In the automotive world, cheap and cheerful is no longer synonymous with penalty boxes.
QUÉBEC CITY, QUÉBEC – The Kia Rio has established itself as a no-frills, affordable subcompact hatchback with a killer warranty and in recent years, a very reliable choice within its segment. Up against strong rivals like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Nissan Micra (reviewed here), the Rio now offers features that no other competition in Canada has, such as power folding mirrors and much more. All new this year, Kia Canada invited us to Québec City to sample the latest example, the 2018 Kia Rio 5-door, built on the global KP2 platform.
At first glance, the new Rio doesn’t appear to be drastically different from the model it replaces. Overall, a wider stance is delivered through a fully redesigned body on the five-door. The C-pillar is rather thick, which, though compromising blind spot visibility, makes the car look a little bit more upscale, and attractive wheel designs (up to 17” on the EX) make it a smart looker. The front end is more upright, and the side view mirrors have been relocated from the door to the A-pillar. The restyled rear end has a standard roofline spoiler and LED taillights on certain trim levels. The base model is equipped with body-coloured side view mirrors, door handles, and a rear window wiper. Made using 32% more of Kia’s Advanced High Strength Steel, the Rio is on track to being one of the safest vehicles in its segment.
Hustling the little Rio along is a 1.6L inline four-cylinder engine, which is direct-injected (GDI) and boasts an aluminum block and head. An updated version of the existing motor, the four-pot pushes 130 horsepower at 6,300RPM and 119 lb-ft. of torque at 4,850RPM. The two transmissions available on this model are a standard six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic with manual shifting mode. A smooth operator, the 2018 Rio feels quicker than it is, especially so with the manual gearbox. The updated engine makes for more grunt and confidence on the lower end of the rev range, with eagerness and instant power, lacking in any lag.
The front-drive Rio will start to run out of breath at highway speeds, but this is a car that remains in its element when running around the city or the suburbs. Don’t get us wrong – it’s fully competent even at triple-digit speeds, but the 1.6L is working extra duty on the highway and the car’s short wheelbase means it tends to dart around. The MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear axle work well to maintain a complacent ride, absorbing bumps with no issue. It’s a smooth vehicle with direct steering, and the electric assist and overall small size of the car mean it’s plenty responsive in the corners.
Interior layout is an area in which Kia has been hitting the ball right out of the park, and the new Rio is no exception to this. Materials are quite good for the price point, though some rubbery plastics are definitely present in the cabin – gloss black trim spices up the dashboard nicely. Fit and finish surpasses the Micra and even the larger Versa Note (reviewed here), with no prominent panel gaps. There is adequate legroom even for taller folks in the front seats, and two reasonably sized adults will be able to fit in the rear quarters for smaller jaunts. This is a much larger car than its predecessor, especially when front shoulder room is considered. The Rio boasts 325L of cargo space with the rear seats in place, and 1,054L with them folded flat.
Front and center on the interior is Kia’s latest telematics system, a fully redesigned setup that’s a leader in the segment. Lower trim models get a 5” system, while upper trim Rios get the 7”setup with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. The new telematics allow the driver to access a full suite of interactive driver systems, such as remote vehicle locking, engine start, and a vehicle locator. There is also a live agent for automatic collision notification, roadside assistance, and of course, SOS assistance. This is all done through a smartphone app – all of this is free to Canadian buyers for the first five years. Obviously, plans for what it will cost after that have yet to be established.
Pricing for the five-door Rio starts at just $14,995 for the base LX manual transmission model. Even at this rock-bottom price, the Rio comes with Bluetooth, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and rear-view camera. The model most Canadian buyers will opt for is the LX+ with automatic transmission, which sits at $17,995. The top-trim offered for this model includes a leather interior, power folding mirrors, and much more for $23,745. Of course, at this price point the Rio is hovering well into Forté (reviewed here) territory and even dipping into the base price of the Optima (reviewed here), but it isn’t unheard of for small hatchbacks to be optioned up into the mid-twenties. Unfortunately, automatic emergency braking is only available on the top-level EX model.
In the automotive world, cheap and cheerful is no longer synonymous with penalty boxes. The 2018 Kia Rio 5-door is an affordable little runabout that has plenty of personality and is actually quite fun to drive. The value proposition is certainly there, though sub-$10,000 vehicles such as the Chevrolet Spark (reviewed here) have redefined the cheapest segment in Canada. The Rio offers upscale amenities not seen in any other comparable vehicles, and when factoring in Kia’s fantastic warranty, makes for a great first car or urban commuter for a variety of Canadians.