Engine: 1.6-liter gas direct injection 4-cylinder
Power: 130 horsepower, 119 lb. ft. of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA Ratings: 28/city, 37/highway, 32/combined
Base Price: $18,700
As Tested: $20,225
Overview: We rarely drive this genre of vehicle, as our reader demographic is more upscale, so we weren’t exactly thrilled seeing this on our schedule. But the all-new, redesigned, 2018 Kia Rio showed us what fun we’ve been missing. This fourth-generation, subcompact hatchback (our test vehicle) and sedan boast numerous improvements over the previous model. The Rio comes in three trim levels. Aside from choosing the desired trim level and color, there’s few other options offered. Upgrades on our EX test vehicle included nicer interior, all-disc brakes, rear-view camera, autonomous emergency braking, a 7-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay (or Android Auto).
Walkaround: Lower and wider than before, with wheels pushed toward the corners, the new Rio sports cleaner body lines with sharp creases. A taller front end where headlights sit higher, foglights moved outward and a lower front bumper complement the upright tiger-nose grille.
Interior: Rio’s quiet and comfortable cabin is significantly improved and more upscale, with comfortable and roomy seating for four. It’s quieter — thanks to greater use of adhesives in the chassis, road and tire noise are reduced. Positioned low and upright, instrumentation features a central touchscreen married to UVO3 — Kia’s feature-laden infotainment system. Its quick responses and easy swiping outperform several competitors. Hatchback cargo volume totals 17.4 cubic feet with seatbacks upright and 32.8 folded.
Under the Hood: A new, 1.6-liter four-banger delivers 130 horses and 119 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. A smooth-shifting, six-speed automatic improves drivability.
Behind the Wheel: Despite being budget-focused, this Rio outperforms the previous model with more immediate power and better response at lower speeds. Steering, braking and handling are much improved, though hard braking causes some nosedive. Ride quality is impressive. Revised spring and damper settings make it more compliant and better able to handle rough pavement. The six-speed automatic does a yeoman’s job keeping the small powerplant operating with maximum efficiency.
Bottom Line: The 2018 Kia Rio is a much improved, entry-level vehicle that’s a blast to drive. Base models come modestly equipped, while step-up models add quite a few upper-scale features — at modest cost.