2021 Kia Rio
2021 Kia Rio
Cars don’t come much cheaper than the 2021 Kia Rio, which has a starting price of only about $17,000. Yet the Rio manages to pack a good value into its modest sedan or hatchback body.
The 2021 Rio benefits from a new 8.0-inch touchscreen, which replaces last year’s 7.0-inch unit. Kia has purportedly updated the styling as well, but the tweaks are subtle.
The Rio’s lone powertrain is a 1.6-liter inline-4 that makes 120 hp. That power is churned through a continuously variable automatic transmission on its way to the front wheels. The EPA says the Rio is good for 33 mpg city, 41 highway, 36 combined with either body style.
As for safety features, Kia offers the best gear in the Technology package on the Rio S. The bundle includes automatic emergency braking, active-lane control, and automatic high beams.
The government hasn’t tested this generation of Rio, but the IIHS gives it mostly “Good” ratings, save for an “Acceptable” score for front-passenger impact protection.
Just two trims are offered for the 2021 Rio. The cheaper of those is the $17,045 LX, which includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, power windows and locks, and cloth upholstery.
For a few hundred dollars more, the $17,685 S sedan adds split-folding rear seats, keyless entry, cruise control, and a front armrest. It also opens up access to options like SiriusXM radio and active-safety tech. The hatchback is only offered with the S trim and starts at $17,980.
The Rio is a rather plain sedan or hatchback, but Kia has given its simple styling good proportions that are easy on the eyes.
This year’s minor refresh gives the Rio slightly bigger air dams on the front bumper and a bolder lower front grille. None of this impacts the Rio’s pleasant but innocuous overall design.
You can’t expect glitz and glamour in a car as cheap as the Rio. Pop into the cabin and what you see and touch is simple, honest, down-to-earth. The main focus here is functionality and decent build quality, and it delivers on both quite admirably.
The seats on the Rio are manually adjusted on both trims, but they are amply cushioned and feature attractive ribbed cloth upholstery. The front-center armrest is a luxury only limited to the S trim, however.
The back seat carves out 33.5 inches of leg room, acceptable given the Rio’s 101-inch wheelbase and 160-inch overall length. It is best for seating two.
The sedan holds 13.5 cubic feet of cargo, and only the LX trim features split-folding rear seats. The hatchback gets 17.4 cubic feet of space that expands to 32.8 cubes with the second row folded.
The Rio is a basic little car. Start it up, prod the accelerator, and point it where you generally want to go, and the car dutifully obliges. It’s not fast or darty; competency is the benchmark.
The 1.6-liter inline-4 works well with the Rio’s obliging personality. Its 120 hp is adequate for use around town, though the engine begins to feel taxed at higher speeds. Otherwise, the Rio’s 2,800-pound curb weight doesn’t put too much strain on the meager power.
Rear drum brakes might raise some eyebrows, but we didn’t have any issues with bringing the Rio to a stop safely and quickly.
The 2021 Kia Rio has great fuel economy and a great warranty—both in a car that costs just $17,000 or so. We’d buy ours as a fully-loaded hatchback, in order to add the vital safety equipment Kia offers only on the top Rio.
—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection