The Small Car For Those Who Want One

2018 Kia Rio EX 5Dr
2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door – All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2018 Kia Rio

Ah, bless the urbanista who has no off-street parking space – or limited space to maneuver for so-called off-street parking – that needs a new car these days.

For years, I have worked with such small runabouts that fit well in urbanized situations. Places where space is a premium – apartments the size of closets, no garage space, coffeehouses that seat six on a slow day. The stereotype of hipsters and other urban dwellers settling in for minimum space at maximum rent is just too good to repeat whenever I encounter a car that fits their lifestyle.

It is a demographic broken record. There are other groups that embrace the subcompact car. Age, gender, and generation play a part when money is tight for something that used to be able to competently drive some twenty years ago. Then, there's the undergraduate student who attends an institution where the tuition is expensive and dormitory space is also at a premium. How about another generation of those who identify with sexual orientation and gender identity? All of these groups embrace the small car, too.

The demographic specialists at marketing and advertising agencies love pouring over both proven and potential new customers for specific vehicle types to satisfy their clients. This is why there are more concentrated groups to bridge specific products to them.

Sadly, I fall into the traps of demographic stereotyping whenever I review certain vehicles. It is a cart-before-the-horse approach to answer the question of who would buy this car. It is not something to be proud of in this business.

2018 Kia Rio EX 5Dr

Because a car like the new 2018 Kia Rio can be seen in many demographic scenarios. They still have a place in vehicular society – despite the obvious shift to subcompact SUVs and crossovers vying for the same demographic groupings as listed above.

The latter point became something of a nagging thought in my head. Understand where I live and that these vehicles are tested in a place where four seasons actually exist. Automakers are pushing the SUV product as a vehicle to manage the changing seasons and weather patterns in the northern tier of this continent. It becomes a real challenge for a car, like the new Rio, to see whether it is a smart choice for the urbanista, the older driver, the undergrad, or the person on a tighter budget.

We can stop overthinking about the new Kia Rio by just looking at it, first.

It has all of Kia's latest design language, but it seems more straightforward in execution. The Tiger grille is there, but actual frontal airflow is managed by the larger opening on the bumper. It reminds me of a scaled-down version of the popular Soul hatchback – which could just rub off on those considering the more affordable Rio. The profile offers a no-nonsense approach with a simple roofline silhouette, straightforward side, and front glass area, a longer nose area, leading to a handsome rear end.

That is exactly the word you would describe the 2018 Rio – handsome. Straightforward is another word. Who needs fancy when you need practical. Our 5-Door EX tester was made for the grind of practical living – even with those 15-inch alloy wheels.

2018 Kia Rio EX 5Dr

Just like the Rio of past generations, the 5-Door is joined by a 4-door sedan. As with the last generation, the 5-Door appears to be the pick of the two for both looks and practicality. It also helps to be 12 inches shorter for those precious and coveted on-street parking spaces for prime access to your favorite store, coffeehouse, restaurant, and so forth.

That 12-inch size difference over the sedan translates into a decent, but livable space in the 5-Door. It is a matter of choosing between 17.4 cubic feet with the rear seats up in the 5-Door or the 13.7 cubic feet of trunk space in the sedan. This is why the 5-Door is the pick of the Rio range, because of the expandable and usable cargo space in the back. It is a lower space with some lift over from the rear bumper. For luggage and shopping, this is liveable.

What makes the new Rio sing is its smartly-designed instrument panel. The binnacle itself is straightforward in typical Kia fashion, with readable dials and an informative information screen in the middle. The infotainment screen is a tablet-like pod that is completely attached the center stack. The climate controls may almost look like a game controller, but they are very straightforward in function and good to the touch. Having steering wheel mounted switches help to keep drivers engaged with the car in motion – and Kia does them quite well.

2018 Kia Rio EX 5Dr

Choosing the EX model gives you the option of red-trimmed leather seats. The same deep-toned red appears as an accent color on the instrument panel and the doors. It shows off an air of luxury, even in a more practical and down-to-Earth subcompact hatchback. Front seats are of a good size, with multiple adjustments for rake, recline, and height. Rear seats are comfortable but made for smaller people. Four average-sized adults would be fine inside the Rio. In my case, I was driving for two – visiting significant other, included. We are not “average-sized adults,” by any measure. We did just fine up front for what it was worth.

Another luxury the Rio EX 5-Door offers is a good infotainment system powered by UVO. It is controlled by a big 7-inch touchscreen, emitting sound through six speakers inside the cabin. On top of UVO, it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a solid Bluetooth connection, and SiriusXM satellite radio.

Powering the new Rio is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque. This direct-injected motor is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission sending power down to the front wheels. It does a decent job being motivated, though some prompting of the throttle will push it further, even with some noise and high revs. Fuel economy was a mixed story. In “warmer” weather, the Rio turned an average of 36.1 MPG. However, the Rio was subjected to some deep freezes and cold snows in its time with me. In those conditions, the fuel economy dropped down to 30.1 MPG.

2018 Kia Rio EX 5Dr

Being such a short car, the Rio rides on a long wheelbase – 101.6 inches. With that, the ride quality is quite good, as long as the roads are smooth. Bumpy roads reveal a suspension system working hard to balance things out. Handling is solid, but extreme winter conditions challenge the traction control and the standard all-season tires towards taking control on icy and snowy roads. Brakes are good in all situations – normal, panic, and winter. Pedal feel is also very solid. The steering system offers a tight turning radius, but with a bit of play on-center.

The new 2018 Kia Rio is offered in a four-door sedan and the 5-Door hatchback tested here. For a Rio LX sedan, pricing begins at $13,900. The 5-Door model starts off at $14,200 for the same trim level. My EX 5-Door tester came with a sticker price of $20,225.

The Kia Rio certainly improved over time, which brought us this latest generation model. It is a competent machine that is versatile and straightforward. Is it is choice against, say, a crossover or small SUV? The Soul that is sold alongside the Rio may cost more, but it does offer more space, performance and ride height overall. Yet, the Rio 5-Door is smaller and will fit in tighter on-street parking spaces. In areas where snow is not a factor, the Rio's ride height should be just fine.

2018 Kia Rio EX 5Dr

For the urbanista or anyone else needing a small car, you have plenty of choices, Those choices are about to shrink, however. But, take heed, the new Kia Rio will be here as one choice for your next small runabout for your daily life.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Kia Motors America

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