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Kia Rio 5-Door: Keeping it simple

In automobiles as in life, sometimes the simplest things are the best fit for one’s needs, rather than larger and costlier choices. The 2018 Rio 5-Door hatchback exemplifies this philosophy.

Although dimensionally positioned in the heart of the subcompact bracket, the Rio 5-Door is in no way a bottom-feeder model. The hatchback is larger overall than most direct competitors, such as the Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic and Toyota Yaris. The Kia is not that tall, however, so it takes a back seat to the interior space of the Nissan Versa Note and class-leading Honda Fit.

Compared to the 2017 model, the 2018 Rio 5-Door is slightly larger and rides on a completely new platform that has been significantly stiffened for improved ride and driving qualities, as well as for safety. The suspension has been redesigned to improve ride quality while maintaining composure during cornering.

The 2018 5-Door looks about the same as before, even though the front end is more aggressively styled with a larger air intake below the grille. The rear roof pillar has been squared off, which should help the entry and exit process for rear passengers.

Overall, the 5-Door displays a mature appearance that shares nothing with the kiddie-car shapes of previous-generation models.

The interior design is also more grown up, with its clean, straightforward dashboard that shouldn’t require memorizing the owner’s manual to master. The touch screen and climate controls are also easy to use.

There’s a reasonable amount of rear legroom for adults, and the load space with the rear seat folded forward will swallow lots of gear. (An enlarged hatch opening helps.) But for class-leading stowage capacity, the Honda Fit remains unchallenged.

The 5-Door’s drivetrain is an interesting conundrum. The 1.6-liter “Gamma” engine is rated at 130 horsepower and 119 pound-feet of torque, which is slightly less than the previous 130/123 rating. Despite this, Kia claims that the engine now has better low- and midrange acceleration and is also more fuel-efficient.

At 29 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway, it’s a one-mpg improvement in the city and highway numbers. Most drivers aren’t likely to notice.

As before, the engine can be matched with a six-speed manual transmission or available six-speed automatic.

The Rio 5-Door is commendably comfortable in city driving, and the manual gearbox is smooth shifting. The automatic also works well except for some slight hesitation when accelerating hard from a dead stop.

This Kia really shines on the highway, where the suspension works well, soaking up all but the nastiest of rough stuff while keeping the car securely planted in the turns. The fact that the 2018 5-Door is about 150 pounds heavier doesn’t seem to hurt the fun-to-drive quotient one bit.

Starting prices haven’t been set, but somewhere in the $15,500 range (including destination charges) for the base LX trim seems about right. That gets you a car with air conditioning, a 5-inch display and the usual power features.

The midrange S trim adds a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, center console, keyless entry and additional steering-wheel-mounted controls.

The top-end EX has alloy wheels (in place of wheel covers), fancier interior and exterior trim, a 7-inch touch screen and automatic emergency braking. Optional with the EX are leather seat coverings, a power sunroof and a navigation system. There are no additional dynamic safety aids such as lane-departure warning/intervention or pedestrian detection.

Still, in the basic-transport field, the Rio 5-Door stacks up as a good-looking, semi-sporty driver’s car with room for plenty of gear. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

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