Kia again has shown us that it shouldn't be hard to make a handsome little hatch.
I have a genuine problem. I keep buying old luxury cars for a fraction of the price of a new car. I like playing the game – “how much car can you get for the price of a (insert economy hatchback here)” . The issue is, these cars break down frequently and cost a lot to fix. I wrench on my own cars, but eventually after crawling under your car on a cold wet driveway for the fourth time in a month, you will say to yourself- “maybe, just once, I should buy a new, economical, simple, commuting car.”
Unfortunately, for the price of a ten year old, used luxury V8 cruiser, you can’t buy yourself a new luxury car. You will be in the economy car department. However, after spending some time with the 2018 Kia Rio EX Sport with the automatic transmission, ($22,045), I decided that sometimes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
You know what a 13 year old BMW doesn’t have? A heated steering wheel. The Rio does though, and heated seats. In fact, they are standard across the Rio range. Standard. Kia clearly wants you to be comfortable in Canadian winters. I know this might not sound like a big deal, but you have to understand that a heated steering wheel can literally take the edge off your day. You get quite an impressive amount of kit for the money in the new Rio. In the EX trim level you get Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and some other nice features, like a push button start, back-up camera, and rain sensing wipers.
Leather seats can be had in the EX Technology package, but the cloth seats are still comfortable and supportive. The interior is very obviously economy car but it’s not objectionable in the slightest. There are a good amount of hard plastics, but the design is very good visually. The steering wheel is a highlight, with easy-to-decipher controls and a high quality leather. The centre gauge cluster is easy to read, and delivers important information. In fact, one feature which is actually very valuable, yet often overlooked is that when you turn your wipers on, it displays what mode you are in on the screen. It’s the simple things that make your life easier.
My EX 5-door did the trick for practicality for the week. I picked up and carted around everything from a weeks worth of groceries to a full size engine hoist (Again with the fixing old luxury cars thing…). The seats fold down easily, and there is ample room for lots of stuff.
Kia dropped in a 130-horsepower 1.6L four-cylinder with 119 lb-ft. of torque. Make no mistake, this is not a fast car, but it has enough to get you up and going. The thing that I wasn’t a fan of is how the car hunts for gears. I think the engineers responsible for programming in the shift points didn’t give the engineers that designed the engine enough credit. With even a slight whiff on the accelerator pedal, the car would downshift up to two gears very quickly. This caused a lurch in the cabin and an unpleasant noise from the engine. Sure, it would get you up and going quicker, but I spent most of my time wishing that it would hang on to the higher gears a bit longer. The engine does have some torque, and often all I wanted to do was increase speed slightly. Even thinking about accelerating would make the transmission go, “downshift? DOWNSHIFT.” Also for some strange reason, the Sport mode made this worse.
This wasn’t a deal breaker by any means, but I think I would prefer the manual. Thankfully, the rest of the driving experience is quite good. The steering is very accurate, and the little Rio hatch really feels light on its toes. I enjoyed zipping in and out of parking lots and urban centres; this is where the Kia comes into its own. It will get you around town with ease. Power delivery is smooth and quick in the lower gears and the Rio sets off with a surprising amount of pep. Let’s put it this way; the Kia Rio is very, very easy to drive. You never get the sense that the car is fighting you.
The Rio ticks all of the economy boxes as well. I averaged 7.9L/100km in both the city and highway, which is right on par with the expected numbers from Kia. (8.3L/100km city and 6.4L/100km highway). However, when I found myself getting frustrated with the gear hunting and drove a little more aggressively in the city, I only managed 9.3 L/100km. I probably could have done better if I spent more time in “Eco” mode instead of “Normal”.
The styling is worth pointing out too. Kia again has shown us that it shouldn’t be hard to make a handsome little hatch. My tester was finished in Hyper Blue, had 17″ alloy wheels and is a well-proportioned vehicle in my opinion. Take a look at what hatchbacks could look like a few years ago and you will see why I’m pleased that Kia spent some time to make the Rio look good.
I enjoyed my week with the 2018 Kia Rio EX Sport, and while I’ll still probably make stupid choices and buy older luxury cars, the Rio makes a case for buying new. You really do get a lot of comfort, economy, and technology these days. And it’s nice to have the options among the range. If you want satellite navigation and leather seats, grab the Technology package ($23,745). If you just want a very basic hatchback with no frills, Kia has the LX with a manual transmission for $14,995. That’s a very good price, for a very competent car.