Kia Rio goes mild-hybrid, gets wild manual transmission technology in Europe

Kia's small car receives a big round of updates for Europe that likely foreshadow changes for the US model.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
2 min read
2020 Kia Rio hatchback

No neck snapper, but it packs a lot of new tech.


Kia's given the Rio small car a refresh in Europe, and the changes include some revisions to the powertrain lineup, too.

The brand detailed the new additions in a Tuesday announcement. We won't get the Rio hatchback in the US, but it seems plausible some of the updates will come to the US-market Rio sedan. Kia declined to comment on the US-spec Rio.

But let's dive into the updates. The exterior dons a fresh look with a lower nose to accentuate the Kia's corporate fascia and the grille itself is more narrow. The bumpers are also a tad wider. All models now get full LED lights across the Atlantic, too. Kia said the idea was to keep the Rio's look "uncluttered." It won't snap necks, but it's not too shabby.

The big updates come under the hood. The Rio is the first Kia to sport what the company calls its EcoDynamics-Plus powertrain, which marries a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Yes, the Rio is now electrified. Under acceleration, the mild-hybrid system provides some electric power to reduce the engine's load and cut emissions. All the while, torque increases by 16% to 148 pound-feet. Kia will offer the powertrain in two power outputs as well: one with 98 horsepower and one with 118 hp. For those not ready to climb aboard the electrification train, a 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine remains.

2020 Kia Rio hatchback

We don't get a Rio hatch in the US, but the looks should shape our sedan.


What's wild for a car of this segment is what Kia calls its "Intelligent Manual Transmission." The clutch has no mechanical connection to the car, and instead, it's a by-wire ordeal. It works with the hybrid starter generator to help the Rio's start-stop technology work quicker and more efficiently to further reduce emissions and fuel economy. Kia doesn't even offer the Rio with a manual in the US, so this we won't know how this system works, but it sounds super wild. A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission remains optional for Europe, too.

The rest of the updates are found in the interior and active safety technology front. Kia fitted the Rio with its latest Uvo infotainment system, which supports niceties such as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and better voice recognition. Drivers will also find an impressive amount of active safety gear offered on the small car, such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot collision avoidance and more.

The new Rio will hit Europe later this year and we'll likely see updates for Kia's entry-level model in the US in the near future.

The Kia Rio proves cheap cars can be really good

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