2018 Kia Rio First Drive: Little Car, Big Improvements

– Baltimore, Maryland

You know what sucks? That the majority of the cars out there don’t. Which is why it’s frustrating to admit that even $14,000 cars can be really damn good. And that brings me to the all-new 2018 Kia Rio.

As a member of the diminutive B-car segment, the South Korean automaker’s fourth-generation econobox is less econo and not really much of a box either. With a fleet of early production test vehicles, Kia let me loose in the lolling Maryland countryside northwest of Baltimore. And like the lush green landscape, the little Rio had the power to surprise in a big way.

From a numbers standpoint, the “enhanced” but carryover 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine loses some horsepower (from 138 to 130) and torque (from 123 to 119), and the lightest Kia Rio gains about 154 pounds. But does any of this matter? Not in the slightest. The engine’s torque now peaks at lower rpm compared to segment competitors. According to Kia, this is based on the type of driving the Rio will likely experience most often: city traffic. Offering more responsiveness around stop-and-go downtown drives makes sense for a vehicle generally seen as a commuter. On long drives, however, this littlest Kia performs just as well.

2018 Kia Rio: First Drive
2018 Kia Rio: First Drive
2018 Kia Rio: First Drive
2018 Kia Rio: First Drive
2018 Kia Rio: First Drive

Offering more responsiveness around stop-and-go downtown drives makes sense for a vehicle generally seen as a commuter. On long drives, however, this littlest Kia performs just as well.

For a four-banger, the engine note is not whiny. Foot-to-floor antics a...