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Tom Crosby: Fourth-generation 2018 Kia Rio becoming popular

Tom Crosby

Kia’s Rio has been an international success but has suffered declining United States sales, even as small SUV’s (Rios come in hatchback or sedan) have become increasingly popular domestically.

However, the overhauled, new fourth-generation 2018 Kia Rio has seen a 33 percent jump in U.S. sales through April.

The Rio SUV hatchback is now larger and no longer labeled a subcompact, has short-range peppiness, more attractive sheet metal, upgraded technology and decent miles per gallon (we averaged 34 mpg; 2 mpg better than EPA’s estimate).

The Rio EX is competitively priced, although without available top driver safety features, like rear-traffic cross alert, blind spot detection or adaptive cruise control. It also has no navigation system (Kia believes drivers will use their cell phones).

Without those features, Rio is expected to get less than top crash safety ratings when tested. However, the Rio EX hatchback, our test drive, comes with four-wheel disc brakes and standard automatic emergency braking.

The EX is the top-tier hatchback above the entry LX and mid-tier S. In-dealership completion comes from the slightly pricier Kia Forte hatchback.

Outside, 15-inch alloy wheels now sit flush under wheel arches, the beltline is higher, contoured indents run along the sides and the windshield is less raked. The front fascia has recessed fog lights, a massive air dam below a Kia signature slim bowtie grille bracketed by silted front headlights.

Driving the hatchback was pleasurable, as steering was revised to create a straight ahead bias and the suspension system tweaked to significantly mitigate feedback from rough pavement.

More sound insulation created a quieter interior. Nimble, quick handling was aided by selecting sport drive mode so the continuous variable transmission would hold rpms longer for peppy pickup around town, but the Rio is not fast.

Turning radius is a decent 33.5 feet. Broad side pillars somewhat hinder vision, as does the roof hang over the rear window.

Contoured seats were comfortable and manually adjusted and rear seats easily hold two adults. Cabin layout is ergonomic with generous 7-inch touchscreen and the fit and finish doesn’t feel inexpensive. Rear seats fold 60/40, there is a spare tire, visors extend and small storage spaces abound.

The highly regarded Kia UVO3 infotainment touchscreen integrates with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and also offers vehicle diagnostic information.

The Kia Rio’s basic warranty for 60,000 miles or five years is one of the industry’s best.

LIKES: Price, extra cargo space, nimble, warranty, ride, handling, quiet

DISLIKES: Safety features needed, restrictive rear visibility

BOTTOM LINE: A value purchase for those who want a long-range return on their investment

2018 KIA RIO EX 5DR

Base price w/destination fee       $18,400

Vehicle curb weight                             2,714 lbs

Wheelbase                                          101.6 inches

Length                                          172.6 inches

Width                                          70.1 inches

Engine specs                                   1.6-liter, I-4, direct injection

Horsepower                                   130-hp at 6,300 rpm

Torque                                          119 ft.-lbs. at 4,850 rpm

Transmission                                   6-speed automatic, CVT

EPA Rating                                   28 mpg city/37 mpg highway

Range                                          11.9-gallon tank, regular

Performance                                   0 to 60 in 8.5 seconds

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.