2018 Kia Rio EX
Can you buy new wheels for $20K?
By Ron Amadon
DAMASCUS, MD. – As the price of a new vehicle hits a record average of $35,428, you are up late, half watching “Last Call” with Carson Daly, juggling figures, and sweating out how to buy a new car on a tight budget after your current steed has issued its last call.
You want something dependable, small, economical, comfortable, and with a long warranty. Then allow me to introduce the Kia Rio EX hatch, this week’s test car.
Completely redesigned for 2018, the Kia hatchback is small at 160.6 inches long and the EPA said it should deliver 32 miles per gallon on the cheapest grade of unleaded. I did better – see below.
And Kia retained its 10 year, 100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty and 5 year 60,000 roadside assistance plan.
Rio is offered in three trim levels, LX, S and EX. Standard on all is a 1.6-liter four with 130 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is offered or a six-speed automatic.
For those who have not mastered that third pedal to the left, don’t fret. The automatic is a good one and the stick is only offered on the lower trim models.
As part of the 2018 redesign, the Rio now offers Bluetooth hands-free functionality, a six-speaker stereo with satellite radio and a rear-view camera system.
Available only on the tested EX trim is a seven-inch floating touchscreen interface, voice recognition infotainment system and smartphone integration through Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Navi was missing on the test car, but available through a smartphone.
With the second row seats folded down, the hatch offers 32.8 cubic feet of cargo carrying capacity with a low and flat hold. But that is less than the rival Honda Fit.
The Rio rides on a brand new platform with new suspension geometry – the popular MacPherson strut suspension up front and a torsion beam rear axle. The EX comes with disc brakes all around, while other models have drum brakes to the rear. For the first time, Kia is offering Autonomous Emergency Braking on the Rio that can bring things to a total halt if conditions warrant.
Other safety features are Forward Collision Warning and Electronic Stability Control. Kia said its goal is to achieve a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and a 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
On the road the Kia was amazingly quiet for an inexpensive compact thanks to improved body sealing. Wind noise was not a factor at interstate speeds, and the little four did nothing to add to the noise level. But kick down the right pedal and the roar will let you know it’s giving you all 130 horsepower.
This was not kick you back into the seat acceleration, but such things rarely occur in this part of the auto spectrum. Yet, it was more than adequate power for daily commuting and chores around town, and yes, I did on occasion yearn for the manual tranny. Hmm, if this was a turbo …
In a week of stop and go suburban traffic and some interstate running the appropriately named “Urban Gray” Rio chalked up 36 mpg… It is EPA rated at 28 city, 37 highway for a combined 32 mpg.
Visibility was excellent in all directions, the controls were well marked, easy to define and reach. The only real glitch was limited knee room in the rear seats, yet head and foot room were fine.
And the red trim was a nice touch in an interior that was fancier than one might expect at this asking price.
Over rural roads the Rio was a fun car to drive thanks in part to a revised spring and damper setup. The six-speed automatic and the 1.6-liter four were quick to react when a shot of power was needed and the whole thing really came to life when the driver engaged Sport mode.
On only one occasion did I feel the front 185-65/15 tires start to lose traction on a damp road. That made me wonder about the 17-inch wheels available on this model but only overseas.
Well outfitted, the EX Rio carried a bottom line bargain price of $22,225 and that included an $895 delivery charge and $630 worth of options.
A bare bones base model can be had for $13,990 in the sedan or $14,290 for the more versatile and, I think, more attractive hatch.
So if your current car have indeed given its last call, give up the show, get some sleep, and give this Rio a test drive.
Okay then, right after that jolt of strong morning brew.