2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door Review

One of the best small cars on earth is here

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: Great chassis and balance, capable steering, roomy and well-made interior, seriously fun to drive.
Negatives: 4-cylinder engine is loud when pushed, no automatic climate control, nondescript exterior styling.
Bottom Line: This is a car that's worth more than the sum of its parts. Kia has redefined its smallest car in the biggest of ways by making it well-appointed, roomy, and truly fun to drive. Shoppers won't feel like they've been shorted.
Small, economical cars are kind of the automotive booby prize, vehicles that you have to settle for rather than your holy grail car. But every so often, a manufacturer builds a truly fantastic small car that's worth more than the sticker price. The new Kia Rio 5-Door is considered a generational redesign. The last Rio 5 was a pretty good car, but Kia sought to go back to the drawing board for its 4th-gen econobox. We drove it in top EX trim for a week to see if it could rise from expected economy doldrums into something truly worthy.

Driving Experience



We usually reserve anticipation for more potent, more visually arresting vehicles that never really fall in this parsimonious segment. But once we got behind the wheel, things changed in a big way for this small car. It was fun to drive, tossable, and well-balanced in spite of its dearth of horsepower.

Ride Quality: Resting on the side of firm, the Rio 5-Door never felt jarring. It took on bumps well without any drama.

Acceleration: 8.5 seconds to 60 mph isn't exactly quick, but it's actually pretty good for something this small. It's the same engine as in the previous generation car, but Kia's tweaked it and made the Rio 5 faster.

Braking: Good brakes with excellent feel and progression. They scrub off speed well.

Steering: Steering is on the numb side in terms of feedback, but it's responsive and on-center.

Handling: The tall side-wall tires provide some lean in turns, but the chassis and dampers keep the car very well balanced and easily manageable. You can send this into corners without worrying about a lot of understeer, too.




Kia's UVO system is one of the better ones on the market, and our top trim EX benefits from it. Overall, the in-car tech at this price is very good, and there are pricier cars that don't do nearly as well in this department.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch screen is crisp and big for a dashboard this size. It's easy to read, and very easy to use. Menus are intuitive, and the screen responds well to inputs.

Controls: We love the audio knobs and infotainment buttons that flank the screen. The buttons are easy to use, big, and easy to read. The climate control knobs work well, but we wish it had an automatic feature.




Though some would consider the exterior the new Rio 5 boring, we love it. It's not a head-turner, but an economy car shouldn't be. This car is what we'd call understated and handsome. It has European styling that gives the car a more mature look than its competitors.

Front: The tiger-nose grille gets filled with gloss black plastic, and the wrap around headlights give it width. The small, round foglights are a nice touch.

Rear: Probably its least attractive angle, the black plastic at the bottom give the Rio 5 a taller look from the back rather than making it look shorter and wider.

Profile: It looks like Korean VW Golf from this angle, but it's a good one. Short front and rear overhangs give it presence, and the small wheels fill the wells nicely.

Cabin: The interior looks downright jazzy with red accented leather seats and dash. This is how you make an inexpensive car look fancy inside without going overboard.




Carmakers are paying more attention to their smallest vehicles, and the Rio 5-Door is the latest evidence of that. It's surprisingly roomy and comfortable, which isn't apparent when you look at the diminutive exterior.

Front Seats: Enough room for six-footers with the right amount of cushioning, width, and bolstering. The seat could use a tad more adjustability, but that's what you get for the price.

Rear Seats: Definitely cramped here with very little room for actual adults.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Other than the engine noise intrusion when mashing the pedal, it's a decent car in terms of cabin quietness. The build quality is also very good, and there were no rattles or squeaks.

Visibility: Good seating position and a low front hood enable you to place the car where you want. Rearward visibility is decent, though the C-pillars are on the thick side.

Climate: The system could use a bit more power, but overall the temp management was pretty good.




Though the Rio 5 hasn't been tested yet, it actually comes with a some nice standard safety features.

IIHS Rating: Not tested.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: Our EX came standard with a rearview camera, autonomous emergency braking, and a forward collision warning system.

Optional Tech: None.




The Rio 5 isn't huge inside, but there's enough space for most folks thanks to the deep cargo section and 60/40 split second row. Competitors like the Honda Fit and the Chevy Sonic do much better when it comes to rear cargo space.

Storage Space: There's an open cubby in front of the shifter for keys and phone. The armrest is small but can keep everyday gear items out of sight. Long door pockets help, too.

Cargo Room: 17 cubic feet with the rear seat in place and 33 with the seat folded. Though it's on the smaller side compared to its competitors like the Honda Fit (17/53), it's enough to go grocery shopping or take a weekend trip. Unfortunately, the 60/40 split folding rear seat doesn't lay totally flat, robbing you of some potential cargo room and loading practicality.

Fuel Economy



The miserly 1.6-liter naturally-aspirated engine does remarkably well, even under hard driving. You can wring it out, and it still returns solid numbers on regular unleaded fuel.

Observed: 28.3 mpg in combined driving. Our highway numbers alone were close to 38 mpg, higher than the EPA rating.

Distance Driven: 212 miles.

Driving Factors: We drove it in Sport mode for about 50% of the time, and our heavy-footedness still brought back good mileage numbers.




The stock audio system (there is no upgrade) is quite good for this econobox. The sound was loud and clear with a decent amount of bass.

Final Thoughts

Believe it or not, this is one of our favorite cars so far this year. It's a huge step up for the model itself, and it brings a surprising amount of fun in such a low-powered car thanks to adroit driving manners and good balance. Though the interior could use more cargo space, it will suit most folks just fine, as long as they're not expecting to haul a ton of gear. The interior is thoughtfully designed and well-constructed, more so than most of its competitors. The Rio 5-Door is a gem of a car and delivers more than you expect.
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