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by Bill P. and Sommer Thornton
Two subcompact cars seemingly at odds have a lot in common in specs. Whipping both for a week reveals the Accent as a better buy with a more energetic and resilient performance.
The subcompact game shant be slept on. Whether you’re looking for an affordable 2nd car or a car for a teen, a subcompact whip under $20k is ideal for your budget and your garage. The benefits of smaller compact 4 and 5-door whips are numerous and the Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio and Chevy Sonic are a few segment leaders. Now the class is even more competitive with subcompact sedans and hatch variants having efficiency and athleticism, plus unique interior swag, safety and convenience tech.
Two in particular, the 2019 Hyundai Accent and 2018 Kia Rio have specs that are very similar. And with the Accent MSRP at $15k and the Rio starting at around $14k, both are worthwhile buys. Yet after our First Drive review, the Rio falls behind, seeming to represent the compact innovations of yesterday. While the Accent possessed all the Rio has and is more fun to drive.
2018 Kia Rio EX – Fun and Savvy yet Lagging Behind
We reviewed the 2018 Kia Rio EX 5-door this summer taking the whip over 500 miles across the city and Chicago suburbs. The 2018 Rio makes significant improvements in design, technology and passenger comfort.
The Kia Rio is an excellent everyday car with a 32 mpg combined fuel economy (37 mpg highway / 28 mpg city) and assertive trans and suspension.
The Rio EX’s hatch design isn’t typical or sporty, but functional at best. At first glance it reminded me of a Mazda 3. With crisper lines, lower window lines and short overhangs the Rio hatch looks bigger and wider than it really is, which hints at the spaciousness in the 5-passenger cabin. The wheelbase and length of the Rio has increased slightly and wheels are pushed to the corners for a more athletic stance.
The front end wears the latest iteration of Kia’s ‘tiger-nose’ grille, with redesigned headlights swept back for an aggressive appearance. Fifteen-inch alloy wheels are standard on the Rio sedan along with a cool front splitter flanking its large intakes. A functional rear spoiler and heated outside rear mirror are standard on the EX.
The cabin of the Kia Rio is surprisingly advanced and predictably functional. Cool looking fabric seats have a tricot trim that looks sporty. And the leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter are huge for such a small car. The steering wheel has controls for cruise control, the multi info display and the audio and Bluetooth.
The center stack and dash really give the driver a sense that he is driving a video game car or compact sports car. The digital dash has useful info in the multi info display like range, mileage and average mgs. The 7 inch center touchscreen houses UVO infotainment, Sirius XM, Android Auto and Apply Carplay. And the minimal knobs for climate give the interior even more athletic feeling.
Thanks to Rio’s larger dimensions and wheelbase, its cabin is among the roomiest in its class – the EX’s passenger volume tops 90.5 cu.ft. And the sedan – 89.9 cu.ft. The backseat of the EX only offers about 31 inches of legroom, not great. A tall person may not be able to stretch out. But when the driver’s seat pushed way back, a 5’5” person can still sit comfortably.
Storage is optimal in the Rio EX with nearly 13.7 cu.ft. of trunk space and little storage areas in the center stack and doors. With the seats folded down, the hatchback offers 32.8 cu.ft. with a low and flat cargo floor to accommodate luggage and small furniture.
2019 Hyundai Accent – Design and Performance Miles Ahead of the Pack
The 2019 Accent is a sleeper hit for the Hyundai brand. They already have the new super-efficient Ioniq, the sophisticated Sonata and futuristic Kona CUV. The Accent, available in SE, SEL and Limited trim for 2019, fits perfectly in their subcompact lineup right next to the Ioniq, offering a more athletic drivetrain and ambitious interior design.
We took the 2019 Hyundai Accent SE around the Chicago’s Northside and downtown areas earlier this spring and were surprised by how great this whip is as an everyday city car. Along with a cool new design, the Accent boasts a 38 mpg highway fuel economy and a very peppy trans.
At first glance the Accent is stylish with its own unique look. The base SE we reviewed features a big grille with chrome surround and chrome slats plus15 inch wheels. The top-of-the-line Accent Limited has chrome beltline molding, chrome door handles and LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights.
The Accent SE boasts a chiseled frame with functional rear spoiler. With a 101 inch wheelbase and 172 inches in length, the Accent has nearly the exact same dimensions as the Kia Rio, yet it looks slightly bigger, perhaps because of its bigger grill and windows. The Accent Limited also offers a standard sunroof and hands-free trunk. While the EX has standard keyless entry.
Inside the Accent is a cabin slightly more sophisticated than the Kia Rio. Cloth seats have a stylish mesh pattern for comfort and easy cleaning. Similar to the Rio, drivers have a 6-way power seat and one-touch turn signal. But the Rio EX hatch offers more storage than the Accent SE, which doesn’t have a center console- just an armrest. Buyers would have to cop the Accent SEL or Limited to get a center storage compartment. The Accent Limited also offers heated seats, a push button start, and tilt and telescopic steering wheel.
Both the Rio and the Accent have 60/40 split-folding rear seats. But the Accent seems to have slightly more legroom with 42 inches in the front and 33 inches in the rear. The Accent’s total passenger volume tops 90 cu.ft., and luggage capacity 13.7 cu.ft., similar to the Rio EX.
Performance Head-to-Head the Rio Falls Behind
One could argue that the 2018 Rio and the 2019 Hyundai Accent are virtually the same car. Both have similar specs under the hood as well. On the road however, the whips are starkly different.
The 2018 Kia Rio has a 1.6 liter GDI 4-cylinder engine matched to a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission. While the 2019 Hyundai Accent has a similar 1.6 liter GDI DOHC 4-cylinder engine matched to a 6-speed automatic trans with Shifttronic.
The front-wheel drive Kia Rio is a manageable compact whip on the road, nimble, fun, spirited with great handling. Horsepower in the Rio tops 130 hp with 123 lb-ft of torque. And the hatch was great cornering and parking.
The new Rio sedan and Rio 5-door also benefit from a revised spring and damper setup for enhanced handling. Stopping power comes from 11-inch disc brakes up front and 10.3-inch rear disc brakes in the Rio EX. And, for the first time, Rio is offered with available Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB).
The Hyundai Accent offers a similar powertrain and drivetrain layout, but outperforms the Kia Rio with more athletic character. A tap of the gas allows the small nimble Accent to leave other more sporty luxury whips in its dust. The Accent SE would sometimes slip correcting itself over bumps at high speeds. MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion axle rear suspension handle well in bad weather and bad road conditions, and the aggressive trans enhances high speed cornering. The whip had so much power it was hard to
finesse a park job.
With more versatility on the highway and in dense traffic, the Hyundai Accent is a more attractive buy for a city dweller. It’s in competition with a sportier more expensive compact whips with its low slung body and fun road prowess.
The Accent SE’s standard safety features include the vehicle stability management system, electronic stability control, a rearview cam, traction control and brake assist. The Limited Accent offers the blind spot monitor and forward collision -avoidance assist.
The Kia Rio EX offers much of the same with standard Hill Start Assist, vehicle stability management system and electronic stability control.
The 2019 Hyundai Accent and the 2018 Kia Rio have nearly identical specs. But on the road the two whips have different personalities. The Rio – dependable, efficient, well-balanced and fun whether in the hatch or the sedan. And the Hyundai Accent boasts sporting prowess and a stylish and tech savvy cabin. The Accent is a fun whip for young professionals and millennial alike.