2018 Kia Rio 5-Door EX Review - Reset Your Calibration

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

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.
2018 kia rio 5 door ex review reset your calibration

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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3 of 24 comments
  • Hogey74 Hogey74 on Oct 02, 2018

    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?

    • Russycle Russycle on Oct 03, 2018

      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.

  • Drzhivago138 Drzhivago138 on Oct 03, 2018

    "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.

  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).