It’s one of the world’s most popular superminis, yet the Kia Rio is still considered a slightly unusual choice here in the UK – and that’s not fair. This is a serious range of small three- and five-door hatchbacks that are attractively priced and have a very long warranty, good levels of equipment and increasingly sophisticated mechanicals. Her name is Rio, and we should all be dancing on the sand.
The latest Rio is the fourth generation since 2001. Each revision has made the car look progressively more modern and suited to British tastes, and the latest model looks very smart indeed.
The car is completely conventional under the bonnet, with front engines driving the front wheels. It’s designed to be a car for those who value efficiency over style. Unlike those on Rio’s famous beaches, this car has never been a head-turner, and the lack of a desirable sporty version means the car’s profile has stayed low.
It's always been a neat-looking design with nothing quirky or trendy. That means it won’t go out of fashion – because it was never in fashion.
The latest model looks very smart indeed.
What’s it like to drive?
Kia has gradually improved the driving behaviour of its Rio range as the years have passed, and the latest models handle as well as most of their rivals. Earlier versions were comfortable and safe, without as much precision or refinement as most European superminis. Most drivers find the steering pleasantly light around town and note that it becomes more weighty on the open road.
You sit lower than in some cars, giving the driver a good feel of where they are on the road. The Rio is smooth and stable on the motorway, yet easy and responsive around town. Note that the hybrid version merges electric and petrol power seamlessly, so you’ll generally drive it without noticing any difference other than your fuel bills.
You sit lower than in some cars, giving the driver a good feel of where they are on the road.
As a brand, Kia has progressed from an unfamiliar South Korean badge selling into a crowded European market on the basis of low prices, to becoming a serious global manufacturer. The Rio of previous years had a humble – if well screwed-together – interior, and it's improved rapidly.
More recent versions have a cabin reminiscent of a German car. The latest generation from 2018 has a sturdy and impressive dashboard, well-shaped wheel and very decent trim materials. The interior design is mature and confident enough to forgo the jazzy colour panels and styling gimmicks of some ‘youth-oriented’ rivals. Instead, it’s simple, formal, and seems built to last.
The same applies to the increasing level of onboard technology. The touchscreens are simple and responsive, and most modern cars get an eight-inch screen that offers phone connectivity and controls the infotainment system.
The Rio has always scored well on spaciousness, and the post-2018 cars have a little more than before. Leg and headroom is good in both the front and back seats, and three can fit across the rear seats. Like all superminis, you wouldn’t want to sit like that for too long. Overall, there’s more space in the cabin than most rivals, although others may have slightly plusher seats.
Like so much about this car, the boot space is roughly average for superminis. As usual, you can lower the back seats to increase it drastically and store a couple of large suitcases. Three-door versions have been phased out from the latest generation, but they offer a good-value alternative if you’re looking for older models and don’t have a big family.
Shopping around for a Rio is made pretty simple – you don’t have to spend hours comparing specifications. The cars are what they are sold as – generally, the only optional extras are paint colours. More recent cars get a very good level of standard kit, including useful rear parking sensors. Many also come with an impressive array of safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking and motorway lane-keeping systems.
Running costs and reliability
The Rio has a range of smooth, punchy engines, and they’re roughly average in terms of fuel economy. Official figures for the most recent models spread from 44-60 mpg, while the new hybrid could return up to 80mpg. Running costs are generally good too, with the big help of one of the car industry’s best warranties. Even a fairly-old used Rio may still be under warranty because it was sold with a seven-year covering against things going wrong.
What we love
The Kia Rio doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. It’s a well-priced, well-built small hatchback that suits almost every type of motorist. It’s a bit more spacious than most and a lot more reliable. The Rio appeals most to those who don’t care about badge snobbery or trendy features – they just want a good car that works at a good price.
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This spacious, reliable and smart hatchback is a sensible choice if you aren’t swayed by image, style or fashion. There’s a good range of engines, including a hybrid, and the best feature for used car buyers may simply be that most Rios are still covered for years by the famous Kia warranty.
This review was