An in­ex­pen­sive hatch­back that acts and drives like it costs much more

The Mercury News Weekend - - DRIVE - By Mal­colm Gunn WWW.WHEELBASEMEDIA.COM

In au­to­mo­biles as in life, some­times the sim­plest things are the best fit for one’s needs, rather than larger and costlier choices. The 2018 Rio 5- Door hatch­back ex­em­pli­fies this phi­los­o­phy.

Although di­men­sion­ally po­si­tioned in the heart of the sub­com­pact bracket, the Rio 5- Door is in no way a bot­tom- feeder model. The hatch­back is larger over­all than most di­rect com­peti­tors, such as the Ford Fi­esta, Chevro­let Sonic and Toy­ota Yaris. The Kia is not that tall how­ever, so it takes a back seat to the in­te­rior space of the Nis­san Versa Note and class- lead­ing Honda Fit.

Com­pared to the 2017 model, the 2018 Rio 5- Door is slightly larger and rides on a com­pletely new plat­form that has been sig­nif­i­cantly stiff­ened for im­proved ride and driv­ing qual­i­ties as well as for safety. The sus­pen­sion has been re­designed to im­prove ride qual­ity while main­tain­ing com­po­sure dur­ing cor­ner­ing.

The 2018 5- Door looks about the same as be­fore, even though the front end is more ag­gres­sively styled with a larger air in­take be­low the grille. The rear roof pil­lar has been squared off, which should help the en­try and exit process for rear pas­sen­gers.

Over­all, the 5- Door dis­plays a ma­ture ap­pear­ance that shares noth­ing with the kid­die- car shapes of pre­vi­ous- gen­er­a­tion mod­els.

The in­te­rior de­sign is also more grown up, with its clean, straight­for­ward dash­board that shouldn’t re­quire mem­o­riz­ing the owner’s man­ual to mas­ter. The touch- screen and cli­mate controls are also easy to use.

There’s a rea­son­able amount of rear legroom for adults and the load space with the rear seat folded for­ward will swal­low lots of gear ( an en­larged hatch open­ing helps). But for class- lead­ing stowage ca­pac­ity, the Honda Fit re­mains un­chal­lenged.

The 5- Door’s driv­e­train is an in­ter­est­ing co­nun­drum. The 1.6- liter “Gamma” en­gine is rated at 130 horse­power and 119 pound- feet of torque, which is slightly less than the pre­vi­ous 130/ 123 rat­ing. De­spite this, Kia claims that the en­gine now has bet­ter low- and mid- range ac­cel­er­a­tion and is also more fu­el­ef­fi­cient. At 29 mpg in the city and 37 on the high­way, it’s a 1- mpg im­prove­ment in the city and high­way num­bers. Most driv­ers aren’t likely to no­tice.

As be­fore, the en­gine can be matched with a six- speed man­ual trans­mis­sion or avail­able six- speed au­to­matic.

The Rio 5-Door is com­mend­ably com­fort­able in city driv­ing and the man­ual gear­box is smooth shift­ing. The au­to­matic also works well ex­cept for some slight hes­i­ta­tion when ac­cel­er­at­ing hard from a dead stop.

This Kia re­ally shines on the high­way where the sus­pen­sion works well soak­ing up all but the nas­ti­est of rough stuff while keep­ing the car se­curely planted in the turns. The fact that the 2018 5- Door is about 150 pounds heav­ier doesn’t seem to hurt the fun- to- drive quo­tient one bit.

Start­ing prices haven’t been set, but some­where in the $ 15,500 range ( in­clud­ing des­ti­na­tion charges) for the base LX trim seems about right. That gets you a car with air con­di­tion­ing, 5- inch dis­play and the usual power fea­tures.

The mid- range S trim adds a 60/ 40 split- fold­ing rear seat, cen­ter con­sole, key­less en­try and ad­di­tional steer­ing- wheel- mounted controls.

The top-end EX has al­loy wheels (in place of wheel cov­ers), fancier in­te­rior and ex­te­rior trim, 7-inch touch-screen and au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing. Op­tional with the EX are leather seat cov­er­ings, power sun­roof and a nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. There are no ad­di­tional dy­namic safety aids such as lane-de­par­ture warn­ing/in­ter­ven­tion or pedes­trian de­tec­tion.

Still, in the ba­sic- transpo field, the Rio 5- Door stacks up as a good­look­ing, semi- sporty driver’s car with room for plenty of gear. It doesn’t get any sim­pler than that.

The rear seats fold for­ward, of course, but not flat. The 5-Door is roomy enough, but lags the class-lead­ing Honda Fit. (Photo cour­tesy of Kia) It might be an en­try-level compact, but the 2018 Kia Rio 5-door has grown up over the pre­vi­ous model....

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