2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door front quarter

2018 Kia Rio 5-Door EX

1.6-liter dual overhead cam I4 (130 hp @ 6300 rpm, 119 lb/ft. @ 4850 rpm)

Six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive

28 city / 37 highway / 32 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

8.5 city / 6.4 highway / 7.5 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

35.2 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $19,595 US / $22,669 CAD

As Tested: $20,225 US/ $22,669 CAD

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,724 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

A few Beloit College professors have made plenty of hay over the years by publicizing their Mindset Lists — lists of the things each new class of incoming freshmen will not be able to relate to. For example, a new class in college right now doesn’t know a world with Tupac or JonBenet Ramsey.

Kids today, amirite?

I’m of a different mindset when it comes to car prices. As I turn forty later this year — meaning if I had any sort of game in high school, I could have been the daddy of one of those incoming freshmen — I can clearly recall a time when a new car could be had for around $4,000. Not a good car, mind you — that would have been closer to $10k in 1986 — but it gives me an appropriate reference point for a modern car.

Thus, I clench a bit when I see a sticker price over $20k for a subcompact hatchback, like the one on this 2018 Kia Rio EX. It takes a mental reset to realize I can’t buy basic transportation so cheap anymore. I have to consider exactly what it is I’m getting for the money, and at that point the numbers start to make sense.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door profile

By no means is the Kia Rio the least expensive new car on the market. I drove (and mostly loved) the 2018 Hyundai Accent a few months ago — a subcompact from Kia’s sister brand that shares a great deal beneath the surface with the Rio — and that base-model stickered for four grand less than this top-trim car.

For roughly the price of a brand-new 1986 Yugo GV, a Rio buyer opting for the EX over the Ace Of Base LX trim drives away with:

  • Alloy wheels
  • Fog lamps
  • Tilt-and-telescoping steering column (lesser models only tilt)
  • Lighted visor mirrors
  • 7-inch center screen with Kia’s excellent UVO system
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking
  • Bluetooth
  • Cruise control

Not mind-blowing options, by any means, but together the EX package makes a spartan subcompact decidedly less so.

One thing you’ll note is that the base trim is the only one offering three pedals. For those of us who prefer to shift for ourselves, the blingy bits from the EX aren’t available. In a modern car, I don’t need much, but Bluetooth and cruise control are hard to live without once you’ve been so spoiled.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door dash

The 130-horsepower four-cylinder really could use the manual — the six-speed automatic does noticeably blunt the performance. It can be slow to downshift when acceleration is called upon. I simply learned to mash the throttle a second or two early when merging onto a fast-moving interstate to compensate for the slow downshift.

The automatic is rated for basically the same fuel economy as the manual, but the stick ekes out an additional MPG in city testing. I was quite pleased with 35.2 mpg in my testing — especially considering the frequent mashing of the right pedal when merging onto that fast-moving interstate.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door gauges

The Rio EX five-door rides better than a subcompact hatchback really should — credit the 101.6-inch wheelbase for the composure over rough surfaces. Fifteen-inch alloy wheels are sensibly sized, giving plenty of meat on the sidewalls to help soak up imperfections or guard the wheels against curb rash. Handling isn’t exactly sporty, but neither does the suspension keel over during a quick lane change or a switchback. It’s simply a pleasant car to drive.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door infotainment

The interior of this tester was loaded up with the $500 Launch Edition package, adding a swath of red plastic across the dashboard, plus red/black two-tone leather seating. It livens up an otherwise bland scene. The interior is laid out functionally, and that 7-inch UVO touchscreen works simply, and simply works.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door interior

Seats front and rear were plenty comfortable, and the kids had just enough legroom in the back. They might not be thrilled on a long journey where they’d feel the need to stretch out a bit, but for shorter trips around town it’s perfectly serviceable. The hatch gives plenty of rear cargo room even with the rear seats in place — 17.4 cubic feet — with a heroic 32.8 cubes with those seats folded.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door front seats2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door rear seats

Go ahead and make your “Fat American” jokes, but the Rio does a brilliant job with the front-seat cupholders. They are spaced widely enough to fit a pair of large soft drinks from INSERT DRIVE-THRU BRAND NAME HERE without the cups interfering with one another. Too often in other cars, I’ll lift my drink only to knock the lid off my wife’s drink. Not in the Rio.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door front2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door rear

Styling, to these eyes, is handsome. I did have one tween call it “cute.” Maybe we will finally turn the tide and make hatchbacks an object of desire rather than derision! The Rio looks much better as a hatch than as a sedan, with better proportions. The corporate Tiger nose grille connects a pair of wide headlamps, making the little hatch look much wider than it really is. I’m a fan. The silver/grey pictured here — Kia calls it Phantom Grey — looks better in person than my pictures, but I’d prefer a bit more character if I were to buy one. The lovely Deep Sea Blue would be perfect for me.

After all, if you’re spending twenty grand on a car, might as well show it off — right? Yeah, twenty thousand dollars isn’t what it used to be, but a twenty thousand dollar car in 1986 never had Bluetooth or satellite radio. What a time in which we live — where a budget-priced subcompact like this 2018 Kia Rio EX can best some serious machinery from not that long ago.

And as “the kids” love to say mockingly, get off my lawn.

2018 Kia Rio EX Five-Door rear quarter

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