The numbers don’t lie: Quebec is fertile ground for subcompact cars, as evidenced by the fact that Kia sells 42% of its Rios here. What can we say? La Belle Province like little cars. In fact, the same is true for the Toyota Yaris, the Nissan Micra and the Versa Note, and of course, the Hyundai Accent, the undisputed champion of Canadian sales in this class. So it came as no surprise that Kia chose Quebec City as the site of the Canadian launch of the fourth-generation Rio5, which was first introduced in Canada in 2001.
To finish on the podium, a subcompact has to have certain attributes. First and foremost, an attractive price is a must. For $14,995 before freight and delivery charges, you’ll get a Rio5 equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox, power windows and locks, and an on-board computer. Not bad, right? Wait though, there’s also heated front seats, a heated and leather-wrapped steering wheel as well as a back-up camera—features that many of its rivals don’t offer as standard. So you’ll be warm and toasty, but not cool; unfortunately, you’ll have to opt for the LX+ version if you want air conditioning.
In spite of all that, the basic version does more than just attract clients to the showroom—it is a genuinely interesting option. Kia’s strength is good value.
Undeniably European style
For a subcompact, simply being affordable and well-equipped isn’t enough. Small cars should also be easy on the eyes. Style sells, which explains why the Kia brand was transformed a few years back when renowned designed Peter Schreyer joined their team. The old generation wasn’t outdated, but they tweaked a few little things and modernized the style. Five-door cars are always sexier than sedans, and the Rio5 is no exception.
In general, it resembles the Volkswagen Golf a little—make that a lot—especially the back. In fact, it’s tough to tell them apart. Schreyer used to ply his trade at Volkswagen, so he undoubtedly summoned some of his former muses once he moved to Kia. That said, it’s the flat-nosed front end that has people talking, but the jury’s still out on whether it’s positive or negative. Ultimately, buyers will decide. The higher-end versions are even nicer with 17-inch rims and LED strips integrated into the lights.
Start your Rio with your cell phone?
The feeling of quality in the cabin has been enhanced, thanks in large part to the addition of soft materials in the doors. The effect is less noticeable in the basic variants, but as you work your way up the lineup, the impression of luxury is much more pronounced, particularly with the leather seats and seven-inch infotainment screen. Techies will be glad to know that it’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. They’ll also like the UVO system, which offers an array of functions controlled by your cell phone, including remote engine start. There are a few practical and well-placed storage compartments and the charging jacks (USB and 12-volt) are easy to find and access.
Thanks to its increased height and width, the 2018 Kia Rio offers more room on board to the point that it’s one of the largest in its class. It is not the tallest, though, as the designers wanted to retain a certain degree of dynamism. The increased trunk capacity means you get almost as much room as in certain compact cars.
Why less power?
The 1.6-litre four-cylinder is back as the only available engine. It’s been reprogrammed so that torque can be deployed in lower gears. Seven horsepower was lost in the process of gaining four lb.-ft. of torque, but we’re told that this sacrifice will make city driving, where stops and starts are more frequent, more pleasant. With 130 horsepower, the Rio5 remains the most powerful in its class along with the Hyundai Accent and Honda Fit, while the 78-horsepower Mitsubishi Mirage brings up the rear.
A much better driving position
We got to see the 2018 Kia Rio5’s capabilities firsthand on the magnificent roads in and around Quebec City. Good news! A telescopic steering column has been added, which makes it easier to find a good driving position, especially if you’re tall. The same couldn’t be said for the previous generation, where the steering wheel was very close to the dashboard, forcing you to bring the seat forward, and leaving your knees pinned up against the centre console. It’s a lot better now and the seats are more comfortable to boot.
On the road, the car feels more solid and the creaking noises are less prevalent. Kia made a point of reminding us that its parent company, Hyundai, also owns a metal plant, which helped them develop a stiffer and lighter structure, thus compensating for the loss of power. Ambient noises are muted, and the only thing you hear is the little four-cylinder engine roaring when you push it too much.
If you engage Sport mode, which forces the automatic gearbox to keep revs higher, it’s louder still. However, at least you get superior responsiveness, which is especially useful when passing another vehicle. The more precise steering provides a sense of control reinforced by a comfortable—and leather-covered, thank you very much—steering wheel.
Basically, the Rio5 offers a very pleasant ride, a lot like the Ford Fiesta. If you’re looking for an inexpensive, well-equipped, sexy car that’s fun to drive, the Rio5 is worth a look. In fact, that happens to be the biggest obstacle between it and the sales podium: getting people to take notice.