Review and photos by Michael Bettencourt

Just a glance at the bestselling cars list in this country will tell you that Canadians love them some compact cars. As of the end of May 2013, 7 of the top 10-selling cars in this country were classified as compact cars, with only one subcompact car making it into that exclusive group, the Hyundai Accent.

2013 Kia Rio 5-Door
2013 Kia Rio 5-Door. Click image to enlarge

The Accent hatchback triumphed over five of its closest rivals in our subcompact throwdown earlier this year, a comparison that included the Kia Rio 5-Door that I later took out for a further week of closer examination. We wanted to figure out how the Rio with more features could have landed in fifth place in that comparison, while the mechanically similar Accent – which shares the Rio’s 1.6L engine, general dimensions and transmission choices – took the overall spoils.

So yes, there is an element of self-examination going on here, but there’s also a worthwhile question to address when it comes to subcompact cars like the Rio and the Ford Fiesta that are most impressive in their option-bursting top trims. Namely, at what price do subcompact cars become less of a deal than larger compact models at similar or lower as tested prices?

That top-10 sales list suggests that it’s a very small window. There seems to be a marked preference for slightly larger compact cars in this country, no matter the make or model, even if we’re more subcompact-friendly than our plus-size-aplenty U.S. neighbours.

2013 Kia Rio5
2013 Kia Rio5 . Click image to enlarge

So after stepping back for some perspective on that larger value question, let’s look again at the Rio 5-Door hatchback. Even in its top SX trim, our tester wasn’t quite a fully loaded model, as it didn’t have the six-speed automatic that most folks will choose/have thrust upon them by cautious dealers (for $1,300), or the pricy navi system ($2,500), which seems increasingly overpriced when so many folks carry around smartphones with the same capability. After freight and A/C tax, it came in at an as-tested tally of $21,450, not counting taxes or all the usual discounts that Kia often throws around.

The Rio 5-Door certainly didn’t hurt its value equation by skimping on styling. The imposing 17-inch wheels of the SX lord it over the 14- to 16-inchers available elsewhere in this class. With the Accent, Rio 5-Door and all the subcompacts in that test lined up – the Mazda2, Honda Fit, Chevy Sonic and Toyota Yaris were the others – the Rio5 seemed to literally glow with an upscale sheen. Oh yes, that was the LED accents located just under the headlights, a signature styling feature offered only on the Rio in this cost-conscious class.

Kia’s littlest hatchback also looks good from the inside, and not only with its cute and cuddly subcompact playmates around. Its heated leather seats, automatic temperature controls, rear camera, rain-detecting wipers and especially the heated steering wheel are all rare or unavailable elsewhere in this class.

Even its high-selling Accent sibling does not receive the latter three features, nor the LEDs or 17-inch wheels.

And when you consider that the high-end $140,000 German sports car tester now sitting in my driveway also doesn’t have all these interior features, though they may be optional (hint), it makes you realize that the high-end features available on a 22-grand Kia Rio are truly shocking for the price.

2013 Kia Rio5 2013 Kia Rio5 2013 Kia Rio5 2013 Kia Rio5
2013 Kia Rio5 . Click image to enlarge

Sure, the interior’s not perfect. The back seat is tight for two or three adults, while the display screen is tiny, with no hard preset buttons, although there are handy stereo controls on the steering wheel that come standard. Cargo room has been sacrificed for the svelte style of the sloping rear window, although the Rio5 still offers much more room back there than the plainer – to this hatchback lover’s eyes – Rio sedan (425 L versus 389). And sure, the leather is not the most aromatic in the industry, but at 22 large, your service manager will likely not rush to replace those hides if you show up complaining about the bouquet of the leather in your Kia Rio.

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