2018 Kia Rio LX Test Drive and Review

Terry Box | December 27, 2017
2018 Kia Rio LX Test Drive and Review

Once again, the sweet shriek of a blood-red Ferrari didn’t echo through my old garage on Christmas Day.

Drat. And almost as troubling, exotic internet model Emily Ratajkowski continues to ignore my colorful e-mail proposals of marriage. Double drat.

Lumps of coal just seem to fill my pockets these days.

So -- all things considered -- I had pretty low expectations for the 2018 Kia Rio LX subcompact that arrived recently amid absolutely no fanfare or bows.

After all, how excited can you get about a small silver sedan with plastic hubcaps, hand-crank windows and not a single power anything other than brakes and steering?

Oh, boy, I thought. I got an empty can for Christmas.

But after a week with the dinky Kia – the smallest sedan Kia sells in the U.S. – I’ve got to tell you: The $16,000 Rio is better than some more expensive new vehicles and beats the heck out of a pair of black dress-socks from Walmart.

Not that many of your friends and family will notice the stolid little sedan. Just keep telling yourself less is more, less is more…

Actually, the low-profile Rio looks pretty decent with its taut contemporary proportions and Euro profile.

As a Kia – a South Korean brand closely affiliated with Hyundai – my Rio sported one of the company’s signature tiger-nose grilles flanked by oversized headlamps that sliced back into the front fenders.

A slightly raised hood with crisp character lines in it topped mostly flat sides made a bit more interesting by a couple of well-placed tucks and creases.

The car’s top, meanwhile, made me feel downright cosmopolitan with its thick French-looking rear roof pillars, short rear fenders and highly truncated hatchback.

(Generally, the closest I ever get to cosmopolitan is a bag of French fries.)

You may be left sort of speechless, though, by the Rio’s miniature 185/65 tires clinging to 16-inch wheels covered by plastic multispoke hubcaps.

They sort of looked as if they had been lifted from a neighbor’s wheelbarrow.

But appearances can be deceiving – as I frequently tell prospective dates.

What we can’t see beneath the Rio is a stiff, fairly refined new platform that keeps the Kia solid and silent, giving it a commendable ride and handling.

It’s a fine foundation aided by a willing 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 130 horsepower spinning a slick-shifting six-speed automatic – not some spirit-sapping CVT like those in Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans.

Much to my surprise, the Rio even offered a “sport” button on its spare console.

Though by no means fast or truly sporting, the Rio happily surged away from stops with a goofy little growl, revving to 6,000 rpm as it jogged to 60 mph in a reasonable 8.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

That should be plenty adequate for merging onto area freeways full of high-speed, free-form drexters (driving texters).

And if you pedal the Rio more responsibly than I did, you should be able to wring 28 miles out of a gallon of gas in town and 37 on the highway.

As with most Kias, the Rio’s steering felt numb to me, but was well-weighted and quick, turning into corners with a sort of playful eagerness.

Granted, the little sedan leaned some and those small tires didn’t provide much grip, but the Rio could hold a line in a curve and never really protested being tossed about.

Even more unexpected was the Rio’s ability to step over bumps with a solid, expensive-sounding thunk while also inhaling smooth pavement with firm compliance.

Very German, I thought -- diversity at its automotive best.

Of course, $16,000 cars don’t wow you with their lavish leather interiors. But the Rio’s slabs of black plastic appeared to be pretty good stuff and well-executed – despite those museum-quality crank roll-up windows.

A flat, fairly simple dashboard, for example, curved cleanly over the instrument panel and around a 6-inch display screen at mid-dash that looked like an iPad.

Its “luxury” touches included USB and auxiliary input jacks and virtually no meddlesome safety nannies to noisily insist on helping you drive.

Somehow, I survived.

One of the real benefits of the car’s austere approach, though, was a weight of about 2,600 pounds – roughly the same as a Honda Fit.

There were others, too. The climate-control system relied on two rotary dials and a smaller knob for the fan, while knobs also controlled the audio system.

Complementing the Rio’s minimalist plastic door panels were black cloth bucket-seats with patterned centers and stitched bolsters.

Moreover, the back seat offered decent leg- and head-room, with 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind it.

Nonetheless, I doubt that Kia will sell many Rios as austere as my tiny door-slammer – especially in this age of truckish crossovers and SUVs.

Still, if someone were in the market for a reliable, 80-mile-a-day commuter that didn’t beat them up or cost a fortune in gas, the Rio is certainly worth considering.

Maybe just as important, if Kia can build a subcompact this solid for $16,000, what can it do in a $30,000 vehicle?

In fact, if I were an exec at Nissan, I might watch Kia as closely as I did Honda and Toyota – and guess which car has a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty?

2018 Kia Rio LX

  • What I liked most: The Rio’s overall poise and decent performance.
  • What I would change: I might spring for a couple of more options – such as power windows – even if it pushed the price to a whopping $18,000 or so.
  • MSRP: Base price, $15,290; as equipped, $16,315.
  • Fuel economy: Rated at 28 miles per gallon in the city, 37 on the highway and 32 mpg combined, with filler on the left.
  • Official color: Silky Silver
  • Odometer reading when tested: 3,393 miles.
  • Weight: 2,584 pounds.
  • Length-width-height: 160 inches long/67.9 inches wide/57.1 inches tall.
  • Fuel-tank capacity: 11.9 gallons.
  • Towing capacity: Not applicable.
  • Spare tire: Temporary compact.
  • 2018 Kia Rio in a few words: A surprising bargain-basement subcompact with the moves of a bigger car.
  • Warranty: Five-year, 60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain protection.
  • Final assembly location: Pesqueria, Mexico.
  • Manufacturer’s website: Kia
  • E-mail me at terry@carprousa.com
Tags: 2018, Kia, rio, vehicle reviews
Jerry R.
Thank you, Dale, for your comments! Terry Box reviewed the Kia Rio for us, and I'll make sure I pass along your message. Happy holidays! Amy, Managing Editor
Dale P.
Thank you so much Jerry for doing a nice review of a car, that for some of us that listen and read your site, don't happen to have that extra 50K to go write a check for at the dealership. I personally have a Kia Spectra, (yes I need a new car..lol) and this was a great way to see that even lower in the spectrum a reasonable car can be had. You are always fair in your reviews and point out what we as consumers need to know. Thank you again for this review in the 2018 Kia Rio...