Fast Take: 2013 Kia Rio SX

2013 Kia Rio SXIts an impressive feat when an automotive manufacturer successfully transforms a horrendous model into an object of admiration by its competition. The 2013 Kia Rio SX is just that example. When the Rio was introduced over a dozen years ago, Kia—like it’s parent company Hyundai Motor Group—was battling a quality and perceived value crisis. Fast forward three model generations, and what we have here today is an attractive, technology-filled subcompact sure to give stiff competition to others in its size segment.

FAST TAKE STATS Starting Retail Price As Tested Price HP
2013 Kia Rio SX $17,700 $21,340 138 HP
EPA Rating MPG City/Hwy As Tested MPG 0-60 MPH 
Rating: Buy It! 30/40 Combined 33 Combined 31.6 8.9 seconds

Now in its second year of the third model generation, the quasi-European looks penned by former Audi Chief of Design, Peter Schreyer, continue to help the Rio win Car of the Year awards from several automotive publications. In such a highly competitive class, it is a remarkable thing Schreyer and the rest of his team at Kia have done. Of course, no car is perfect, say with the exception of a 1961 Jaguar E-Type Convertible. There is a lot to love about this economical errand runner.

The hits:

  • Great looks. Clean lines and thoughtful attention to detail make it stand out from the current competition in the same model year (Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Scion xD, Chevrolet Sonic). My tester was delivered in smart-looking Signal Red with a black interior. Great paint.
  • The 1.6-liter, direct injected, 4-cylinder engine delivers adequate power through the 6-speed automatic transmission.
  • The suspension soaks up bumps well as the transmission shifts with very little notice.
  • The interior  is clean-looking like a Volkswagen, but not austere. It is sized right, providing 31.1-inches of legroom in the back, 43.8-inches in the front. Headroom is a reasonable 37.6/40-inches, respectively. The SX affords you niceties such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel/gearshift knob to boot.
  • The dash and driving position is well planned, with each frequently used button large in size, but not as clownishly large as buttons found in Toyotas. HVAC layout is probably the definition of simplicity, with just three, right-porportioned knobs to operate.
  • In the technology department, the stereo’s audio quality is acceptable, but the infotainment screen it’s connected to is downright brilliant. Easy-to-use user interface coupled with almost premium-level graphic resolution makes this setup my second favorite infotainment system of any manufacturer (Chrysler’s Uconnect system only beats it due to the larger screen size). The Bluetooth pairing expereince with my iPhone took only one attempt. Handsfree calls were clear, as was Bluetooth Audio streams for steering wheel jam sessions.
  • Trunk size in this sedan is deceivingly large, with 13.7-cubic feet of room. The reason for this deception? There is no spare tire taking up space, just an air compressor and some goo to shoot in and seal a punctured tire. Kia calls it a “Tire Mobility Kit”. I call it, “cost savings” since the absence of a heavy spare means better MPG numbers.
  • The EPA estimates 40-MPG highway, 30 city, and 33 combined. With my lead foot I averaged a 31.6-MPG, combined. Others not suffering from “footus-maximus” should expect the agency’s number.
  • Get the Premium Package ($2,350) to feel like you are in a car costing $3,000 more, as I experienced. The package lavishes you with leather seat trim, push button start with smart key fob, navigation system with Sirius Traffic, heated front seats and power sunroof.
  • Kia’s ability to stuff so many great features in a car as standard is clearly winning new customers.

The misses:

  • The electric-assist steering means you’ll have no steering feel. None. At least tooling through parking lots can be done with one finger.
  • The paddle shifters on the steering wheel are somewhat pointless, as there isn’t enough power from the small displacement engine to really do anything dangerous with them (I mean, that’s the point of F1-style paddles, right?). Shift points lagged when levers were pulled, so I recommend just keeping it in automatic mode.
  • There is a fair amount of road noise on the highway, but city commuting speeds below 40-MPH are fairly quiet.
  • The rear seating area is a tad narrow. You’ll be pressed to fit three full-size adults in the backseat as it will likely cause some serious shoulder bruising. In such a highly competitive category, I thought it was weird there was no foldable center armrest in the back, since the car is available with luxury features, such as leather seating.
  • Families just starting out should look elsewhere. The back seat does not provide enough room for a reverse-facing infant carrier to fit without making the front passenger slide their seat far forward, resulting in a knees-to-chest situation.


At the end of the day, it is really hard to beat all of the features you get as standard with the Kia Rio SX. Even with the Premium Package, rear bumper appliqué ($75), floor mats ($115), and Homelink ($350) functionality added to this car, it’s MSRP is only $21,340 after destination fee ($750). While it may not be the fastest of cars, that’s not its purpose. For the college student, urban commuter and empty nester, finding a more capably equipped car is quite the challenge, especially when you factor in the 10 year, 100,000-mile warranty. For those reasons on the recommendation scale of:

– Buy it

– Lease it

– Rent it

– Forget it

I say, BUY IT!

It’s the same car just with less of the new car smell. Check out this video review of the 2012 Kia Rio…

Ryan’s passion for automobiles began at age eight when his father brought home the quintessential sports car: A Guards Red, 1974 Porsche 911 Targa. Ever since, his free time has been consumed with following the latest developments of the automotive industry.