2018 Kia Rio: The Little Kia That Can, And Does

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The subcompact car category is down over 22 percent so far this year, and within that category the Kia Rio, Kia’s lowest-priced model, is down 55 percent. Both figures speak to the challenge of selling small, fuel-efficient cars in a market that shows little interest in either. It makes one wonder why Kia would even bother with a redesign of the 2018 Rio sedan and 5-door hatch.

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Exterior updates include a wider stance and swept-back headlights

If the Kia Rio were a U.S.-only model it likely wouldn’t receive any redesign love, but Kia (like all modern automakers) is a global company operating with a global perspective. The Rio is sold in several markets and is a worldwide sales leader. Over 400,000 versions of the Kia Rio were sold last year, and Kia expects 1.6 million units to be sold over the life of this new generation. And, with a starting price below $15,000, the Rio represents a likely entry point for future Kia customers.

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The Rio’s global sales keep it viable, even in the SUV-oriented U.S. market

This helps Kia justify the engineering resources it takes to upgrade the Rio for 2018. And, because the Rio’s top market is Europe, the chassis tuning emphasis is on capable handling dynamics as much as ride quality. The new 2018 Rio is also built in the U.S. now, helping Kia avoid currency fluctuations while letting the automaker add convenience and technology features. These include new driver’s assistance tech like forward collision warning and automatic braking.

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An all-new platform and revised suspension help the Rio dispense with road imperfections

The new Rio’s exterior offers a more chiseled appearance versus the outgoing model. The designers wanted the car to transmit a dynamic and stable look, with a prominent beltline, wider flanks, a longer hood and swept-back headlights. Kia’s trademark “tiger nose” grille gives the Rio a distinctive look while a more upright windshield benefits interior space.

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A lower dash and elevated touchscreen create a more spacious interior

Inside the Rio a new dash with a lower instrument panel further adds to the car’s feeling of roominess. The lower dash is balanced by an elevated display for easy control of the central touchscreen. Other interior conveniences, including a standard 5-inch touchscreen display, satellite radio and a cell phone storage pocket, contribute to the new Rio’s upscale feel, but keep in mind the base LX model won’t include power windows or cruise control.

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Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been added to the list of 2018 features

An upgraded UVO3 infotainment and telematics system is standard on the 2018 Rio EX. The system features 19 services through Kia’s latest downloadable app. These include tracking the vehicle’s location and diagnostics. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have been added for 2018, along with a cell-phone-powered navigation system. This means the Rio has no native navigation, but Kia reps told us the company’s research showed consumers prefer their own navigation system and interface over an imbedded system.

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The Rio’s 1.6-liter engine offers 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque

Powering the 2018 Rio is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine making 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque. While peak power and torque dropped this year a broader torque curve offers grater power at a more useable RPM range. Kia reps told us the new Rio is quicker when crossing intersections, merging on the freeway or pulling from a side street into busy traffic. The engine sends power to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual, with fuel economy rated at 29 city, 37 highway and 32 combined mpg for the automatic and 28/39/32 for the manual.

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The 2018 Kia Rio can be ordered with contrasting seat material

Acceleration numbers haven’t been released yet, but we can confirm the Rio is adequate in terms of power. It’s not a quick car, but for vehicles in this category it’s more important to keep up with traffic while avoiding a noisy or buzzy cabin — especially when calling on maximum acceleration. The Rio succeeds, offering satisfying thrust and a relatively serene environment, even when mashing the pedal.