Back in 2000, the Kia Rio made its debut in the North American market, dubbed one of the most inexpensive cars one could purchase on our shores. While the first two generations of Kia Rio were not the most spectacular-looking things on the road, the introduction of the third generation Kia Rio in 2011 sought to change that perception. Although it still remained based on the Hyundai Accent, I found the redesigned Rio 5-door to be the better looking one of the pair. Full disclosure — I have never been a fan of subcompact cars, as they don’t offer luxurious interiors, or display high power numbers from the engine. However, with the trickling down of upscale technologies and niceties into subcompacts, I find myself enjoying my time with them more and more.
My 2015 Kia Rio5 SX tester arrived painted in a very spicy red ‘Chili Metallic’. The SX is the fully loaded trim, with everything ticked off except for navigation. Most people looking to get a Kia Rio have one thing on their minds; to get the best bang for your buck. Kia is answering that thought by consistently fighting above its weight class by offering things like a heated steering wheel, Sirius XM radio, and even power folding mirrors, many of which are available on cars that are priced well above the Rio.
Outside, the Kia Rio is no ugly duckling. The stylish 5-spoke wheels, and the twin single sided exhausts make me reminisce about the Volkswagen GTI offered between 2006 and 2009. This alone won me over in the looks department, but the buck does not stop there. The aggressive front and rear end styling also pays homage to its hot hatchback inspirations. In fact, the rear flanks look like they were borrowed from the GTI. Now standard on the SX trim are LED daytime running lights that have essentially become the new industry-wide standard.
Inside, while the leather interior is not up to par with Lexus or BMW, I still would take it over the cloth option. Being that it is also easier to clean, the leather is clearly the more livable and more comfortable option. During a road trip to Guelph, Ontario, the Kia Rio5’s interior was very comfortable and spacious. Having everything very close to the driver saved me from having to reach for things like the volume and hands-free Bluetooth. The 426L cargo capacity in the rear hatch also proved to be useful to carry all of my motorcycle gear, my clothes, and still have room for more for a weekend getaway. A neat feature I accidently found was the switch in the glove box that allows air conditioning to cool your lunch, favorite beverage, and the owner’s manual. The Rio’s soft touch plastics did not feel cheap, and overall, it felt as though the cockpit was very well put together. For a car that is designed for inexpensive mass production, it was refreshing to see that the level of build quality has not gone down, even if the purchase price does.
The Rio comes available with plenty of technology to keep the younger crowd entertained. Standard auxiliary and USB ports that allow for iPod connectivity. The Bluetooth connectivity was easy enough to connect to, but I found it took longer than average to pair my phone. Once connected though, there were no issues to be found. The Rio features the UVO system created by Microsoft for the voice-activated features within the car. Often, voice-activated systems are among the weak parts in a car. If I had a penny for every time I heard “Sorry I didn’t get that”, I would be a very rich man. The UVO system however, was fantastic to use, and among the best voice-command units I have ever used.
Under the bonnet is an aluminum 1.6L GDI 4-cylinder with 137 horsepower at 6,300RPM, and 123 lb-ft of torque at 4,850RM. While it is no rocketship, paired to the 6 speed automatic transmission this Rio proved to be a very good and efficient little runabout. On my road trip to Guelph I averaged 6.5L/100km on the highway, and during my test week, a healthy 8.2L/100km. While the ECO mode button did help a lot, being at the mercy of the automatic transmission led me to believe that I could improve the mileage by rowing my own gears. Thankfully, a six-speed manual is also available.
Driving dynamics of the Kia Rio were actually quite decent as well. The electric-assist steering was weighted nicely, although I would obviously prefer having more road feel, especially in a small car like the Rio. Handling-wise, the Rio stayed very smooth and composed during cornering, and was quite fun to toss around. The Rio can give you addicting driving dynamics both during city driving and twisty-roads. In the subcompact segment, this isn’t really something that could previously be taken for granted.
I really did enjoy the time I spent with the 2015 Kia Rio5 SX, and when it came time to fill up the 43 litre fuel tank, I was happy that all the fun I had with this little subcompact did not break my wallet either. The Rio5 proved to be of exceptional value, and having to suffer subpar technology or livability with these money-saving subcompacts are a thing of the past. The Rio5 (the “5” implies that it’s the hatchback model) can be had at as little as $14,495, and just $13,999 for the sedan. As-tested, my SX tester rang in at around $22,000. Quite a jump from the base model, but I still find that the SX model is plenty worth the money. The elephant in the room is that for less than $500 more, you can get a Honda Fit with navigation, LaneWatch, and a reverse camera. The Rio may lack these, but still makes up for it with its quirky character and general ability to put a smile on your face every time you get into it.