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Sibling Rivalry: 2021 Kia Rio 5-door versus 2021 Kia Soul

Which of these Kia sub-compact siblings is the best choice if you are shopping for a new small hatchback?

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Small hatchbacks are not so numerous anymore. Former popular models like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and Toyota Yaris are long gone. But if you are in the market for a new small car with a large rear opening, Kia offers a pair of sub-compact hatchback siblings for your consideration.

First up, the front-wheel-drive (FWD), 5-passenger 2021 Kia Rio 5-door. With its European-flavored styling (updated this year), the Rio hatch offers plenty of value at very reasonable prices. And even though the Rio 5-door is the least expensive new Kia, it still comes with a tidy amount of standard equipment. It’s also spacious enough upfront to accommodate tall drivers.

We’ve already compared the electric version of the Kia Soul to its Niro sibling. But the gas engine versions closely match its sibling. For 2021, the FWD and 5-passenger Soul provides relatively inexpensive personal transportation with high levels of practicality. It also has an individual character and attitude—an aspect Soul owners can appreciate every time they walk up to it and click the key fob to unlock.

So, which one to choose? Read on to find out which of these Kia sub-compact hatchback siblings is just right for you.

 

Price

With a starting Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price of $17,295 in Canadian dollars, the base 2021 Rio 5-door LX+ MT trim is one of the most affordable new vehicles you can buy. 

As the "MT" moniker suggests, a 6-speed manual transmission is standard, as is wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and cruise control. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) comes standard with the remaining trims, starting with the $18,495 LX+. The $19,995 LX Premium adds such niceties as blind-spot collision warning and a heated steering wheel. If you're looking for a small hatch with plenty of safety features, the top-line $22,495 EX Premium trim adds forward collision avoidance assist and lane following assist.

With a range that spans from the budget-conscious $21,295 LX to the sporty-looking $29,295 GT-Line Limited model, there are 5 trim levels of 2021 Soul to choose from. 

All Soul trims include a CVT, heated front seats, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto as standard fare. The $22,995 EX adds forward collision avoidance assist, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, heated steering wheel and wireless cell charger. The $26,995 EX Premium coddles with dual-zone climate control and navigation. While the range-topping $29,295 GT-Line Limited gets you some sporty exterior trim bits, head-up display, squared-bottom steering wheel, and leather seats.

Also note for buyers at this price point who may also be considering the used vehicle market, both Kias come with a substantial 5-year/100,000-kilometre comprehensive warranty.

Winner: 2021 Kia Rio 5-door

 

Interior 

Clean, classy, and user-friendly—that’s the 2021 Kia Rio 5-door’s cabin. And there are no gripes on how everything has been put together. With more front legroom than the Soul, the Rio 5-door’s space upfront is acceptable even for tall people, but the hatchback’s sleeker roof profile naturally limits rear passenger room. Adults of average size and above will be less grumpy in the Soul’s roomier back seat. The Rio 5-door's cargo area, when its rear seats are in use, measures 493 litres, less than the 530 offered in the Soul.

Longer and taller than the conventional-looking Rio hatch, the space-efficient 2021 Kia Soul scores if you are looking for maximum room in a minimum footprint. The neat and diminutive Kia hatchback hides a deceptively huge interior. Passenger space is ample in all positions, plus generous rear-passenger foot space under the front seats. Adding to the Soul’s functionality is an optional dual-level floorboard that can be positioned low for maximum cargo space or raised to create a flat load area flush with the folded rear seats.

Winner: 2021 Kia Soul

 

Performance & Fuel Economy

The Rio 5-door should please most small hatchback buyers with its agreeable driving behaviour as long as no one expects a pocket rocket. The lone engine is a naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine. It develops a reasonable 120 horsepower. The base trim’s 6-speed manual makes up for the engine’s lack of oomph with more driver engagement. At the same time, the optional CVT has some programmed steps to simulate actual gears. Both transmissions work fine and help the Rio 5-door achieve decent combined city and highway fuel economy estimates: 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres (L/100 km) for the manual and 6.7 with the CVT.

Like its sibling, the Soul gets a single gas engine: a non-turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder producing 147 horsepower. That number may sound disappointing in theory, but the accompanying CVT does an admirable job of maximizing the muscle available,. Full-throttle acceleration fills the cabin with a strained 4-cylinder wail, but this unit is perfectly capable of everyday commuting. Due to its higher engine output and heavier curb weight, the Soul’s 7.9 L/100 km combined estimate can't match the Rio 5-door's frugal ratings.

Winner: 2021 Kia Rio 5-door

 

Ride and Handling

One way Kia can offer the Rio 5-door for such a relatively low price is how the automaker makes the best out of inexpensive components, like the hatchback’s torsion beam rear suspension setup and rear drum brakes. The ride is comfortable. The steering, which could use some more feel, is at least precise. Corners are tackled with ease with safe and predictable understeer at more enthusiastic speeds. And it’s the discs at the front wheels that bear most of the braking burden. On top of all that, the Rio 5-door’s cabin is pretty quiet for the class, even on the freeway.

Similar to the Rio 5-door it shares a platform with, the Soul moves with a sophistication that’s rare among mainstream sub-compact vehicles. An elevated seating position and large side glass give occupants a superb outward view. The downside is that you feel like you are sitting “on” the car instead of ‘in” it. Plus, there’s no manual gearbox option. The Soul’s interior is relatively quiet at higher speeds when its engine is not being rung out, and ride quality is more than acceptable, despite the use of Kia’s low-tech (and inexpensive) torsion beam rear axle.

Winner: 2021 Kia Rio 5-door

 

Overall Winner: 2021 Kia Rio 5-door

While small hatchbacks are disappearing fast, the 2021 Kia Rio 5-door and Soul remain solid choices for buyers looking for affordable daily transportation that doesn't require a transit pass.

The Soul's boxier dimensions give it more interior space for rear passengers or if you want as much cargo space as possible.

However, with its choice of both manual and automatic transmissions, better fuel economy, tidier handling—not to mention rock-bottom pricing—the Rio 5-door is the better overall choice.
 

Specs

2021 Kia Rio 5-door

2021 Kia Soul

Engine

1.6-litre I4

2.0-litre I4

Horsepower

120 @ 6,300 rpm

147 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque

113 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm

132 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm

Transmission(s)

6-speed manual

Continuously variable automatic

Continuously variable automatic

Drivetrain

Front-wheel-drive

Front-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy

6M: 7.0 L/100 km (7.7 city, 6.1 hwy)

CVT: 6.7 L/100 km (7.2 city, 6.0 hwy)

7.9 L/100 km (8.5 city, 7.0 hwy)

Warranty

5 years/100,000 kilometres

5 years/100,000 kilometres

Max Seating Capacity

5

5

Curb Weight

1,229-1,321 kg

1,290-1,393 kg

Wheelbase

2,580 mm

2,600 mm

Overall Length

4,065 mm

4,195 mm

Width

1,725 mm

1,600 mm

Height

1,450 mm

1,600 mm

Headroom, Front

987 mm

1,013 mm

Headroom, Rear

964 mm

1,003 mm

Legroom, Front

1,070 mm

1,044 mm

Legroom, Rear

850 mm

985 mm

Shoulder Room, Front

1,375 mm

1,410 mm

Shoulder Room, Rear

1,355 mm

1,390 mm

Cargo Volume, Behind Rear Seats

493 L

530 L

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