In a land of mythical car chases, wide-open spaces and ostentatious wealth, small cars are never ever going to ever approach being fashionable.
But they are practical and carry relatively modest price tags, which is why small subcompact cars and utility vehicles still account for nearly one in 10 of all new vehicles sold in the U.S., according to sales statistics from the first half of 2021. Although the number of choices in the subcompact passenger-car segment is greatly reduced, there are options.
Fortunately, one of the segment’s stalwarts, the Kia Rio, continues to hold its ground. The 2021 Kia Rio S five door is small, but it moves along quite nicely and fulfills all the necessary functions of an automobile, such as getting from point A to point B with a minimum of fuss. It is also well equipped with a surprising number of driver assistance features, a good sound system and the ability to squeeze into tiny, overlooked parking spaces in urban and suburban areas.
The Rio S five door is a hatchback thanks to the rear door or hatch and the fifth door raises the roofline at the rear of the vehicle and gives vehicle a stubby silhouette that defines in the car’s essential character and functionality.
The Rio’s front fascia includes a scaled-down version of the grille Kia uses to good effect across its entire line to identify the brand. But there is no way to disguise the fact the Rio is a small, albeit nicely proportioned, small car with smart, 15-inch wheels and a well-designed liftgate at the rear.
The version of the Rio I drove was priced at $20,2000, including the destination charge, and it did not have a lot of exterior adornment. But the overall simplicity of the exterior design of the Rio also gave provided the vehicle with a touch of elegance usually missing in large lumbering, vehicles of various shapes.
There is nothing lavish about the 2021 Kia Rio S. The layout is compact and efficient given the space involved. But the cupholders are within easy reach and the steering column is adjustable so a taller driver can move it out their way, making it easier to get in and out of the Rio. But the driver’s seat is comfortable and the face of instrument cluster behind the steering wheel is first rate.
I also was pleased to find the head room in the Rio made the cabin feel rather spacious. The passenger seat also benefits from the extra head room. The steering wheel also is equipped with controls for the entertainment system. The rear seat is small. It is okay for adults — small adults or children still in grade school. It also has room, I found, for groceries, a briefcase, and packages of various kinds. The door at the rear and the fold down seats do provide room for carrying larger and bulkier packages. Despite its short stature, the view from the Rio’s driver’s seat and to the rear of the vehicle is good.
The powertrain of the KIa Rio S I drove included a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine and what Kia described as an intelligent, computer- governed variable automatic CVT-type transmission. The Rio is front-wheel drive and layout of the powertrain produces 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. The power is adequate for the car’s weight class, which under 3,000 pounds. The combined fuel economy from the U.S. Environmental Protections Agency is 39 miles per gallon and the city-driving rating is 33 mpg and highway rating is 41 mpg.
Safety and Technology
For a car costing a little more than $20,000, the 2021 Kia Rio S is very well equipped with technology features, including driver assistance features. The added-on tech package in the model I drove, cost a very reasonable $1,800 and included forward-collision avoidance and pedestrian detection alerts, lane-keeping and lane-following assistance, high-beam assistance and driver attention alert if the operator gets drowsy on a long drive.
It also comes with a satellite radio connection, Kia’s Uvo connectivity system with Bluetooth and LED headlights as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also has and an 8-inch touch screen in the center stack. The Kia Rio also comes equipped with advanced dual stage front-impact airbags and air bags to protect against side-impact crashes and rollover accidents.
The power available from the 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine in the 2021 Kia is not overwhelming but it is perfectly suited to everyday use in town and out on the highway. There is ample power to pass and for the car to hold its own in faster traffic.
It’s also very easy to maneuver and the electrically assisted power steering makes steering easy without robbing the driver of a feel for the road beneath. The suspension is capable of managing different surfaces, but the Rio only has 5.5 inches of ground clearance, which can make things dicey if you stray off the pavement. The Rio has disc brakes up front and drum brakes at the rear and the combination seems adequate for the challenges of everyday driving.
2021 Kia Rio S specifications:
|L: 172.6 inches/W: 67.9 inches/H: 57.1 inches/Wheelbase: 101.6 inches
|1.6-liter I-4 engine; Intelligent Variable Transmission
|33 mpg city/41 mpg highway/36 mpg combined
|120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque
|Base price: $16,990; As tested: $20,200 including $995 destination and delivery charge
There is no denying Americans love big vehicles. But Americans, for most part are practical, and with the average transaction price of new vehicles topping $41,000 they are also willing to take a look at smaller vehicles.
The Kia Rio has survived the up and downs of the automotive market has been a viable alternative for some buyers for more than two decades. The 2021 Kia Rio S five door with hatch, array of modern technology and peppy, fuel-efficient gasoline engine is certainly worth considering in you are in the market for a new car and if you are facing budget concerns, it is certainly worth a look and a test drive to see if its stubby shape fits you needs.
2021 Kia Rio S — Frequently Asked Questions
What class is the Kia Rio?
The Kia Rio is a subcompact car produced by the South Korean manufacturer Kia Motors since November 1999 and now in its fourth generation. Body styles have included a three and five-door hatchback and four-door sedan, equipped with inline-4 gasoline engines and front-wheel drive.
Which is better: Kia Rio S or LX?
Well, for the upgrades you get, our pick would be the S. Even completely decked out, a buyer gets a solid entry-level car with plenty of safety and convenience technology with amazing gas mileage. Some of those features don’t come in the LX base model.
Is the Kia Rio reliable?
According to Repairpal.com, the Kia Rio Reliability Rating is 4.5 out of 5.0, which ranks it 6th out of 21 for subcompact cars. The average annual repair cost is $434 which means it has excellent ownership costs.