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2020 Kia Rio - no upgrade this time - via rental

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I needed a small car for a few days and the rate at a suburban location for a small car was excellent in these times of not so great rates for rental cars.  I didn't know whether I'd get an upgrade one or two categories upward, as I sometimes do.  I did not.  I was given three cars to choose from.  I chose a blue Kia Rio S sedan.

The Kia Rio is the fraternal twin of the Hyundai Accent.  There aren't many differences, and one certainly sees that in the switches, knobs, and readouts on the dashboard, for one.  The difference is that, through the roofline, pillars, and even possibly the slope of the rear back lite, the Kia Rio looks like more of a notchback sedan while the Hyundai Accent looks more like a fastback sedan.  I have previously reviewed a Hyundai Accent.

The 1.6 DOHC 4 cylinder is a Hyundia/Kia staple and has VVT (variable valve timing) and, most likely, GDI (gasoline direction injection) since I did not see spark plug wires under the hood.  While it may not be peppy on paper, it is lively enough for what it has to do on the road, be it urban or interstate driving.  I did not know what the transmission might be, but the owner's manual indicated that it was a CVT.  I wondered if, somehow, the 6 speed automatic got carried over for another year, and it did not.  While I like the way the 6-speed automatic shifted in Hyundais I've driven, the CVT in Kia's entry level car was surprisingly well behaved and easy to live with.  The first CVT I drove was in a rented Nissan Altima and the CVT transmission in this Kia Rio, some two categories down, seemed to function better - without big swings in rpms.  That said, four years have passed since that rental and CVT technology has obviously improved.

For its size and weight, the ride and handling on the interstate are more than acceptable.  For its price point, some wind and tire noise come into the cabin, but it is not an annoyance.  Clearly, like most cars, it likes interstates with fresh asphalt and the road imperfections come through a little more harshly than they would in related Hyundai Elantras and Sonatas I've driven.  (I have not ever driven a Kia Forte or Optima.)  The Kia Rio is adept in urban conditions, meaning it is zippy and nimble, in sprinting away from stop lights, getting into parking spots, and working its way through traffic.

The build quality is surprisingly good for its price point.  However, the materials are not uptown, which is to be expected.  One of its strong suits is the instrument panel.  The bezels in the instrument cluster, with the square "box" in between with information about how and what the car is doing, are incredibly straightforward when other cars' instrument panels are getting fussier and fussier.  Similarly, the infotainment screen and climate controls were also easy to work with.  One difference between the Kia Rio and the Hyundai Accent is that the infotainment system screen protrudes upward, but most of it is "engaged" with the dashboard (as is done on the Chevy Malibu).  In my opinion, it's a nicer design than one that stands in a "disengaged" manner and protrudes vertically.  On the Hyundai Accent, both the smaller and larger screens are flush and under the cowl of the dashboard and I prefer that design.  A driving package with extra electronic assists is optional for more secure driving.  Power steering and brakes are standard fare these days.  This car also features standard power windows and power door locks.  However, a power seat is not an option.

No car in this segment has seats that will make for a happy camper for a handful of hours of continuous driving.  However, the shape, support, and comfort of the seats is better than that in some of its competitors.  Being that this was Kia Rio S, there is an actual console with a small armrest and storage cubby between the seats.  In entry level Rios and Accents, the armrest is not there and I would not like that, since it's nice to actually rest one's arm on it at times.  Kudos to this small car for having a remote tab for the fuel door.  It is on the floor near the driver.  Additional kudos are in order for the airy feel of the cabin, and for the commendable visibility behind the driver, which helps to make maneuvers in urban traffic and while parking.  The trunk is sensibly shaped and roomy for this size of car.

Again, I need to bring up some differences between the Kia Rio and the Hyundai Accent in how it can be equipped.  While the Rio has two trim levels, the Accent has three.  With the Hyundais midline and upper trim levels, 15" and 17" alloy wheels are standard, respectively.  In both the base Rio and the S trim level, only wheel covers are available.  It's too bad that they didn't differentiate the S trim level by just putting alloy wheels on it.  It's just that Hyundai and Kia are probably not investing much in this segment, seeing that the Sonatas/Fortes and Elantras have been refreshed and are so popular.

The most remarkable thing about this car is its fuel economy.  The Kia Rio is rated at 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway.  Without even sticking to 65 mph, using cruise control, and driving on flat terrain, the mileage it returned for me was higher than the highway rating, coming in at about 43 or 44 mpg.  I believe that the slightly better fuel efficiency rating for this car is Kia's transition from a geared automatic transmission to a CVT.  However, I'd take 2 less mpg any day or the week and twice on Sundays to have the "old school" 6 speed automatic transmission.  It shifted very well in Hyundais I've rented and driven.

The compact and economical Kia Rio makes a lot of sense for certain types of budget minded buyers.  The overarching characteristic is that it would appeal to people who seek value for their dollar. Students, retirees, people with long commutes in environments that are not harsh, and people who don't want to spend a lot and get a car that lasts a long time, with a strong warranty to back that up, are good candidates for this car. 

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Photos forthcoming


Edited by trinacriabob
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The silhouette of the 2020 Kia Rio S sedan


Rear 3/4 view of the car


View of the front lights, grille, and more pronounced bumper strip than in the related Hyundai Accent


Even with the one-up S model, metal wheel covers are what comes with this car, as do Continental brand tires, and alloy wheels are not available



General view of the front part of the passenger cabin and steering wheel with controls ... note the armrest and storage bin between the seats


The main instrument pod has two main bezels, both a fuel gauge and a temperature gauge, and a logical square info center with the most important things - gear selected, mph, temperature, odometer, and range/mpg (this was upon picking it up, but mileage I got was far higher than 27.4 mpg shown here)


Infotainment center screen - mostly engaged with the dash (protrudes slightly at the top) (sidebar:  is that a Karen Pence-alike, seen above the dashboard?)


Simple and easy to use climate controls, with ports and a lighter behind the flap that says 12 V


Front seats were more supportive than most for this economy compact segment, but larger cars obviously offer more comfortable seats for longer trips


Rear seat leg room depends on the seat adjustment of the front seats, but it is sufficient for average sized passengers


The visibility toward the rear is very good


The center gear shift lever is straightforward.  There are economy and sport modes for the car that are selected by buttons on this pod.


Kudos for easy to pull release tabs for the trunk and the fuel door



This is the 1.6 4 cylinder that Kia (and Hyundai) use(s) a lot; that beige rubber gromeet appears to buffer the top of the engine from the hood


Things are logically laid out and accessible: windshield washer fluid, oil dipstick, brake master cylinder, battery, and fuse box (from front to back of this sideways photo); the air filter looks like it might be easy to replace up by that snorkel


The engine is a 16 valve DOHC unit with VVT and, most likely, GDI (that does not mean G-d Damn Independent, or Gamma Delta Iota to some, meaning you did not partake in the collegiate Greek system, though, upon looking it up, it is an actual Greek organization founded in 1974 at Purdue University)

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Edited by trinacriabob
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