Looking for a sedan that won't deplete your bank account? Then you might want to give the 2021 Kia Rio some consideration. It has been refreshed for the model year, which means that you get a vehicle that looks and feels current-gen. From its restyled front and rear fascia to the brand-new 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, the Rio makes some strong updates for 2021. You can even opt for some new packages that can equip things like a proximity key, more advanced driver aids, and LED headlights.
The Rio is actually quite fun to drive and offers up a sporty performance that you might not expect at first. And, for such a reasonably priced car, the materials used in its design might also exceed your expectations. All of this was a result of its last redesign a few years ago, and this year's mid-cycle refresh adds even more to its style.
As far as cabins go, this one feels remarkably roomy if you are sitting up front, but not so much so if you are stuck in the rear. Taller rear seat passengers will find that they do not have a whole lot of head or leg room, and you can definitely only fit two adults back there. Despite the lack of a tilting and telescoping steering column, the driver's seat has enough adjustability to make it easy to find a good driving position. You might not be that impressed with the Rio's amount of cargo space though, as it only gives you 13.7 cubic feet of cargo space (with all seats left in place) in the sedan and a max of 32.8 cubes on the hatchback variant.
Now, with regard to its power, the Kia Rio received a more powerful engine option in 2020 that offers more fuel efficiency. This 1.6-L 4-cylinder engine actually dropped 10 horsepower from its predecessor, giving it just 120 hp and 112 lb-ft of torque. All of this was done in the name of improving the Rio's fuel economy, according to Kia. But it leaves you with an underwhelming powertrain performance. The engine shows enough zest while scuttling about town, but it rapidly runs out of steam once you try taking it up to speed on the highway.
That being said, the Rio offers brakes that modulate with ease and are responsive enough. The economy-oriented tires do make for a rough panic stop, but the vehicle will track straight as you apply pressure to the brakes. Steering effort builds naturally and has a light feel to it. The front wheels provide the driver with more feedback than average for a vehicle in its segment, and the Rio handles well after getting through some initial body roll while cornering. Overall, the Rio has a predictable performance even though it is not exactly a thrilling one.
So, which of the 2021 Kia Rio's two trim levels (the LX and the S) might work best for you? Let's take a look at their respective features and compare them. With such a minor price gap (less than $1,000 starting MSRP) between them, it might be tempting to jump right into buying the S. But should you? And what are some of the options available that you can add on? We will go over all of that and, in the end, let you know which trim level we think offers you the best deal on the 2021 Kia Rio.
2021 Kia Rio LX vs S. What is the difference?
Let us start with talking about the LX trim level. This base trim is powered by the 1.6-L 4-cylinder engine that we mentioned above, and that is the only engine you can get on the Kia Rio. It is paired with a standard intelligent variable automatic transmission (also known as the IVT) and front-wheel drive. You get front disc brakes and rear drum brakes, an independent front suspension and semi-independent rear suspension, and power steering. The powertrain is able to deliver 36 mpg combined with 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway on its 11.9 gallon fuel tank. And don't worry about needing to spend a lot on higher fuel grades; regular unleaded (87 or higher) will do just fine for the Rio.
Size-wise, both trim levels measure in at 172.6 inches long, 67.9 inches wide, and 57.1 inches high. The wheelbase comes in at 101.6 inches. You get 5.5 inches of ground clearance, which means you will have to take it easy going over large dips in the road or traveling down dirt roads with a lot of bumps and debris. Head room measures in at 38.9 inches up front and 37.4 inches in the rear while shoulder room comes in at 54.1 inches in the front and 53.3 inches in the rear. Hip space comes in at 52.9 inches up front and 52.4 inches in the back, and leg room vastly differs with 42.1 inches up front and 33.5 inches in the rear. Passenger volume totals out at 89.9 cubic feet while, as we previously mentioned, cargo space is only 13.7 cubes with the rear seats left upright (if you are in the sedan, that is). The curb weight for each trim level totals 2,767 pounds.
Picky about color options? Then the base LX might not have enough for you. It gives you three exterior color options (Aurora Black, Clear White, and Silky Silver) with one interior option (Black Tricot and Woven Cloth). The S gives you a few more options, with a spicy Currant Red, the aptly-named Sporty Blue, and a sleek Steel Gray added to the exterior color options list and Gray Tricot and Woven Cloth being added to the interior options.
Now, let us dig our heels into the trim levels' exterior features and see how they differ. To be quite honest, you have to look at some of the finer details on the outside to be able to tell the LX from the S. (The easiest giveaway is, of course, their respective badgings.) Both vehicles come with a front grille that has black mesh inserts, body-colored side door handles, two heated side mirrors done in the body color, solar control glass, and variable intermittent windshield wipers. They also receive halogen headlights with auto on/off headlight control. There are a fuel filler door which can be locked, 15-inch wheels with full covers equipped on them, and a space saver spare tire. On the S, you get a few extra options, including 15-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior door handles, LED headlights, positioning lights that are also LEDs, and high beam assist.
Inside of the cabin is where you will find a few more differences between the LX and the S trims. Both are outfitted with the same 8-inch touchscreen display along with AM/FM/MP3 compatibility. On the S, you can opt to add the Uvo link infotainment system, which will come with SiriusXM Satellite Radio connectivity. Both trims have front tweeters that come with the standard 6-speaker sound system, and wireless smartphone app integration is possible via either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. On top of that, you get dynamic parking guidance on the rear-view camera, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and audio (and, on the S, cruise control) buttons mounted on top of the steering wheel. Siri Eyes Free is standard, as is a USB port up front. The S adds USB charging ports for the rear. A 12-volt power outlet comes standard as well.
The windows are all power-operated, as are the doors. The driver's window has one-touch auto-up/down on it. The S adds on remote keyless entry with a trunk opener and an alarm system; it also gives you the option of equipping Smart Key with an engine immobilizer and a push button start. Air conditioning is standard, but you can get an automatic climate control system if you opt for it on the S. There is also a tilt-only steering column and a trip computer. The S lets you opt for a 4.2-inch display with the Supervision Meter Cluster. It also has a standard center console with a sliding arm rest and storage bin underneath it. You get two front cup holders, a bottle holder with each door's map pocket, a day/night rear-view mirror, an overhead sunglasses holder, a vanity mirror on each front visor, an illuminated glove box, and a trunk net.
As we already glossed over, each vehicle's upholstery is done in woven cloth. You also get a driver's seat that is adjustable six ways as well as front seat-belt anchors that are height-adjustable. The S adds rear-seat adjustable head-rests and a rear seat that is 60/40-split folding.
Now, it is time to talk safety features - advanced driver aids in particular. On the base LX, you will find just the bare-bones minimum. This trim level gives you two front advanced airbags, two front seat-mounted side airbags, side curtain airbags that are full-length, 3-point seatbelts for all seating positions, and front seatbelt pretensioners. ABS brakes come standard, as do a stability control system that is electronic, hill start assist control, a management system for vehicle stability, electronic brake-force distribution, and a system for monitoring the tire pressure. Side-impact door beams, front and rear crumple zones, the LATCH system, and child safety door locks for the rear are all there as well.
If you opt up to the S trim level, you do get more optional safety features by way of driver aids. These driver aids include a forward collision mitigation system with a pedestrian detection feature, lane keep assist, lane following assist, a lane departure warning, a driver attention warning, and a rear occupant alert. You can also opt for more advanced tire pressure monitoring system called a high line system if you so desire.
Finally, we will touch on the 2021 Kia Rio's warranty coverage, which is more generous than the industry average. With Kia, you get a whopping 10-year/100,000-mile warranty program that is highly inclusive. It helps sweeten the deal, considering how affordably the Rio is priced.
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Which Trim to Choose?
The 2021 Kia Rio might not be a large, spacious sedan with all the trappings of its bigger siblings, but it is considered an "economy" vehicle. Truth be told, "economy" vehicles have earned a bad rep, and the Rio's would be unjustifiable. Despite not having a superbly strong engine or a plethora of space, the Kia Rio manages to deliver on creature comforts and fuel economy.
With that in mind, though, we would absolutely recommend upgrading to the S trim level and equipping the extra options. Even with all the options tacked on, you are not likely to blow your budget on the Rio. The Uvo infotainment system is user-friendly, and the advanced driver aids can come in handy at times without being too intrusive. Given the fact that Kia offers some seriously stellar warranty coverage, the price you pay upfront for the Rio's S trim level (with all the bells and whistles included) is easy to justify.
• Compare the 2020 Kia Rio Trim Levels