Cheap, simple cars are now pretty much extinct. When a new Honda Civic can cost over $30,000 with just a few options, it’s a clear indicator that affordable mobility is a thing of the past.
But not entirely. While most carmakers are shifting upmarket towards larger, more sophisticated and ever more expensive sport utility vehicles, Kia still believes in the affordable small car. The Rio is a fantastic case in point. In a world where pretty much everyone, including Kia’s corporate cousin Hyundai, has abandoned this segment, Kia’s runabout stands tall as the leader of the category.
Small cars have come a long way
Spending an entire week behind the week of this adorable Rio had me realizing how good small cars have become. The moment I strapped myself in its driver’s seat, this sub $25,000 machine prompted me to connect wirelessly to Android Auto, a feature that was absent in the $155,000 Mercedes-AMG GT53 I drove a few months prior.
The Rio is all about getting more for less. It never penalizes you for having spent less money on your new car. If anything, it rewards you for doing so. Build quality is just good with decent materials and no-nonsense ergonomics. Everything is where it should be, which makes operating the car a breeze and stress-free.
I’ll even add that the seating position is rather impressive, with seat comfort that isn’t all that bad for a long drive. I know, because I drove it from Montreal to Quebec City and back. And it proved totally adequate for the task albeit a bit too noisy at highway speeds.
Mind you, it’s not as if you’re getting much technology in Kia’s subcompact car, but you get what you need. My tester was the top-of-the-line Rio Premium which comes with some interesting options considering its $24,810 price tag. Things like an automatic dual-zone climate control system, heated seats and steering wheel, a USB port in the back as well as a few driving aids like adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring. It’s not the kind of stuff you’d expect from a car at this price point, yet Kia throws it in there anyway.
That being said, I’d suggest sticking to the LX Premium trim. At $22,410, it still comes standard with 15-inch wheels, and you’ll still get the heated seats and steering wheel.
Just Enough Power and Fun to Drive
From a technical standpoint, the Rio is fine, but not particularly exciting. Don’t expect hot hatchback acceleration from its 120-horsepower 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine.
But with 112 lb-ft of torque on tap and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that mimics a conventional automatic thanks to fake gear ratios (Kia calls it iVT), the little Rio gets up and going with little fuss, even allowing itself to overtake cars without sounding like its tiny engine will eject its way out of the hood.
The Rio is tossable, meaning it stays firmly planted on the road even at high speeds, yet it also feels light on its feet. This makes it rather fun to drive, coming through as a grown-up, refined and almost European ride, rather than a cheap penalty box on wheels.
Fuel consumption is rather impressive too. During my time with the car, I averaged 6.2L/100 km, which is lower than Kia’s 6.5L/100 km claims.
Tight Rear Seat and Hard to Find
Perhaps where the Rio is a bit of a letdown is in its cramped rear seating area. Kia now only sells this car as a five-door hatchback here in Canada, which is a tad shorter (320 mm) than the old Rio sedan. This inevitably leads to less rear passenger space, especially with taller adults up front. On the upside, the hatchback’s configuration yields impressive cargo space, going from 388 liters in the sedan, to 493 litres in the hatchback.
Lower those rear seatbacks, however, and the Lilliputian Rio gives way to 928 litres of available cargo volume. Those are impressive numbers considering its size, but it’s still behind its only real competitor, the Mitsubishi Mirage (1,331 litres).
And then there’s the cold hard truth about the 2022 Kia Rio: it’s availability or lack thereof. Indeed, in 2022, affordable doesn’t necessarily mean attainable. Waiting lists for a Rio in Canada are at least a full year and, in some cases, even longer!
But then again, is any car available in this day and age? If you’re patient enough and still looking for a straight-forward, cheap and reliable automobile that won’t break the wallet in gas bills, then yes, the charming Kia Rio is definitely worth the wait.
2022 Kia Rio Premium
Front-engine, front-wheel drive
1.6-litre I4 (120 horsepower @ 6,300 r.p.m. / 112 lb-ft @ 4,500 r.p.m.)
: Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
: 7.1L/100 km (city) / 5.7L/100 (highway) / 6.5L/100 km (combined)
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY
: 6.2L/100 km
$24,810 (as tested)
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.