With average transaction prices hovering in the mid-$30,000 range, it’s refreshing to know that you can buy a brand-new car for less than $20,000. In fact, there are base models of the 2018 Kia Rio that actually start at less than $15,000. Micah Muzio shows us the value and practicality that this subcompact from Kia has to offer in this Video Review and Road Test.

2018 Kia Rio Video Transcript

As a spoiled automotive journalist, I drive a lot of fancy cars. The Kia Rio is not one of them. The subcompact Rio isn't filled with dazzling features, doesn't inspire envy in strangers, and it's not a pioneer of automotive technology. But it is cheap transportation. Judged as such how does the Rio stack up? Much better than you'd think.

To start, it drives surprisingly well. Moving at a brisk pace, vague on-center feel means frequent steering corrections at higher speeds. But at slower speeds or when cornering the steering provides decent feedback and just the right amount of resistance...sound effects included. For a subcompact, ride quality is good. The Rio's handling abilities are well within the scope of acceptability for all but the most obnoxiously scrutinizing drivers. See she totally pushes at the limit.

The Rio's 1.6-liter engine produces more noise than acceleration, but around town it moves just fine and I'm not filled with fear when merging on the freeway, which is good because I need my fear for things like killer bees and the fourth season of the Fuller House. Given its modest power you might expect stellar fuel economy from the Rio. It is efficient but not amazingly so, landing mid-pack among subcompacts. For perspective, the midsized Toyota Camry L trim is actually more efficient than the Rio according to the EPA. Strange, huh?

Like most value-priced cars the Kia Rio can be loud on the freeway, especially around the windshield region but the noise is never overwhelming. Beyond that, the Rio's small size makes parking easy, the brakes deliver surprisingly good bite and feedback, the automatic transmission shifts competently responding to throttle inputs without delay, and the driver enjoys clear sight lines in all directions. Focus your attention inward and the hard plastic-clad cabin sports a simple, hip, pleasing design. Put another way, though inexpensive, the Rio doesn't visually torment you with its cheapness.

Up front, comparative spaciousness and a generally comfortable driving position make the Rio a more than agreeable commuter. I'm commuting. Wow! As you probably guessed the rear seats are less welcoming. My head and knees barely clear but they do clear. Thankfully there's enough space under the front seat that my feet do not feel cramped and the seat back is comfortably soft. As an average American male, I dub the Rio's rear quarters 100-percent inhabitable. Okay, the middle spot is less inhabitable and cramming three aboard is just a bad idea but once more, for the price, this ain't half bad.

Same deal with the trunk. For a subcompact, 13.7 cubic feet is good but what's more impressive is how it's finished. Oftentimes car makers will cheap-out in this area but the plastics and the materials all feel pretty good. Primo trunkin'. For more serious cargo hauling choose the Rio hatchback, which offers superior cargo volume and 0.6 inches more rear seat headroom for a $400 premium versus the sedan.

For less than $15,000, including destination charges, a base Rio LX includes air conditioning, six airbags, a USB port, a long 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a manual transmission. Budget an extra $1,100 if you'd like an automatic transmission on your LX or, better yet, move up from the base trim and the automatic transmission comes standard.

Speaking of, choose the mid-level S trim or higher if you'd like 60/40 split rear seats on the sedan. Go hatchback and folding seats are standard across the board. The roughly $17,000 S trim also ditches old-school cranks for properly civilized power windows and adds cruise control, Bluetooth, a backup camera, a second USB port, and a center console with a sliding armrest.  At the peak of Rio mountain sits the EX trim with its telescoping steering wheel, rear disc brakes, automatic emergency braking, and excellent 7-inch touchscreen that replaces the base car's 5-inch audio display. Once again, for a car this cheap the Rio's UVO 3 infotainment system works great. The available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto spring to life immediately when you connect your phone, the touchscreen is super responsive, and the menus are essential to navigate.

Spec a Rio EX sedan with leather-accented seats and the MSRP rings in a little less than $20,000. That's not a crazy sum but even at maximum swankiness, the Rio still doesn't include power seats or an exterior trunk release. More critically, for just a few hundred dollars more you could buy a much roomier, more efficient, more sophisticated Honda Civic LX with a continuously variable transmission, adaptive cruise control, and Lane Keeping Assist.

Stick with the proper competitive set and though pricier than the Rio in base form, the Honda Fit is notably roomier and has better resale values, the Chevy Sonic has more standard airbags, 10 to be exact, and the Toyota Yaris has the notable claim of being a Toyota. If purchase price overshadows all, the Ford Fiesta's base MSRP lands south of $15,000, the Nissan Versa Sedan provides elemental travel for less than $13,000, and the Mitsubishi Mirage is also a car.

Not everybody wants to drive something that's small and cheap but for those who appreciate practicality and value a car like the Kia Rio is awesome, especially since it consistently exceeds your expectations. Times have changed. These days, if you want to make the practical choice it doesn't have to hurt.

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