Driving a small hatchback offers many advantages. They're efficient, maneuverable, practical and, above all, affordable. Sometimes they're even fun to drive. Kia and Honda have each updated their cars in this segment for 2018. The Kia Rio is all-new, while the Honda Fit has received a number of minor upgrades. Each has its own appeal, so how do Kia and Honda's updated small cars compare?
One of Kia's objectives with the 2018 Rio redesign was improving handling and stability, and the company has succeeded. Handling is sporty, and the car is rock steady at freeway speeds. Steering is precise, and on-center feel has improved tremendously over the previous generation. Even with its 2018 updates, the Fit doesn't feel as sporty. In turns and at freeway speeds, the Fit feels less planted and isn't as engaging or confidence-inspiring as the Rio.
Both cars use efficient four-cylinder engines that produce 130 horsepower, which is sufficient for such small cars. Both offer a choice of manual or automatic transmission. Honda's continuously variable automatic transmission maintains peak power without changing gears. Kia's six-speed automatic has to spend more time shifting, although it does so smoothly and quickly.
COMFORT AND INTERIOR
The Rio and Fit are surprisingly roomy on the inside, offering comfortable seats with ample space for adults in both the front and rear. There's more rear legroom in the Fit, and the rear seats recline slightly, but tall passengers will find that reclining costs them a little headroom as the roofline dips down behind the seat.
In keeping with its sportier character, the Rio's driving position feels lower than the Fit's, which is upright and almost SUV-like. We appreciate the Rio's well-placed armrests and its steering wheel's wider range of adjustment.
Both cars feel well put-together, even with the extensive use of plastics throughout their cabins. The Rio's smart interior design and quieter cabin give a more upscale impression than the utility-oriented Fit. Though the Rio has a firmer ride, it's more settled over broken or uneven pavement. By comparison, there's more jitter from the Fit's suspension on rough surfaces.
Not only do the Honda Fit's rear seats fold flat to open up 52.7 cubic feet of storage space, but the front passenger seat can fold flat to accommodate longer items. The rear seat bottoms can also be folded up to create extra space to fit tall items.
The Rio's rear seats don't fold perfectly flat so, unlike in the Fit, you don't get a perfectly flat load floor. Still, the Kia's cargo area offers up to 32.8 cubic feet of space, so it is capable of swallowing a solid amount of gear.
TECHNOLOGY AND SAFETY
Both cars are available with 7-inch touchscreen systems that support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with HD and satellite radio and Bluetooth music streaming. The Fit offers navigation as an option, but Kia figures most people would rather rely on their phones via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
On the safety front, the 2018 Rio is available with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, but the Fit offers those features and a bit more. Adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist are also available for the Fit, along with a passenger-side blind-spot camera.
The Kia Rio starts at $15,095 for a base LX 5-Door hatchback with a manual transmission, and it tops out at $19,595 for a top-tier EX 5-Door hatchback. (All prices include destination fees.) The LX is a basic commuter with a sparse feature set. Only the EX receives smartphone integration, though the midrange S gets a rearview camera, Bluetooth music streaming and most basic amenities you expect from a modern car, such as power windows and keyless entry.
The Honda Fit, meanwhile, starts at $17,065 for a base LX with a manual transmission, and it runs to $22,395 for an EX-L with leather upholstery and navigation. The base Fit is more well-equipped than the base Rio, with features such as power windows and a rearview camera, but it lacks smartphone integration. Honda's suite of safety features is available on all trim levels, but for lower trims it's an optional extra that requires the continuously variable transmission, a total of $1,800 in added cost.
Choosing between the 2018 Kia Rio and Honda Fit comes down to deciding what you want from your small car. Would you prefer the Rio's slightly more upscale presentation and handling? Or the Fit's versatility and space?
Similarly equipped, the Rio and Fit are close price competitors, but buyers looking for a no-frills subcompact can save money on the Rio while getting the good design and driving dynamics that set the Rio apart. Deciding what features you want and how much you're willing to spend for them will be an important part of the decision.