What's New for 2013
For 2013 the Kia Rio EX can now be equipped with automatic stop-start technology for improved fuel efficiency around town. The Rio SX gets standard steering wheel paddle shifters for the automatic transmission.
These days it seems as if cars are being radically transformed from woefully forgettable to wowie class leaders all the time. Most of these transformations, however, come attached to a name change to ensure that no residual bad taste is left in the mouths of potential buyers. Nevertheless, the 2013 Kia Rio bucks this trend, standing proud with a name previously associated with one of the cheapest and crummiest cars on the road (not to mention Brazil and Duran Duran).
Since its redesign last year, the Rio has become one of the best subcompact cars you can buy. It starts with the car's styling, which is not only timelessly handsome but also manages to avoid the awkward proportions associated with other tiny sedans. Tiny is a relative term, however, as full-size adults can still fit comfortably in all the outboard positions of the Rio's four-door sedan or hatchback body. Plus, with its high-mounted dash and reasonably quiet cabin, the Rio feels much bigger than it is when you are behind the wheel.
This Kia can also seem more expensive than it really is. While the LX trim is rather bare bones, the EX and SX step things up with higher-quality cabin materials and near-luxury levels of equipment. Every time we've driven a Rio, we've been amazed when the window sticker shows a price lower than $20,000. Ultimately, the only real knock against the Kia Rio is its ride and handling. Although it's a vast improvement over previous Rios, this car doesn't feel particularly sharp going around corners, nor does it have the most refined highway ride. If a spirited driving experience is important to you, it's a good idea to try a few different subcompact cars before deciding on the Rio.
And the Rio is certainly not alone when it comes to radically improved subcompact sedans and hatchbacks. The Hyundai Accent is mechanically related to the Rio and offers similar value, but differs in equipment availability and styling. The Chevy Sonic is one of the more fun-to-drive subcompacts, especially with its turbocharged engine that still achieves standout fuel economy. The Ford Fiesta's sophisticated balance of ride and handling helps make it another of our top choices. The Honda Fit is also worth a look if you prioritize interior space and versatility.
Quite frankly, never have subcompact cars been so genuinely desirable. Although we wish the 2013 Kia Rio was a bit more enjoyable to drive, it's still a good choice if you're looking for a small, inexpensive car with a livable equipment list, a dash of style and the occasional ability to cart around three friends.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Kia Rio is a subcompact car available as a four-door sedan and a four-door hatchback. Trim levels are LX, EX and SX.
The base LX comes standard with 15-inch steel wheels, heated power mirrors, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-only steering wheel, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a trip computer, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The LX Power package adds power windows, power locks and keyless entry.
The EX trim level includes the above equipment and adds to it cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, upgraded cloth upholstery, a sliding front armrest, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a six-speaker sound system. The EX Convenience package adds 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglamps, power-folding mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, map lights, upgraded interior materials, a rearview camera, a small touchscreen interface and the Uvo voice-activated media player interface. To that package the EX Eco package includes automatic stop/start, which shuts the car down when stopped to save fuel.
The SX trim level includes the EX Convenience package items, plus 17-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, LED running lights and taillights, dual exhaust tips and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The SX Premium package adds a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a navigation system, real-time traffic and a larger touchscreen interface.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Kia Rio is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the LX, while a six-speed automatic transmission is optional on the LX and standard on the other trims. The EX Eco package adds the fuel-saving automatic stop/start technology.
In Edmunds testing, the Kia Rio SX hatchback went from zero to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds, while an SX sedan reached 60 in 9.4 seconds -- about a second quicker than the class average in either case.
Fuel economy estimates stand at 28 mpg city/36 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined for the automatic. The EX Eco package for the automatic bumps the estimates to 30/36/32, while the manual rates 29/37/32.
Every 2013 Kia Rio comes standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is available.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Rio SX hatchback came to a stop from 60 mph in just 119 feet, while the SX sedan needed 124 feet -- again, better than average for the class. In government crash testing, the Rio received four out of five stars for overall protection, with four stars for frontal protection and five stars for side protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Kia Rio's cabin boasts a restrained yet stylish design that evokes German cars. The materials quality is nothing special in the base LX, but the added soft-touch surfaces, armrest cushioning and tasteful metallic accents found in the upper trims make the Rio's cabin one of the finest in the subcompact segment. We highly encourage you to go that extra mile to get an EX or SX, especially since they come with a truly impressive amount of equipment.
The climate and audio controls are easy to use, while the available Uvo voice-activated electronics interface is another nice bonus. Although we've found its voice recognition abilities aren't quite to the level of Ford's Sync, its accompanying touchscreen interfaces are more user-friendly than the buttons and screens found in Ford's Fiesta and Focus.
The Rio also scores in the areas of space and comfort. Even tall drivers should be comfortable behind the available tilt-and-telescoping wheel, while the backseat offers a competitive amount of space. Count this as another subcompact that doesn't feel all that subcompact. When it comes time to carry cargo as well as passengers, the sedan has a generous 13.7-cubic-foot trunk. For maximum stuff-hauling potential, though, you'll want to consider the hatchback, which measures about 50 cubic feet with the seats down. That's less than a Honda Fit, but more than a Ford Fiesta.
As we've only driven SX versions of the Rio, these impressions pertain mostly to that trim, which provides larger wheels and tires, and firmer suspension tuning than the LX and EX models. The Rio SX is competent around turns, but it's definitely not the best handling car in this class. In addition, the Kia's ride is choppy bordering on harsh depending on the condition of the pavement. If you're looking for a small car that feels a little more sophisticated in the way it rides and handles, the Chevy Sonic and Ford Fiesta are both worth a look.
Given that midsize family sedans are now approaching 300 hp, it's hard to get excited about the 138-hp 2013 Kia Rio. Even so, its direct-injected four-cylinder is one of the more robust in its class and delivers impressive acceleration for a subcompact. It can get a bit noisy, and while the engines of other subcompacts make a noticeable amount of noise, the timbre of the Rio's is particularly thrashy.