Kia has recently been trying to shed its reputation of bland, bargain-basement cars with questionable reliability yet good fuel economy, and the 2013 Kia Rio is a great example of the strides the company has made. It has retained the most important of those, with incredible fuel economy, but has shed the bland styling inside and out and has become increasingly reliable. It is hard to stand out in the subcompact market, but the Rio is taking a shot at it. Part of this is changing the way of thinking, with the Rio now taking more of its styling and performance cues from the European market and not so much from the American or Asian markets. While the price is a bit higher than previous generations, the overall looks and quality justify it. Unfortunately, the Rio does fail to match the transformed exterior and accommodating interior with a good driving experience, and that could be the biggest problem the Rio has; not being able to match its bite with its bark.
New For 2013
Kia is releasing about 500 SX hatchbacks with manual transmissions this year. There’s a new ?Kia? badge on the hood, trunk, and steering wheel of all Rios. Steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles are standard on SX models. Five-door models get new rear seatback release levers, and a cargo floor tray and net come standard on EX and SX trim levels.
The 2013 Kia Rio, especially the hatchback version, bears more than a passing resemblance to European success stories like the Renault Clio. From the thin upper grille, bordered by headlights that sweep up and back, to the forward-angled, rounded front end, the hatchback is quite similar. The sedan keeps the same front end, but the rear end is not quite so graceful or molded, with the stubby trunk. Body-colored door handles and side mirrors give it a slightly more upscale appearance than before. 15-inch steel wheels are the standard, but 17-inch aluminum wheels can be added on to sport the outside up. Chrome exhaust tips can also be added. A power sunroof is available, as are power-folding side mirrors.
Interior & Cargo
The 2013 Kia Rio is a subcompact, so it’s not the most spacious vehicle on the market. The overall interior has less space than many of its competitors, and while the front seat is adequate for even larger adults, the rear seat is quite tight for even the average adult. The dash is mounted high, which allows for great readability and reachability for drivers of all sizes. The quality of materials in the base model is nothing special, but the upper trim models get soft-touch plastics and metallic accents. Both the sedan and the hatchback do well in the cargo department as well, with the sedan having 13.7 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk while the hatchback can store up to 50 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seat folded down.
While a lot has changed with the 2013 Kia Rio, the idea of producing a stripped-down base model to appeal to the bargain shoppers has not. The base LX model is extremely limited in its interior amenities, with air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat and a four-speaker AM/FM/CD/Satellite radio system being the only nods to comfort. The windows and locks are manual, but can be upgraded to power accessories as an option. Kia doesn’t skimp when it comes to higher trim levels though, as the EX trim gets the power accessories and a whole lot more as standard equipment, including cruise control, upgraded upholstery, Bluetooth phone connectivity, two more speakers, and access to an upgrade package that adds a touchscreen interface, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rear-view camera, and a voice-activated media player interface. Most surprisingly, the SX trim level has an available SX Premium Package that adds leather upholstery, a moonroof, heated front seats, and a factory navigation system, a feature rarely available in a subcompact car.
The 2013 Kia Rio comes with a relatively small number of safety features, but still manages to perform well in crash testing. Standard on the Rio are front and side-curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, stability control and traction control. The only available safety option is a rearview camera. Despite this, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Kia Rio four out of five stars for overall protection, with four stars for front impact and five stars for side impact protection.
It’s unfortunate that the driving experience of the 2013 Kia Rio doesn’t mesh with the European hot-hatchback look of the hatchback, because then it would be a real winner. Only one engine is available, a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder power plant that puts out 138 horsepower. This is just enough to keep the Rio from being sluggish, but not enough to make it an interesting drive. A six-speed, manual transmission is standard, but the six-speed automatic transmission is well programmed and there is really no difference in the performance of either transmission. All of this leads to an acceleration time from zero to 60 miles per hour of 9.7 seconds, a bit below average for the segment, and the only reason that time is under 10 seconds is that the Rio is actually quite peppy right off the line. Beyond 60 miles per hour, acceleration is difficult, with the Rio managing to keep up with highway traffic but needing some planning and a good run-up for passing.
It’s not just the lack of power that is disappointing, as the suspension is a bit on the harsh side, able to ride nicely on smooth roads but with a bit of bouncing once even minor road flaws spring up. The electric steering is a bit slow to respond, and doesn’t provide road feedback to the driver. The brakes work quite well however, bringing the Rio to a halt in very little road space. It is altogether a rather plain driving experience, not nearly as exciting as the hatchback’s exterior or the interiors of either body style.
Key Competitors For The 2013 Kia Rio
- Honda Fit
- Ford Fiesta
- Hyundai Accent