Kia introduced the affordable, subcompact Rio in 2000 as a sedan or hatchback which became two of the least expensive four-door vehicles on the market. The Rio’s stylish design, ample features, and excellent warranty help it stand out as one of the top picks among subcompact vehicles.
Kia Rio Origins
Kia launched the Rio in 2000 as a 2001 model and shared most of the vehicles’ underpinnings with the Hyundai Accent. Prior to the Rio, Kia sold the Sephia as its inexpensive, entry-level subcompact from 1994-2001. However, the Sephia was plagued with poor sales and ailing mechanical features. In addition, Kia was partially owned by Hyundai Motors Corporation which began differentiating its previously budget focused Hyundai vehicles by offering more upscale design, features and price points. As a result of Hyundai up-scaling the Accent, and in order to replace the Sephia, the Rio was slotted as Kia’s new budget minded subcompact.
When released, the sedan was sold as the Rio and the hatchback was sold as the Rio Cinco. The fifth door (rear liftgate) and utility features inherent in a hatchback, both vehicles were essentially the same, sharing identical powertrains and interior features. First-generation Rios offered decent styling and affordability, but ride and build quality were below average. The first generation spanned from 2001 through 2005 model years, the second generation spanned from 2006 though 2011, and the third and current generation began with 2012 models. As the American subcompact market matured, Kia incrementally improved the Rio and maintained it as a competitive offering. As a result, the more recent the model has bettered the vehicle’s styling, quality, and ride.
About the Kia Rio
The Kia Rio is a four-door, front-wheel drive, subcompact vehicle available as a either a hatchback or a sedan, with each configuration offering LX, EX, and SX trim levels. All vehicles feature lively engines, evocative styling, and abundantly spaced, nicely equipped interiors. The Rio focuses on style, sporting a bold look and Kia’s tiger-faced front fascia it stands out among most small cars and looks the part of a more upscale sedan or hatchback. Unlike other subcompacts, the Rio functions equally well as a first vehicle, a second commuter car, or as a viable option to more expensive, larger compact vehicles.
Kia Rio Features
Redesigned in 2012, the 2013 Kia Rio stands out as one of the best subcompact buys on the market. The Rio’s sharp, edgy design and ample interior dimensions belie the subcompact market and make the Rio feel larger and more expensive than it is. Both front and rear seats comfortably accommodate adults, and the high-mounted dash design provides generous front passenger legroom. The ride is more composed than sporty but the cabin remains reasonably quiet, and the soft-touch surfaces accented with tasteful metallic accents found in upper trims combine to create one of the nicest subcompact driving environments.
All Rio trims feature a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. While not the most powerful engine, the Rio’s four-cylinder delivers peppy performance but with a moderate amount of coarseness when pushed. The LX, EX, and SX sedans, along with EX and SX hatchbacks, feature a standard six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability. LX trims also offer an optional six-speed manual transmission. SX hatchbacks fit the six-speed manual as the standard transmission but can be fitted with the automatic transmission as optional. Automatic-transmission equipped SX trims include steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for manual shifting.
Kia Rio Evolution
First-generation Rios (2001-2005) featured an unbeatable price, decent build quality (for the price), along with a great warranty. Unfortunately, common creature comforts like cruise-control, and power windows and door locks were unavailable at any price until 2003. 2001 models only came as Base trim sedans while 2002-05 models were sold as a sedan or as the Rio Cinco. 2001-02 models carried a noisy, 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine which was good for 98 horsepower if pressed hard. Five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions were available. There are also 14-inch steel wheels matched to an underwhelming suspension that moved early models with econo-box swiftness. Kia improved 2003 models with a 104 horsepower 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. Along with suspension improvements, larger disc brakes, and upgraded interiors, Kia freshened-up the front fascia and wheel covers on 2003 models.
2006 launched the second-generation Rio with cleaner styling, better engines, and much improved clutch feel and shifting throws from its five-speed manual transmission. The hatchback Rio5 replaced the Cinco wagon as the Rio5 SX and the sedan was sold in Base and LX trims. The Base trim still wore 14-inch steel wheels and was not available with air-conditioning, but the Rio5 SX had 15-inch alloy wheels and included features not generally expected from a vehicle in the class. A new 110 horsepower, four-cylinder engine replaced the old 104 horsepower engine. 2007 models added an SX trim sedan and featured 16-inch alloy wheels on SX trims. With all the changes, the Rio still lagged when compared to the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa and it was best matched against the Hyundai Accent or Chevrolet Aveo. 2011 finished out the second generation with both an LX and SX trim for the Rio5 and automatic transmissions on all trims except the Base sedan trim.
A completely new, third-generation Rio launched in 2012. Kia increased the Rio’s proportions which translated into increased passenger and cargo room. A 138 horsepower 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine matched to a standard five-speed automatic transmission on all but the base LX trim created a segment leading contender. New, modern styling and a generous standard feature list firmly set the Rio at the top of shoppers’ lists. Optional upscale features like touchscreen navigation, leather seating, and keyless ignition/entry can easily move the Rio, both in features and price, from the subcompact into the compact vehicle segment. Kia improved and stiffened the suspension which better lends the vehicle to sportier driving. Unfortunately, many other competitors have done the same and the Rio sometimes falls short of the Chevrolet Sonic, the Ford Fiesta, and the Honda Fit in driving prowess. Nevertheless, the Rio does what it offers very well and should be considered by any shopper looking for an affordable, subcompact value proposition.