The 2021 Kia Rio sedan and hatchback are classified as economical subcompact cars—we used to call such cars “econoboxes”—but they’re surprisingly more sophisticated than that. So much so that we named Rio to our Editors’ Choice list. The Kia couple shares a cabin design that exudes an elegant simplicity thanks to a smart layout and pleasing materials. On the flip side, both of the Rios’ back seats suffer from limited passenger space and neither body style has a particularly accommodating cargo area or trunk. We’re even willing to forgive their dearth of common driver assists because the Chevy Spark and Nissan Versa are the only rivals that offer more advanced safety features. The 2021 Rios shine with their refined ride quality and composed handling, which help squash any stereotypes about cheap transportation.
What’s New for 2021?
Facing less competition than last year of the Chevy Sonic, Honda Fit, and Toyota Yaris—the 2021 Rio lineup gets a mild refresh. Based on the updates made to the Europe-spec model, Kia’s sedan and hatchback should wear subtly restyled front and rear ends and benefit from an enhanced infotainment system.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Rio is solely motivated by a four-cylinder engine that mates to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). We haven’t driven a Rio with this engine and transmission, but it should be more than adequate for moving the subcompact down the road. A nicely sorted suspension gives the Rio a pleasant demeanor on the road, offering a good mix of comfort and agility along with a substantial feel. The last hatchback version we tested soaked up bumps impressively well for such a small car thanks to its solid structure and well-tuned suspension. It also does a good job of controlling body roll in corners. The numb steering doesn’t communicate as much as we’d prefer, but it is nicely weighted and precise.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA estimates the Rio sedan and hatchback will earn 33 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway. Those figures are identical to the Hyundai Accent’s and slightly better than the Nissan Versa’s. We haven’t had the opportunity to run the Kia sedan or hatchback on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route, which is part of our extensive testing regimen, so we can’t evaluate its real-world mpg.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Simplicity is the name of the game inside the Rio, and that’s not a slight. In fact, it presents a clean, easy-to-use dashboard with climate and audio controls. There is plenty of hard plastic, but it’s nicely textured, and the overall interior appearance is mature and sophisticated for a subcompact. Space in Kia’s front seats is more than adequate, but rear-seat passengers won’t be nearly as happy due to restricted legroom. The Rio hatchback provides more space than the sedan’s trunk, but neither Kia is a good choice if you plan on hauling lots of cargo. We were disappointed to find that the folded seats don’t make for a flat load floor in the hatch. Its center console is competitively sized, as are its door pockets.