury.

      Thanks to the high strength steel and other features, you will likely walkway from a head on collision in a Kia Rio or any modern car with few or no injuries. Then there is the side collision (no collision beams in the doors until 1996), rollovers, rear impact…. That is worth a few more grand to me.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        Also, getting 100,000 miles out of a car in the 1980s was considered good. Nowdays, anyone should get 100,000 out of a car today, and 200,000 miles is the new 100,000 miles.

        Add the improved fuel economy and emissions thanks to electronic fuel injection and ODBII; and cars are a good deal even at today’s prices.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      You could probably get one for about that money with crank windows, etc. This one is loaded and will cost you more. You pays your money and takes your choice.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      The $12k Rio you’re picturing was probably $20k in 2018 money.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Who is buying these?

    I’d buy a Toyota iM over the phone before test driving this thing…

    • 0 avatar
      Hogey74

      That was definitely true for a long time but things have changed. The Koreans benchmarked their designs and quality against Toyota maybe 10, perhaps even 15 years ago and Toyota knew it. They succeeded. Toyota remains a safe bet but they started cashing in years ago and that Toyota will cost more, come with less options and drive and last no better. True story.

  • avatar
    gtem

    “with a heroic 32.8 cubes with those seats folded.”

    That seems really rather poor, must be the way they measure these things? The Fit used to fit about 50 cu ft with seats down, a current compact crossover typically has 35 cu ft (or even more), with the seats UP, and closer to 70-75 with seats down.

  • avatar
    St.George

    Focus ST’s are being blown out the door for $19-20k around here (according to Autotrader), I know one of those would be more expensive to run but could be a fun alternative nonetheless.

    • 0 avatar
      Hogey74

      Massively better to drive of course but on average they’ve got inferior build quality, higher likelihood of problems and you will get much less respect from Ford. For driving experience it’s no contest but Ford are part of the reason Japanese cars got so popular. They haven’t really learned either.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    According the the inflation calculator – your $4K 1986 Yugo would cost $9.2K today. Not sure you could get A/C, automatic, power steering, leather, or alloy wheels in a Yugo (doubt it), but add in an estimated value of those and I’m pretty sure you would be looking at a price close to the Rio EX. Now add in the value of fuel injection, and the certainly unavailable at any price airbags, ABS, touchscreen, etc. and you would be well over the Rio EX price and still only have a well-equipped piece of crap Yugo.

    • 0 avatar
      pale ghost

      My first new car out of college was a top trim 2 door 1975 VW Rabbit for $3650 financed at 10% apr. That’s about $17K today. No radio, no air, back windows were fixed as well as the front vent windows. The top trim got me leatherette, carpet, rear window defogger, a clock and front power disk brakes. Four speed 1.5 liter with carb producing 70HP. 0-50 in 8.2 seconds – 60MPH would be breaking the national speed limit. 13 inch steel wheels with no hub caps. 12 month warranty. After 5 years and 100k miles, maintenance and repairs cost about as much as the car did. By that initial calibration today’s cars and prices look like heaven on wheels.

  • avatar
    SavageATL

    I have no idea where these $4000 cars were in 1986, the $3990 Yugo price was largely fictitious and wasn’t really a car. My mom bought a 1986 Nissan Sentra, absolutely miserable stripper car with no options, no air, radio, power steering, vinyl seats, no carpeting, no lighter, nothing, and it listed for $6000 in 1986 before destination charge. That was what a stripper, bottom of the barrel Nissan/Chevette/Escort Pony/Colt/Omnirizon cost then. Nothing was cheaper. A stripper Honda/Toyota cost more because the dealers added markup. (yes, you do have to get the $400 alloy wheels and $225 pinstriping on your miserable hairshirt econobox) Even a Hyundai excel was widely advertised at $4990 but I don’t think any could be found at the price.

    If you want to get all economist, you can consider how much said Sentra cost in terms of 1986 median income v. what this 2018 Kia costs in terms of median income, and this Kia is likely to be heavily discounted which the Sentra was not.

    That Sentra was a miserable hairshirt econobox with not one single feature designed for comfort or convenience or pleasure. It was an ugly tin can filled with cheap vinyl and clearly designed to encourage the potential buyer to spend just a little more to get a few features like the cloth interior, carpeting, radio, and air and the car was improved by leagues.

    This Kia is inevitably going to be discounted, but you can see why the Nissan Kicks/Kia Soul have some appeal, they’re sort of cute and funky whereas even nicely equipped at a basic price this has all the appeal of it’s the same car the cleaning lady drives. It’s the dead opposite of sexy, leather interior and foglights and alloy wheels or not.

    That black and red dash is really nice though. But for probably $3-5k more, you can step into a baby Jeep, a low budget Grand Caravan, a Dodge Journey (which is a fine budget car for people who need more than one car seat!) a deeply discounted Charger, or a low rung Camcordimabu which will be roomier, more stylish, have better resale value, and get around the same mileage.

  • avatar
    hazmat

    The Rio is a solid option but, like everything else, it’s not a deal in the top trim.

    There are two real problems with this model. First, in the US anyway, you cannot pair the manual with any reasonable options. It’s literally poverty spec, albeit <$15k in that form. Second, the Honda Fit is a thing.

    While the Honda starts a bit higher, it's an equal or better car in every way and it comes well equipped throughout the line up (manual or auto, cruise, arm rest, android auto/car play except in base).

  • avatar
    monkeydelmagico

    There are three significant barriers to this perfectly fine Kia. Honda Civic, VW Golf, and Hyundai Elantra.

    Every one of them offers at least one compelling reason not to buy the Rio.

  • avatar
    Hogey74

    Random rant…

    What is up with US car pricing? $20k USD for a Rio? That’s well over $25k AUD. I was telling everyone here in Oz not long ago that a base model Porsche Boxster was only $37k over there! Are you being forced to pay decent wages to workers? Or is that an import? Either way, the most expensive Rio I can find in Oz lists at $23k, call it $25k drive-away. The base model lists at $17k and I’d be shocked if it didn’t have bluetooth in the stereo… that’s kind of standard here… yep, it comes with apply/android car stuff.

    These are one of a class of surprisingly decent small cars that typically sell for around $16k drive-away. The Ford and Mazda versions typically drive the best and the Koreans typically have the most options included. The Honda has the best packaging with flippy seats etc and used to have the best engines. The VW will feel the nicest but cost the most. Also traditionally, sadly, the VW and Ford have the worst reliability and customer service… I learned this the hard way… lol?

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah , bluetooth and cruise cost almost nothing these days, they should be standard. Kia clearly doesn’t want you to buy the base model. Not a bad looking car, but if they’re intent on making the manual version a penalty box, no thanks.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    “The Rio looks much better as a hatch than as a sedan, with better proportions.”

    I would amend that to “any subcompact car.” I can understand someone preferring a sedan to a hatch in a compact or larger car, but a subcompact? The trunk ends up being taller than it is long.

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