Kia and Hyundai are today like Ford and Mercury used to be. Well, Mercury no longer is at all. But once upon a time, Mercury was the higher-line (and slightly higher-priced) version of the same basic thing sold under the Ford label. Kia serves the same purpose today. Its models are Hyundai models, slightly sportier in looks than their Hyundai counterparts and priced a bit lower.
For instance, the Kia Rio is a Hyundai Accent under the skin. But you can save about $800 by going with the Kia version -- besides, you may prefer its sportier-looking skin, or the fact that you can still get it in a five-door hatchback.
What It Is
The Rio is the Kia version of the Hyundai Accent -- or vice versa. Either way, it's the same basic thing.
The main difference is the Rio starting sticker is $14,200; the same ride with a Hyundai badge (and skin job) lists for $14,995 to start, a difference of $795. Also, that the Kia version comes two ways: sedan and hatchback. The Accent is now sedan only.
Both the Rio and its fraternal cousin are significantly updated inside and out for 2018.
They're also slightly longer than before, but the most noticeable and meaningful change is a much roomier back seat. Compared with the 2017 models, almost 2.5 inches more legroom have been carved out, the extra margin making these cars much more viable as primary/family cars as opposed to commuter/single people's cars.
There's more back-seat room than before.
Sedan and more cargo-friendly five-door body styles are available.
It's inexpensive but not downtrodden.
What's Not So Good
Others in this class have roomier back seats.
Manual is only available in the base LX trim; higher trims are only automatic.
The base LX trim sedan's rear seats don't fold.
Under the Hood
Like the other cars in this class, the Rio and Accent both come with a small 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The main difference is the higher power output of the engine.
It produces 130 horsepower, down a bit from last year's 138 but still a standout compared with rivals like the Nissan Versa (109 horsepower) and Toyota Yaris iA (106 horsepower) and Ford Fiesta (120 horsepower).
While not exactly speedy -- zero to 60 mph takes about 8.7 seconds -- the Rio is quicker than most of its rivals in the class. And it feels speedier because it's got tighter gearing, courtesy of the six-speed manual gearbox instead of the wider-ratio five-speed boxes in rivals like the Versa, Yaris and Fiesta.
On the Road
The Rio has power to spare. Rarely is it necessary to floor it. There is ample power for merging and pulling away from traffic, not merely for keeping up with it. The others it competes with are also competent in this respect, but the Kia is a bit more so because it has a bit more power.
At the Curb
Unlike its Hyundai-badged brother, the Rio is available in a sedan or five-door hatchback. The 2018 Accent is sedan only, for reasons known only to the emperor. The hatchback is arguably the pick of the litter if you want a small car with more room. It has more than twice the total cargo capacity -- 32.8 cubic feet versus 13.7 in the sedan. And the open floor plan (the cargo area is expandable to include the rear-seat area when the seats are folded flat) makes the space more accessible and usable.
The hatchback is also more compact than the sedan -- 160 inches long overall versus 172.6 inches -- which opens up curbside parking spots the sedan has to pass by.
Both versions have roomier interiors and the same first- and second-row headroom and legroom stats. The Rio's rear legroom has been upsized to 33.5 inches (from 31.1 inches), which gives it a bit more back-seat legroom than rivals like the Fiesta (31.2 inches) and almost as much legroom as rivals like the Yaris iA (34.4 inches).
One small disappointment is that the base LX trim doesn't include Bluetooth, which means no wireless piping of your music from you device to the car.
But there is a USB port, so you can still do it -- just not wirelessly.
One interesting thing is that the base trim LX comes with manual rollup windows. These are a rare thing to find in a new car -- even entry-level cars. Most of the Kia's rivals come standard with power windows. But not everyone wants them. Power windows may be more convenient, but they cost more to fix if the electric motors fail. Manual rollup windows are simpler -- and purely mechanical -- things that usually last the life of the car.
The Bottom Line
The Rio and Accent -- like their rivals -- may be their respective manufacturers' most inexpensive models, but the connotation of cheapness that attends entry level is as out-of-date as parachute pants and Betamax.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.Copyright 2018 Creators Syndicate, Inc.