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. The Kia couple share 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. Still, we appreciate that they’re one of the few subcompact cars to offer standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 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—due the death 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.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
We think the several hundred dollars that separates the base Rio LX from the S model is worth the upcharge. The latter adds a center armrest, cruise control, rear USB outlet, split-folding rear seat with adjustable headrests, and keyless entry. The S also has desirable options such as forward-collision warning with automated emergency braking, SiriusXM satellite radio, LED headlights, and more. Since the hatchback adds more cargo space and slightly better passenger volume, we’d recommend picking the five-door Rio.
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 the 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.
Infotainment and Connectivity
We expect the Rio’s touchscreen infotainment system to continue to come standard with SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and charging ports as well as SiriusXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Rio hasn’t been crash tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While it doesn’t have as much driver-assistance technology as some rivals, the Rio is available with forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking. However, base models are absent from such equipment. Key safety features include:
- Available forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
Kia has a well-established reputation for impressive warranty coverage, and the Rio nearly matches its corporate cousin–the Accent–at the top of the segment. However, it doesn’t offer any complimentary maintenance.
- Limited warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers 10 years or 100,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance
More Features and Specs