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There are a few things you can always count on when buying a subcompact car. These vehicles are probably more functional in terms of storage but boring to drive with shabby, unpolished interiors. Fortunately, the Kia Rio is a welcome breath of fresh air from the norm.

MotorTrend says the Kia Rio is one of the best hatchbacks for the 2021 model year. The Honda Civic took the top spot in the compact category because of its roomy backseat and variety of powerful engines. What makes the Kia Rio a class leader in the subcompact crowd?

Inside the 2021 Kia Rio Hatchback

The Kia Rio has a 1.6-cylinder engine that makes 120 hp and 112 lb-ft of torque, paired with a CVT. MotorTrend describes this engine as one of the Rio’s low points, but that’s not a surprise from a subcompact car. It makes up for power with efficiency, rated for 36 mpg combined city/highway.

The Kia Rio is also easy to handle and the suspension is comfortable, despite being on the firm side. MotorTrend also appreciated how solid the Kia Rio feels in comparison to similar cars. Its exterior isn’t anything special; however, its interior is much more sophisticated than one might expect.

While it still has a lot of plastic components, everything looks neat, and the materials feel upscale. The front seat is very accommodating, though the backseat can be cramped for bigger passengers. The Kia Rio Hatchback offers up to 33 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded.

Standard features include a nice 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, Bluetooth, some USB ports, and even wireless smartphone integration. Besides a rearview camera and cruise control, the Kia Rio Hatchback doesn’t have any advanced driver’s aids. 

Still, with its good gas mileage and refined interior, it’s a decent value at its sub-$18,000 price point. Better still, the Kia Rio boasts one of the best powertrain warranties, up to 10 years or 100,000 miles.

What features cost extra?

The Kia Rio Hatchback is only available in one trim, but you can score a single technology package for $1,800. This bundle includes more driver’s aids like automatic emergency braking, LED headlights, forward-collision warning, and driver drowsiness monitoring. Satellite radio and UVO link are also included, which allows you to start or unlock your car with a smart device.

How the Kia Rio beats its rivals

The Chevy Spark’s engine is even weaker than the Rio’s, capable of only 98 hp and 94 lb-ft of torque. While MotorTrend did appreciate the Spark’s smooth ride, it’s undeniably slow and struggles to pass other cars. At least the interior feels nice and the Activ trim offers some stylish new exterior accents.

Still, the Chevy Spark is small even by subcompact standard, especially in the rear seats. Cargo capacity is also slightly below its rivals, with a maximum of 27 cubic feet. It has many convenience features for only $14,990, but its lack of capability makes it a questionable value.

MotorTrend was slightly more fond of the Mitsubishi Mirage, but not for any reasons related to performance. Working with only 78 hp, MotorTrend says the Mirage is neither fast nor a joy to drive. Its only saving grace is its impeccable fuel economy, rated for up to 39 mpg combined city/highway.

MotorTrend appreciated this SUV’s cheap base price and lengthy warranty. The Mitsubishi Mirage is also the only subcompact hatchback with any standard safety features. 

While the Mirage has surprisingly generous cargo dimensions, the seats are unsupportive and legroom is tight for rear-seat riders. It might be cheaper than the Kia Rio by a few thousand dollars, but it’s still probably not worth it.


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