Safety, features paid for with power cut, cheaper brakes
Subcompacts are a mega-tough business. With fewer young kids aspiring to own a spanking new car of their own and every car buyer expecting to pay bottom dollar for a small econobox, the smart product planners are probably optimizing these rigs to attract ride-hailing service buyers at least as much as they do individual owners. This certainly would help explain some of the choices Kia made when redesigning the fourth generation of its Rio sedan and hatch.
Spaciousness is valued by all, so the wheelbase is stretched 0.4 inch and the overall length expands by 0.6 inch. These changes are augmented by a new, slimmer headliner material, more upright A-pillars, recontoured door panels, and slimmer front seat backs that add both measurable space and perceived spaciousness. Overall passenger space ekes up to 89.9 and 90.5 cubes for the sedan and hatch from 89.1 cubic feet for both. Sedan trunk space remains the same (13.7 cubic feet), and the hatchback’s space behind the rear seat increases from 15.0 to 17.4 cubic feet. But perhaps because kids aren’t using these to move their stuff up to the dorm much and ride-hailers looking to schlepp home a new flat-screen will borrow larger vehicles, the space with the seat backs folded plunges from 47.1 to 32.8 cubic feet.
Safety is also perceived as a minimum price of entry to attract any buyer, so Kia is gunning for Top Safety Pick and full NHTSA five-star status with the addition of available autonomous emergency braking and a safety cage structure reinforced with new advanced high-strength steels. Naturally, torsional stiffness is improved, and the addition of adhesive bonding and new sealing materials reportedly quiets noise levels noticeably. But uh-oh. Between the creep up in size and the extra equipment and safety reinforcements, the curb weight increases about 150 pounds. That’s directionally opposite to our reporting on the mass of most all-new cars.
Perhaps the best thing about driving any car one doesn’t own is the ability to connect one’s phone to it, so a Bluetooth connection to a six-speaker satellite radio–equipped stereo is offered. Top EX models get standard UVO3 telematics, which includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen and full Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration—these last are still fairly rare in the subcompact segment. Speaking of trim levels, there are three: LX, S, and EX.
There’s no SX model this time around, and perhaps that’s just as well because there’s some bad news on the performance front. All models are powered by a “carryover but enhanced Gamma 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder engine” that manages to lose 8 hp and 4 lb-ft of torque, landing at 130 hp and 119 lb-ft. Well, the press release claims the enhancements were aimed at improving fuel economy, but because it did not include any EPA figures, we have to wonder if the improvements are merely treading water against the curb weight bump. Another peculiar retrograde move: Base cars lose their four-wheel disc brakes in favor of rear drums. At least the front discs go up in size from 10.1 to 11.0 inches (although most subcompacts don’t generally offer four-wheel disc brakes on base models, the 2017 Rio LX did). Top EX models carry over their 10.3-inch rear discs. Sure, any subcompact’s front brakes do most of the work, so stopping distances might not change much. But pedal feel is bound to suffer because the brake fluid flow to discs and drums is dramatically different. The only other chassis revision of note is a modification of the spring and damper setup designed to “make the car more compliant and comfortable.”
The sheetmetal is all new, and to these eyes it reflects this generation’s pivot away from sportiness. The outgoing car’s face featured a smile and eyes that appeared to be up to something whereas the new one’s mouth and eyes seem to be communicating dogged determination if not resignation. But then, as enthusiasts, we’re probably reading all of that into this new car’s face. We’ll find out how individual and ride-hailing buyers read the new Rio when it goes on sale later this year.