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2022 Kia Rio Review: the Subcompact Still Has a Place

2022 Kia Rio EX Premium | Photo: V.Aubé
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Vincent Aubé
The little Rio has been around for a couple of decades, and now it's got a segment just about nearly all to itself
2022 Kia Rio EX Premium, three-quarters front
2022 Kia Rio EX Premium, three-quarters front | Photo: V.Aubé

Auto123 reviews the 2022 Kia Rio EX Premium.

The electric transition continues apace, though it remains very much incomplete. One of the reasons why the switch is laborious is that electric cars are still, well, expensive, and that keeps them out of reach for a lot of motorists on a budget. Advocates of alternative energy can argue all they want that the technology allows for saving on gas expenditures and save owners money in the long run, the fact is that a $45,000 car isn't possible for everyone.

And if that's not enough, the supply-chain crisis has driven up the price of new and used vehicles and driven down inventories. In short, access to a car is complicated these days. Fortunately, there are still a few attainable options. Like this Kia Rio for example, a sub-compact car that has been around for 20 years now. A cousin of the now-defunct Hyundai Accent, the Rio is one of the few options on the market that won’t cost buyers on a budget their shirt, an arm and maybe even a leg.

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2022 Kia Rio EX Premium, badging, headlights
2022 Kia Rio EX Premium, badging, headlights | Photo: V.Aubé

A "discreet" design
Only available as a hatchback, the Kia Rio is dressed in a rather aggressive grille for a car, while the fog light design is superb with lots of details, a nice touch on a budget car. As for the "tiger nose" signature, it's very present, curved between the triangular headlights.

From the side, the Rio is fairly conventional, perhaps even a little too much so with those 15-inch wheels. Frankly, the manufacturer could easily increase the size of the wheels by an inch, if only to boost styling and handling. But then again, the Rio isn't exactly a performance car, so it doesn’t really “need” bigger shoes than it has.

The back end is very plain, a contrast with what we’ve seen with other recent Kia models. On the other hand, the initial assembly quality on the outside is noteworthy for a car of this price.

Overall, the Rio is nowhere near as flashy as the Korean automaker’s latest creations - the EV6 is a striking example - but we’re thinking budget-car buyers relieved to find something they can afford won’t mind that one bit.

2022 Kia Rio EX Premium, interior
2022 Kia Rio EX Premium, interior | Photo: V.Aubé

A simple but connected interior
To state the obvious, a subcompact may not be the best car for a family of four, especially for extended trips with lots of luggage. But with a cargo box on the roof, the Rio can do the job. The subcompact's interior feels a little cramped with four occupants in place, but that's the reality of urban cars.

On the other hand, the front row is generously equipped. The range-topping EX Premium has heated seats and steering wheel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wired, unfortunately), climate control, cruise control and even a few safety systems like lane keeping assist, front automatic emergency braking and blind spot alert, among others.

The seats won't win any awards for comfort, but for a car of this price, the Rio does very well, while the presence of the 15-inch wheels guarantees some comfort. The soundproofing is insufficient, however, especially when accelerating aggressively, and especially because then the continuously variable transmission makes the little 4-cylinder engine scream loudly.

2022 Kia Rio EX Premium, multimedia screen
2022 Kia Rio EX Premium, multimedia screen | Photo: V.Aubé

About the infotainment system
Like all Hyundai products, the in-house system is relatively simple with its shortcut buttons installed under the touchscreen. It's worth mentioning that this is the older version of the system, but it’s just as worth mentioning that just a few years ago, little budget cars like this didn't even have a touchscreen. By the way, hats off to the climate system buttons located just below the screen. Still, the Rio doesn’t completely hide its budget-car identity: hard black plastic is omnipresent on board. A detail for some, but these days, every point counts.

At the wheel
With its 120 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque from the naturally aspirated 1.6L engine, the Kia Rio is no road beast. This engine is fine in the city where strong acceleration is not necessary, but on the highway, you have to plan ahead in certain passing situations. No way around it, this CVT hinders acceleration a bit. The manual transmission, which is limited to the entry-level model, would do better here, though at the cost of some fuel economy.

The interior makes the point loud and clear that sportiness is not part of the deal with this economical car. The Rio is a perfect car for the city with its small turning radius, easy parking manoeuvres, light and flexible steering and progressive powertrain. My week in the subcompact brought me back to my very first car - a very lackluster Volkswagen Fox - for its simplicity, though not for its refinement and equipment light years ahead of that earlier Brazilian-built German car.

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Vincent Aubé
Vincent Aubé
Automotive expert
  • Over 17 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 60 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 200 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists