2018 Kia Rio

By March 27, 2018

Redesigned for 2018, the Kia Rio subcompact sedan and hatchback show numerous improvements over the outgoing model. All-new and beginning its fourth generation, the 2018 Rio is slightly lower and wider than before.

The 2018 Rio comes with a new 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque, slightly less than previously, but improved drivability is promised. As before, Rio is front-wheel drive.

Autonomous emergency braking is available. UVO3 infotainment has been upgraded with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability are available.

The four-door sedans and five-door hatchbacks each come in LX, S, or EX trim level. Aside from selecting the desired trim and body color, buyers have little choice, since no options are offered.

Hatchbacks benefit most from the new look for 2018, but they’re handily outsold by sedans. The new sedan’s proportions appear less frumpy.

EX trim level comes not only with emergency braking, but all-disc brakes (instead of rear drums) and better-quality seats.

Otherwise, Kia hasn’t given its entry-level duo much in the way of up-to-date safety equipment. Despite the fact that rearview cameras will soon be mandatory, it’s standard only on S and EX models. Blind-spot monitoring isn’t offered at all, despite the Rio’s obtrusively thick rear pillars (especially on hatchbacks).

Model Lineup

Rio LX sedan ($13,900) and hatchback ($14,200) come with cloth seats, manual windows, air conditioning, satellite radio, steering-wheel audio controls, 15-inch steel wheels, and manual transmission. Also available is LX automatic sedan ($14,990) and hatchback ($15,290). (Prices are MSRP and do not include $895 destination charge.)

Rio S sedan ($16,100) and hatchback ($16,400) add a rearview camera, cruise control, 5.0-inch display, remote keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows, and a split-folding rear seat. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard. Rio EX sedan ($18,400) and hatchback ($18,700) upgrade to UVO3 infotainment with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, rear disc brakes, 15-inch alloy wheels, a 3.5-inch information screen, embossed cloth seat trim, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Autonomous emergency braking is standard.

A Launch Edition package ($500) includes leather inserts in the seats.

Exterior

Conservative in styling, yet sleeker than its predecessor, the 2018 Kia Rio shows cleaner body lines than its rather dowdy predecessor, especially in hatchback form. Sheetmetal creases are sharper. Front ends are a little taller than before, wearing a more upright tiger nose grille.

Foglamps have moved outward, making the Rio look wider. Windshield pillars are more upright. Dimensions have increased, but only slightly.

On both body styles, designers opened up the lower front bumper, resulting in a more expressive face. Headlights sit higher, reaching further back into the front fenders. Wheels have been pushed out toward the corners, shrinking the previously-excessive overhangs. Hatchback rear ends, in particular, look the best, avoiding the sedan’s blanked-out rear quarter window.

Interior

Quiet and comfortable for adults, the Rio’s cabin is significantly improved. According to the EPA, the Rio again qualifies as a compact car, in terms of interior space. Cabin details also suggest a move upward in class.

Improved quietness results from greater use of adhesives in the chassis, according to Kia, helping to subdue road and tire sounds.

Front seats are comfortable and adequately (but thinly) padded. Only the driver’s seat adjusts up/down.

Back seats are surprisingly spacious as well as comfortable. Even taller adults can typically sit behind another adult without feeling too cramped. Two passengers fit best, but for shorter trips, three teenagers aren’t likely to complain about squeezing.

Sitting relatively low and more upright than before, the Rio dashboard contains a thoughtfully-considered central touchscreen. In EX models, the 7.0-inch touchscreen works with UVO3, the latest version of Kia’s slick-operating infotainment system. Prompt responses and natural swiping action mean UVO3 outperforms several competitors.

Cargo volume again totals 13.7 cubic feet in sedans. Hatchbacks offer 17.4 cubic feet with seatbacks upright (a gain of 2). Folding the seatback expands that space to 32.8 cubic feet. Hatchback openings have widened.

Driving Impressions

Compared to the outgoing Rio, the 2018 versions are a lot more livable. Despite ranking as a budget-focused car, the latest Rio performs better, with greater response at lower speeds. Power might be comparatively modest, but it’s delivered in a more immediate manner.

Essentially, the Rio makes good use of its available energy, eagerly infusing a touch of spirit into road behavior. Even its sounds are pleasant ones.

Though adequate, Kia’s 6-speed automatic transmission can be indecisive. Still, it does an admirable job of keeping the small engine behaving with peak efficiency. A Sport button causes the transmission to hold each gear longer, which inevitably hurts fuel economy.

Also improved is ride quality, which is impressively composed, despite use of the same basic suspension as before – which earned subpar evaluation. Revised spring and damper settings have made the suspension more compliant, able to subdue more pavement roughness.

Steering feel also has improved. So has its accuracy, though these benefits are somewhat overshadowed by unusually light weight at the steering wheel. Whether all-disc (in EX) or with rear drums, brakes feel confident, though hard stops yield some nosedive.

Regardless of transmission, the 2018 Rio is relatively fuel efficient. Equipped with automatic, the Rio is EPA-rated at 28/37 mpg City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined. Manual-shift Rios reduce the City figure by just 1 mpg.

Final Word

The Kia Rio comes modestly equipped in base trim, though fitted with a fine infotainment system. Step-up models add quite a few desirable features. The price starts climbing, however.

Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.