Pint-Sized Kia Rio Packs Tons of Premium Features

Njuguna Kabugi | 12/11/2013, 3 p.m.
The small-car market is undergoing a renaissance.
Redesigned last year, the Kia Rio SX offers a large and upscale interior where two large adults can sit side-by-side comfortably. (Courtesy of Kia Motors America)

The small-car market is undergoing a renaissance. Five years ago, I would have been hard pressed to name half a dozen great cars under $20k that I would have recommended to my readers. Fast forward to today and behold, the field is full of cars that will delight almost every taste. Nearly every automaker is offering small cars that are quicker, more comfortable, better-equipped and safer than ever before.

Designers have not only figured out how to make small cars feel very big inside, but many offerings are more fuel-efficient than those available just a few years ago and also packed with high-end luxury gizmos. The materials and designs have improved, and small cars are more fun to drive than ever before.

Take this week’s test car – the quirky but handsome Kia Rio SX. After a refresh last year that saw the Rio 5-door and its sedan sibling adopt their own interpretations of Kia's signature grille, the automaker offers more proof that it has finally discovered that success formula that puts it on a point-perfect match with stalwarts in its category that include the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and the Chevy Sonic.

Though Rio’s still a small car for daily driving needs, it now offers consumers an abundance of standard amenities, safety features and interior space that make the car a compelling buy. From rear camera display to push-button start with Smart Key, to leather upholstery, heated seats, a telescoping steering wheel, 17-inch alloys, Bluetooth wireless technology, UVO Infotainment system and a seven-inch navigation touch screen with a SiriusXM™7 Traffic system, most buyers will find the Rio’s combination of European-influenced styling, and premium amenities very attractive.

Ride quality is small car decent on well-maintained roads, and the Kia is not as forgiving when driven fast on rough urban streets. On the highway, the Rio 5-door SX’s 138 horsepower 4-cylinder double- overhead cam gasoline direct-injection (GDI) engine is a little less responsive than the Chevy Sonic’s, but it still delivers enough pep for easy commutes while shuttling between D.C. and Baltimore for a couple of errands.

Inside, Kia's horizontal three-cylinder instrument panel and a two-tone color scheme emphasize a feeling of spaciousness and comfort. For amenities, there are two cup holders in front plus water bottle spaces in all four doors.

An extended wheelbase (101.2 inches) greatly enhances passenger room and comfort, offering 40.0 inches front headroom, 37.6 inches rear headroom, 43.8 inches front legroom and 31.1inches rear legroom for the Rio 5-door hatchback. Those looking for ample cargo space for quick weekend getaways or trips to the grocery store will not be disappointed, with an impressive 15.0 cubic feet in the hatchback. In addition, EX and SX models of the Rio hatchback receive a newly-standard cargo under-floor tray, which results in a flatter load floor when the rear seats are folded down.

The 2013 Rio’s comprehensive warranty program offers a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty and a five-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty. A five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan also is part of the comprehensive vehicle coverage. Our cute red temptress, as a colleague called it, gave excellent fuel economy (30-mpg city/40-mpg highway, impressive head and leg room, cargo room and a sticker price just shy of $18,000.