We still get pretty excited about great small hatchbacks like the VW Golf GTI and Golf R, the new Hyundai Veloster N and Veloster Turbo, the Mazda3 hatchback, and the Honda Civic Hatchback. They're all affordable, attractive, and most of all, great to drive. We even loved the bargain Kia Rio 5-Door when we drove it a couple of years back. The brand just pulled the covers off the refreshed version for the 2021 model year. Let's take a closer look. 

Exterior Styling Tweaks Make a Difference

2021 kia rio rear 34

2018 kia rio rear 34

If you put the previous Rio next to the 2021 version, you might not notice dramatic changes, but they do amount to a better-looking vehicle. The front fascia of the 2021 model looks sportier thanks to full LED headlights, a separated lower grille with dark mesh, and new quad foglights (which look like they only show up on the sportier trim). The overall shape of the front end and the hood creases remain the same, but the look is certainly improved.

The rear end might show the most significant change with the taillights that sport a triple-chevron detail inside the light housing. The lower portion now gets twin vertical reflectors with a gloss black surround and exposed dual exhaust that replaces the former downward angled single pipe. The back end is much improved as a result. The Kia Rio also gets new optional 16" 8-spoke alloy wheels that give the profile a more aggressive appearance. 

kia rio profile

2018 kia rio profile

Small But Important Interior Improvements

2021 kia rio interior

2018 kia rio interior

We really liked the 2018 Kia Rio's interior (lower photo, above). It has the right combination of good ergonomics and easy controls for an affordable hatchback. In fact, we thought it was one of the best econobox cabins we've experienced in a while. Better than base VW Golf SE and even the sibling Hyundai Accent hatchback from the same year. 

The 2021 Kia Rio hatchback doesn't look much different, but you will notice a larger touchscreen that actually sits higher than the last model and gets upsized to 8 inches. The infotainment and audio buttons no longer flank the screen but sit in a linear fashion just below the new touchscreen for easier use while driving. The excellent analog gauges appear unchanged but now there's a new higher resolution 4.2-inch digital info screen in between the tach and speedo. The Rio GT-Line trimmed models add black sports seats with white contrast piping, carbon fiber-like trim, and aluminum sport pedals.  

Hybrid Power in the Mix

kia rio

More than even the refreshed styling inside and out, there's a brand new mild-hybrid powertrain. The current Rio is already great with gas mileage (33 city / 41 highway / 36 combined). The new 2021 Rio will actually be the first Kia model that's powered by a mild-hybrid using Kia's Smartstream 1.0-liter turbocharged gas engine paired with a 48V MHEV system that increases the fuel efficiency with electric torque assistance and regenerative braking.

It should add even more efficiency to an already fuel-sipping vehicle, so this is a big step for a car that really didn't need much in the way of additional fuel economy. It's hard to say what the effect will be on performance, but don't look for it to be fast off the line. We're happy to see the right changes made to the Rio, which is really an underrated vehicle that should sell way better than it does.

Find Local Discounts on the Kia Rio5

We enjoyed our seat time in the Kia Rio. You can still get a great deal on a 2019 or a used model. Read our full review below:

2018 Kia Rio EX-5 Door Review

2018 kia rio 5door