The 2017 Kia Rio uses a proven formula: take a solid – if unexciting – base, wrap it in attractive sheet metal, and focus on providing a few crowd-pleasing features at a low MSRP. The Rio is not quite a triumph of superficial style over deep substance, but this is the kind of vehicle whose appeal is quickly sensed and understood instead of being realized on the road or through long-term use.

Pricing and Equipment

The Kia Rio is a close relative of the Hyundai Accent; the two use the same structure and share most mechanical components. A 137-horsepower 1.6-liter inline-four motivates the front wheels. Most Rios will be equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, although a six-speed manual is available if a buyer is willing to make some compromises. The EPA gives fuel economy estimates of 27 miles per gallon city, 36 highway, and 31 combined for a Rio with the automatic, while a Rio with the manual gearbox or a Rio EX with the optional Eco package scores similar 27 city, 36 highway, and 31 combined estimates.

The Rio is available as either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback. Either body style is available in base LX or midgrade EX trim levels – a relatively upscale SX level is also available on the hatch. The base model LX sedan starts at $15,050 (all prices listed here include an $895 delivery fee). The LX hatchback includes an automatic transmission – a $1,230 option on the sedan – in its $16,390 asking price. The LX is a rather basic set of wheels; air conditioning is standard but power locks and windows are reserved for an optional $800 package.

The EX offers a more competitive level of equipment, including those power locks and windows along with cruise control and a few convenience features – MSRP is $18,650 for the sedan and $18,800 for the hatchback. An efficiency-enhancing Eco package is available for the EX, as is a Designer package which includes interior trim upgrades. Both models feature a touchscreen-controlled infotainment system and a rearview camera.

The Rio SX hatchback aims to be something of a pocket luxury car. The SX's $21,800 sticker price includes a number of upscale features such as:

  • A seven-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, which now includes navigation.
  • Heated leather front seats.
  • 17-inch alloy wheels and a retuned suspension.
  • A sunroof.
  • Power-folding side mirrors.

Performance Pros

Kia Rio
  • The automatic transmission may not make for the most stimulating driveline on the market, but in around-town use it feels more natural and effective than the continuously-variable transmissions in some competitors.
  • Yes, those actually are rear disc brakes back there (even on the LX).

Performance Cons

  • Suspension tuning is always an exercise in compromise, but the Rio's standard setup is more compromised than usual. Handling is unstimulating and the ride on rough roads is less comfortable than most competitors.
  • The motor doesn't feel as vibrant as its 137-horsepower rating suggests. Selecting the manual transmission helps a bit but that choice is only available on the LX sedan – and only if one is willing to leave off power locks and windows.
  • The Rio doesn't provide much standard safety gear beyond the mandated minimums, and its crash test scores are similarly acceptable without being impressive.

Interior Pros

  • Kia's emphasis on styling applies to the interior as much as to the sheet metal. The basic design is appealing and a dash of trim adds panache without being excessive.
  • It's not just the looks - material quality is better than expected for an entry-level car.
  • The front seats are decently comfortable, with better-than-usual leg support for taller drivers.

Interior Cons

Kia Rio
  • Rear seat room is unimpressive for two and troublesome for three, and headroom across the row is especially meager.
  • It's 2017 – charging $800 for power windows and locks as optional equipment on the LX raises some eyebrows.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Kia is serious about infotainment. The manufacturer's voice-operated UVO system includes Apple Play and Android Auto, a SiriusXM receiver is standard across the line, and the touchscreens in the EX and SX (especially the SX's seven-inch display) would not be out of place in cars costing significantly more.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

The base LXs don't include some features which are all but universally accepted as standard equipment on a modern car. Adding power assists for the windows and locks to the LX sedan also requires adding the automatic transmission - and will therefore add a full $2000 to that appealingly low-looking MSRP.

The Bottom Line

The Rio's appeal is more about the simple things - styling, price, a few nice features - than any serious conceptual or engineering ambitions. It may not drive as well or accommodate as much or as many as competitors like the Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit, but it does what an inexpensive entry-level car should do (depending on standard equipment and rear-headroom requirements) and it looks good in the process. Be advised that a revamped Rio is due for the 2018 model year.