by Roger Biermann
Celebrating 20 years since the first generation Rio’s original release, the 2019 Kia Rio is still running strong, and unsurprisingly so. The budget-conscious yet practical subcompact model that faced a cloud of uncertainty, keeping curious buyers at bay from the South Korean manufacturer just years ago, now boasts a household name for the segment, standing toe to toe with much better-established rivals like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Hyundai Accent.
2019 pushes the fourth generation Kia Rio forward with changes you can both see and feel. Dropping its top-level EX trim in favor of just two trim levels (LX and S), it still offers the no-nonsense interior and exterior design that feels clean-cut, welcoming, and a good divider between generations both young and old. Drawing 130 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque from its 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine, mated to Kia’s six-speed automatic transmission, it’s a strong competitor in the segment.
Kia has elected to get rid of the manual six-speed gearbox altogether, putting faith in its six-speed Sportmatic automatic transmission instead. The EX trim package has also been dropped from the line-up, with an additional Tech Package available on top of the S trim, offering LED headlights, Forward Collision Avoidance, UVO3, and SiriusXM satellite radio. With the shift in the lineup, Bluetooth, power windows and a rearview camera are now standard on both trims.
Sharing its design with the 2018 Kia Rio, the exterior remains the same across both the LX and S trims, with visual improvements only coming in the form of optional LED headlights. Most notably, Kia has removed any options for alloy wheels, favoring 15-inch steel rims with full covers instead. With last year’s full redesign for the fourth-generation model, the styling still looks current and appealing, and trims are only differentiated by a subtle S badge at the rear if that was your trim of choice.
Breaking down this subcompact sedan into its raw figures, it has a curb weight of 2,714 lbs, making it slightly heavier than its Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent rivals. At 57.1 inches tall and with 5.5 inches of ground clearance, it feels well suited for the urban environment. Measuring 160 inches in length with a 101.6-inch wheelbase, parking in even the tightest of spaces should be done with ease with a 33.5-foot turning circle ensuring nimble handling within confined areas.
With the 2019 Kia Rio sharing the same styling as its last iteration, the color palette has only one change this year around, dropping its Ice Wine color in favor of a darker Phantom Gray. There are three colors available for the base LX model: Clear White, Silky Silver, and a premium Aurora Black (+$195), with three additional colors, Currant Red, Deep Sea Blue, and the new Phantom Gray available exclusively for the S trim.
Power in the 2019 Kia Rio is drawn from its 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder motor, producing a modest but respectable 113 hp and 119 lb-ft of torque. Paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, power is sent to the front wheels, with no other drivetrain options available for the segment. Though the motor produces more noise than acceleration, it does manage to reach 0-60 miles per hour in 9.1 seconds, which is average for its segment but nothing exciting compared to those that offer more potent sports derivatives. The motor is shared between both trim levels available, and offer no difference in responsiveness or feel.
Kia’s 1.6-liter inline-four-cylinder isn’t the most potent at 130 hp and 119 lb-ft of torque, but it performs exactly as expected in and around town. Pulling away from a standstill, the six-speed automatic does rather well to deliver on smooth acceleration and prefers to keep its revs down low for improved fuel consumption. It does, however, leave you feeling that there’s more to be desired, as its automatic transmission shifts well before peak torque is delivered.
Approaching the highway is a different matter. Building up speed is done with relative ease as a heavy foot has the transmission shifting a lot later, allowing much more of the torque band to be exploited. It is worth mentioning that the modest 1.6-liter runs out of breath and feels strained when attempting an overtake at higher speeds, and really feels let down by Kia’s decision to omit a manual option. With only a single engine, and Kia’s Sportronic automatic transmission available, buyers aren’t spoilt for choice, and this combination feels particularly complacent compared to rivals that offer more responsive setups.
The 2019 Kia Rio does well to be both practical and comfortable, but still remains nimble. Steering input, although a bit muted, has the right amount of resistance and feedback to give you the reassurance necessary to let you know what the front wheels are doing. Despite its refined sedan exterior, it is rather nippy bordering on fun. Most notably however, is how predictable the Rio is. Smooth throttle response, consistent braking, and good handling inspires a heightened sense of control.
Absorbing bumps and dips in the road, it really comes to life, wandering its playground with a sense of purpose. Admittedly, the Rio has a firmer ride when compared to its Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent rivals, but not to the extent of being uncomfortable. At the other end of the spectrum, highway speeds feel like the steering needed constant small adjustments, and road noise insulation could definitely get an upgrade here. Corners and city streets are where the Rio feels most composed and where it would spend most of its life. Ultimately, it’s quite comfortable to drive and be in, and spending your time with the Rio on the daily commute or the quick shopping trip would certainly be a great way for inexpensive travel in the segment.
EPA-rated economy estimates for the 2019 Kia Rio sits at 28/37/32 mpg for the city/highway/combined cycles. With an 11.9-gallon fuel tank, estimated driving range is 381 miles in mixed driving conditions, matching sister-brand Hyundai’s Accent. The Toyota Yaris in an automatic configuration boasts a 406-mile range and achieves similar mileage estimates, placing the Rio rather average in its segment. Compared to the Honda Fit’s 36 mpg average, however, the Rio falls short.
The 2019 Kia Rio does a good job at looking and feeling more premium than it actually is. A blend of hard plastics, glossy plastics, and the flush button layout all in easy reach of the driver is a welcoming sight to whoever gets behind the wheel. Glancing over your shoulder and all around, you’ll find large windows in all directions, offering a great field of view and a welcome break from the dark and muted, yet sophisticated looking dashboard and inner door panels. With the five-inch (LX trim) or seven-inch (S trim) touchscreen positioned dead center, standard audio at completely acceptable levels of clarity and loudness, and dedicated cupholders for each of your passengers, the interior is well designed and has a reassuring build quality to it.
The five-seater subcompact sedan creates an environment that feels spacious without moving necessary controls for the driver, or passenger comforts out of reach. Up front is a respectable 39 inches of headroom for the driver and passenger, with a nearly matched 37 inches (one inch less than its hatchback counterpart) at the rear, enough for tall adults. Legroom at the rear is a bit cramped, however, and might cause an issue if the front seats are moved back for a taller driver and front-seated passenger. Despite its moderately spacious interior, shoulder room for the rear seats is a shy 53 inches, limiting comfort for those long-distance trips. It’s going to be a bit of a squeeze for three tall adults, making the rear seats best suited to smaller adults and teenagers. Both the front and rear seats are comfortable and well built, with just the right amount of stiffness and cushioning for a relaxed but secure feel.
The interior is available in two colors, in either gray or black with a woven cloth seat trim. Neither color disappoints as it blends with the hard plastics of the dashboard and other more glossy plastic interior trim. With no color accents on offer for trim inlays, it moves away from the recent trend of appealing to younger first-time owners with a more refined approach. That being said, it certainly doesn’t lack in appeal for those with finer tastes, young and old.
Kia has gone to great lengths to ensure the trunk of the car offers as much usable cargo space as possible, opting for a deep-set floor section and favoring a mostly rectangular shape, with the arches barely impeding. That said, with the rear seats up, cargo space comes in at an average 13.7 cubic feet, enough for a generous shopping trip or a few suitcases. The seats only fold down in the S trim configuration and don’t fold down to a flat floor, so be mindful of what kind of cargo your Rio is going to be hauling. The trunk size is quite reasonable, though if transporting goods is important to you, the hatchback variant offers a little more than its sedan counterpart.
Driver and passengers are accommodated by dual front cupholders, an overhead sunglasses holder, illuminated glove box, center console storage space (S trim only), and map pockets in the front and rear doors with dedicated bottle holders and enough space to fit a few snacks.
Key differences between the entry-level Rio LX and more wholly equipped Rio S are quite a few, leaving the LX feeling a bit bare-bones for its standard kit. A reverse camera, power windows, power door locks, and a 12V outlet come as standard for the Rio, with the S trim adding cruise control with dedicated controls on the steering wheel, remote keyless entry with a dedicated trunk opener, a sliding center console armrest with storage, and rear-seat adjustable headrests. There are no climate control options for the Rio unfortunately, with air conditioning being manual and only at the front. Others in the segment offer more, with the Honda Fit, in particular, adding a range of driver assistance aids not found here. The Rio’s price, however, does justify the lack of equipment just a little.
In our opinion, one of the best features of the Kia Rio is the infotainment system. Standard on the LX trim, you’re greeted by a five-inch touchscreen display featuring AM/FM Radio, Auxiliary/MP3 and USB support, Bluetooth audio streaming, and four speakers. Opt for the S trim though, and the sound system gets a substantial upgrade with an additional two speakers in the guise of two front-mounted tweeters, all controlled by a seven-inch touchscreen display. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto take care of the necessary smartphone integration, whilst opting for the Technology Package nets you SiriusXM satellite radio streaming.
Boasting a strong track record, there have been no recalls for this generation Rio, with only minor issues reported for the previous generations. Since its fourth-generation release in 2018, the majority of buyers have reported no issues. All trim levels carry Kia’s excellent ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain, and five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, making it an excellent contender in its segment, and certainly at the more reliable end of the spectrum.
Despite the Rio’s modest looking exterior and low price tag, Kia went the extra mile to ensure its a safe commuter. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named the Rio a 2019 Top Safety Pick. It has yet to be tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however.
There are a host of safety features available to the S trim for the Rio, namely Forward Collision Warning, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist, ABS brakes with brake assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). As standard, driver and passenger airbags, curtain airbags and seat-mounted airbags take care of you and your passengers, while the standard traction control and stability control systems are also equipped.
We quite like the Rio. For the comfort, practicality, and economy it provides at its reasonable price point, there isn’t a lot left to be desired. The base-model is rather bare-bones in regards to features and trim, but the range-topping S trim is a fully featured car that knows its purpose and the market it was designed for. Paired with an excellent warranty as standard and a safety rating to be proud of, it takes care of all the basics without pricing itself out of the market. It boasts endearing driving dynamics and a comfortable disposition, with the only letdown being the automatic gearbox that doesn’t extract the most from an at-best lackluster engine. We recommend you opt for the Technology package on the S trim, as it adds LED Headlights, a plethora of safety features, LED positioning lights, satellite radio and much more. We would’ve liked to see options manual gearbox and leather seats, but it's certainly a strong contender from Kia this year around.
In its base trim, the 2019 Kia Rio LX carries a base MSRP of $15,390, excluding tax, licensing, registration, and $925 in destination charges. The next and final trim in the lineup is the Rio S, priced at $16,190. Dealers may also offer bespoke deals or incentives, so it pays to shop around.
The Rio range consists of two trims, the LX and S.
As standard, the LX comprises features such as ABS, six-airbags, hill start assist, 15-inch steel wheels with full covers, a five-inch touchscreen radio with Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, a rearview camera, auxiliary inputs, a 12V outlet, power windows, and power door locks, and manual air conditioning.
Opt for the S trim however, and you get all the specs from the LX model and more, namely a seven-inch touchscreen radio, six speakers with two tweeters, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, Siri Eyes Free, dedicated USB charging ports, remote keyless entry with alarm and trunk opener, cruise control with steering wheel controls, and a rather handy center console with sliding armrest. The S also has the option of the Technology package, equipping LED headlights, satellite radio, and additional safety features.
Both the LX and S models share the same 1.6-liter inline-four-cylinder engine and Kia’s six-speed automatic transmission, with no difference in exterior styling and no alloy wheel options.
Available to the S trim only is the S Technology Package at an additional $800, which adds LED headlights, Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA), LED Positioning lights, Kia’s UVO E-Services, Forward Collision Warning (FCW), and a 3.5-inch Supervision Meter Cluster that displays essential driver information to the driver.
Standalone options on the Rio available across the range are mainly visual. Useful options, however, come in the form of an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink functionality and a built-in compass at $350, and Kia’s Paint Protection Package to protect the bumper and hood against most projectiles with a clear film at $200 respectfully.
Adding the S Technology Package, as well as all optional extras, the fully equipped Rio S still comes in at a still very respectable MSRP of $18,990.
The Kia Rio has great potential as a cost-effective daily commuter, offering enough cargo space, seating, and comfort for the whole family. We recommend the S trim that includes the center console, remote keyless entry, and cruise control as standard, not present on the base model LX. With a very generous service plan off the showroom floor and at an $800 difference in cost over the LX, adding essential comforts and usability for the driver, it’s the better-rounded companion. It also unlocks access to the Technology package, which we recommend for the LED headlights and the plethora of extra safety features like forward collision warning.
Even at the Rio’s budget-conscious price tag, the Versa takes the lead with a starting MSRP of $12,460, $2,930 cheaper at base trim. The Versa, unfortunately, makes use of a very dull and unresponsive motor, producing a mere 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque compared to the Rio’s 130 hp and 119 lb-ft of torque, despite both cars utilizing a 1.6-liter engine to get the wheels turning. Fuel economy also favors the Rio when sticking to the five-speed manual of the base model Versa, where it only achieves 27/36/30 mpg compared to the Kia’s 28/37/32 mpg. The S Plus trim Versa does net you a CVT transmission which improves figures to 31/39/34 mpg, but at $2,140 extra. The Rio also sports a much more premium-feeling interior, with the Versa’s price tag blatantly apparent in the use of plastics and the lack of features, robbing it of any sense of refinement. Rear legroom and trunk space does favor the Nissan, though that’s overshadowed by the lack of practicality with no center armrest, minimal stowage compartments, and a rather unimaginative interior layout.
In a numbers game, the Accent and Rio stack up equally with power figures, sharing the same motor and a near identical platform. That trend doesn’t last though, with the Accent boasting a cargo space of 13.7 cubic feet compared to the Rio’s 13.2. Gas mileage is in favor of the Rio though, with 32 mpg overall compared to the Hyundai’s 31 mpg figure. The Rio also exhibits better driving dynamics, where the Accent feels stiff and strained at the steering wheel. Warranties between the two competitors are also matched, both offering ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain and five-year/60,000-mile limited warranties. At base trim, the Accent barely takes the lead at an MSRP of $14,995 compared to the Rio at $15,390, but the Accent offers a manual gearbox, which in our eyes makes it the better option.