Improved 2018 Kia Rio is quite the bargain

2018 Rio 5-Door EX-01092017-0003
The 2018 Rio 5-Door EX.

Orth Hedrick, Kia’s vice president for product planning, could drive to work in the South Korean automaker’s most upmarket model: the $61,900 K900 Luxury.

Instead, he motors from his Los Angeles home to his Irvine office in a 2015 Rio subcompact, the cheapest entrée on the Kia menu. Why is it his daily driver? Because he sees the little car as an antidote to tight city streets and the paucity of urban parking, just as so many of the people who must drive in the narrow, congested streets of Europe’s great old cities.

“It’s very maneuverable, and I can park in spots other people can’t get into,” he told me during a press introduction for his third-generation car’s successor: the extensively revisited 2018 Rio sedan and hatchback.

The 2018 model, which will start at a wallet-friendly $13,990, should be in the showrooms by early November. It will come bearing gifts, including better ride and handling, improved fuel economy, a little more room, and upgraded structural rigidity.

This new car is indicative of the quantum leap this automaker has made during its relatively brief residence in this country. The first Rio I drove back in the ’90s was pretty dreary fare. This new Rio is pleasant, solid work.

It is also a truly “all-new” car. The architecture is fresh, as is the styling and interior design. The only real carryover is the drivetrain, and even there we’re dealing with a significantly retuned engine.

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2018 Kia Rio sedan

At first glance, the modifications to the 1.6-liter, normally aspirated, four don’t sound very promising. The horsepower rating drops from the previous model’s 139 to 130, and it sheds several pounds/feet of torque.

The flip side is a 1 mpg bump in gas mileage to 29 city and 37 highway with the six-speed manual gearbox and 28 and 37 with the six-speed automatic and an increase in low-end torque. The latter is important in real-world driving because it’s that low-end oomph that gets you off the dime and into merging traffic in a timely fashion.

The new Rio’s increased rigidity, largely a function of employing 30 percent more high-strength steel, banishes squeak and creak and improves handling. The suspension was retuned for a more comfortable ride.

The Rio, which I tested in its upmarket, EX form, proved a pleasant driver. The instruments and controls were intuitively placed, visibility was good, and the revised seats were supportive and very comfortable.

I found the ride comfortable, the cabin reasonably quiet, the handling acceptable, and the road-feel good for an electrically assisted steering system. Braking, courtesy of discs at all four corners, was doubtlessly better than it would be in the base model, which substitutes drum brakes in the back.

Needless to say, the Rio isn’t a dragster. But it accelerates reasonably for an econocar, and tops out around 110.

The new Rio’s body design is markedly more conservative than its more stylish predecessor’s, but it is still attractive. The interior is handsome business.

This car will seat four comfortably. Seating a fifth passenger in the middle of the rear seat is a punishment for someone who owes you money. Rear-seat legroom is barely adequate.

The hatchback model opens at $14,290, only $400 more than the sedan. Opting for the automatic transmission tacks $1,000 on the tag.

The nicely equipped EX comes with features like a seven-inch infotainment screen, voice recognition, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Safety features like automatic emergency braking and frontal collision warning are available.