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First Drive: 2018 Kia Rio EX

Automobile logo Automobile 9/1/2017 Ed Tahaney

BALTIMORE, Maryland—It's raining hard on Interstate 95 South, visibility is poor, and an 18-wheeler with a heavy load is in front of us, drifting between the lane lines.

I was feeling a little uneasy sitting behind the wheel of the all-new 2018 Kia Rio EX, but thankfully, help was on the way.

After putting the subcompact in sport mode, I stepped on the accelerator and away we went, easily passing the trucker on a 5 percent grade at about 65 mph.

I was impressed and relieved. The five-door hatchback from Kia may be small, but it can dart like a fox when you need it to.

© Ed Tahaney

The fourth-generation Rio is also available as a sedan, but today we are driving the hatchback with an automatic transmission and the range-topping EX launch edition trim, which is limited to 1,000 units. Aside from the top EX trim, the Rio will be available in LX and S trims when it goes on sale later in the year.

The list of standard safety features is pretty basic for a modern car. It includes six airbags, side impact door beams, electronic stability control, antilock brakes, and stability control.

Earlier in the day, Orth Hedrick, Kia's VP of product planning, told us how the Rio's structure makes use of high strength steel to help increase durability, collision test performance, and torsional stiffness for improved handling and ride quality.

The extra metal and special industrial adhesives help reduce noise, vibration, and other sounds from the road, especially in the rear area of the hatchback.

Fortunately, aside from applying the ABS hard for a missed turn, we didn't feel the need to test the rest of the car's safety features. Despite its diminutive size, it feels safe on the highway, in the city, and on wet and slippery backroads.

© Ed Tahaney

"This is my daily driver. It's easy to park and it's also our number-one seller," Hedrick says. (Kia sold 18,699Rios last year and 576,531since its 2000 debut.)

"Rio makes significant improvements over its predecessor in design, technology, and passenger comfort, resulting in an even better value proposition, while raising the bar in the small car segment."

For 2018, the Rio packs a tweaked 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that offers 130 hp and 119 lb-ft of torque. That's 8 hp and 4 lb-ft of torque less than last year's model. Power is delivered to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.

It won't win many races, but the loss of horses helps bump up fuel economy an extra mile. The Rio is now rated at a decent 28/37 mpg city/highway for the automatic and 29/37 mpg for the manual version.

© Ed Tahaney

Compared to Kia's Soul, the Rio appeals to more conservative tastes with its traditional hatchback body style, sweptback LED headlights, and redesigned tiger nose grille that resembles a recently slayed Dodge Dart's mug. The Rio offers a more chiseled and aerodynamic design compared to the boxy Soul as well.

The Rio sedan has been lengthened to 172.6 inches from the outgoing model's 172.0 inches, while the Rio 5-door is now 160.0 inches long, up from 159.4 inches. Both also feature a longer wheelbase of 101.6 inches, up from 101.2 inches, and are also and wider compared to the outgoing models.

Kia fits the Rio with 15-inch wheels, a fully independent MacPherson strut front suspension, and a torsion beam rear axle. Stopping power comes from 11-inch disc brakes up front and drum brakes in the rear for the cheaper base models.

Fortunately, the EX model we tested gets 10.3-inch rear disc brakes, and autonomous emergency braking is available as an option.

© Ed Tahaney

Inside, our EX tester received Launch Edition red trim—a nice touch for the simple and modern interior space. Horizontal lines run along the width of the dashboard and the center console offers a bilevel tray for phones.

The sedan's passenger space is 89.9 cubic feet while the hatchback's measures 90.5 cubic feet. Front occupants get more headroom, leg room, and shoulder room while those in the second row receive more leg and shoulder room—provided the driver or front passenger is no taller than 6 feet. The front seats are roomy enough to accommodate a 6-foot-2-inch occupant but won't leave any legroom for rear passengers.

Cargo room in the sedan sits at 13.7 cubic feet and grows to 17.4 cubic feet for the hatchback. With the seats folded down, the hatchback offers 32.8 cubic feet with a low and flat cargo floor to accommodate lots of cheap stuff.

On the tech front, there's a standard six-speaker stereo with satellite radio, five-inch touchscreen, and a rearview camera system. The top-tier EX trim gets a 7.0-inch floating touchscreen, UVO3 voice recognition infotainment system, and smartphone integration through Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Pretty fancy stuff for the sub-compact class and all easy and very intuitive to use.

© Ed Tahaney

Overall, the 2018 Kia Rio is a good value for the budget conscious. It offers a mostly smooth, modern ride at a low price that's hard to beat.

Both versions are built in Monterrey, Mexico and expected to arrive at dealerships in the late fall.

2018 Kia Rio EX Specifications
ON SALEFall 2017
PRICE$15,290/$14,290 (manual hatchback base), $14,990/$13,990 (manual sedan base), $18,900 (EX est)
ENGINE1.6L DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder/130 hp @6,300 rpm, 119 lb-ft @4,850 rpm
TRANSMISSION6-speedautomatic, 6-speed manual
LAYOUT4-door, 4-passenger, FWD hatchback/sedan
EPA MILEAGE28-29/37 mpg (city/hwy)
L X W X H160.0 x 67.7 x 57.1 in (hatchback); 172.6 x 67.7 x 57.1 in (sedan)
WEIGHT2,714-2,648 lb
0-60 MPHN/A


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