In 2015, Kia gave the Rio a mild facelift that gave the compact a fresh appearance, a few extra soft-touch materials on the inside, and a quieter cabin. As expected, that didn’t help much in regard to the nameplate’s sliding sales, but things should get better once the fourth-generation model arrives. Rumored to debut in late 2016 and go on sale in 2017, the redesigned compact is already being tested on public roads.

Our trusty paparazzi just sent us a batch of fresh spy shots of the upcoming Rio, and even though the hatchback is camouflaged to the teeth, we do have an idea about what it might bring to the table. And, as we always do, we will discuss the new Rio in a speculative review based on the information provided by the photos, as well as the recent changes in the automaker’s lineup.

Although we only have photos of the hatchback, known as the Rio 5-Door on these shores, the model will also be joined by a sedan, enabling Kia to compete with big boys such as the four-door Ford Fiesta. Keep reading for more details and stay tuned for updates. We’ll be back as soon as we have them.

Continue reading to learn more about the 2017 Kia Rio.

Spy Shots

January 21, 2016 - first testing session

Kia Rio 5-Door Exterior Spyshots
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Kia Rio 5-Door Exterior Spyshots
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Kia Rio 5-Door Exterior Spyshots
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Exterior

It’s really hard to tell as to what styling features lurk under the camouflage, but the prototype provides plenty of hints about the changes that come with this redesign. The first thing that catches the eye is the new engine hood. It seems larger than its predecessor and it is no longer raked toward the front fascia. Its shape also suggests that the Rio will feature smaller headlamps and most likely a sportier face. The only detail that’s visible up front is the lower apron grille, which appears to be similar to the current model. However, expect both of the side vents and the "tiger nose" grille to receive updates. Around back, the Rio seems boxier than the model it replaces. The hatch also features redesigned taillights and a small spoiler atop the tailgate.

Interior

We have yet to receive photos of the prototype’s interior, but if recent Kias are any indication, the new Rio should be a significant improvement over its predecessor. Look for higher quality plastic surfaces, more metallic inserts, better fit and finish, and a more ergonomic center stack. The hatchback should also offer more legroom in the rear due to better packaging. Features such as power windows, cruise control, keyless entry, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel should become standard on the less expensive trims as well with the new model.

Drivetrain

Kia Rio 5-Door Exterior Spyshots
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Under the hood, the U.S.-spec Rio 5-Door is likely to receive an updated version of the current 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Rated at 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque for the 2016 model year, the four-pot could generate close to 150 horses and 140 pound-feet in the fourth-generation model. On top of being more powerful, the revised engine should also be more fuel efficient and exceed the current 27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined ratings. An updated six-speed automatic should route the power to the front wheels.

Prices

With the current Rio 5-Door priced from $15,495, the next-generation model should retail from around $16,000 before options in entry-level guise and from at least $21,000 in range-topping trim.

Competition

Ford Fiesta

2014 Ford Fiesta High Resolution Exterior
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When it comes to subcompact hatches, very few automakers can top what Ford did with the Fiesta. The Focus’ smaller sibling is not only good looking and reliable, but also well equipped and available with both naturally aspirated and turbocharged engines. Drivetrain options include a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque and a 1.0-liter, inline-three EcoBoost with 123 ponies and 125 pound-feet. A five-speed manual is standard with both units, while a six-speed automatic is offered as an option with the 1.6-liter four-pot. Prices start from only $14,090, which makes the Fiesta significantly more affordable than the Rio 5-Door.

Find out more about the Ford Fiesta here.

Chevrolet Sonic

2014 Chevrolet Sonic High Resolution Exterior
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The Chevrolet Sonic is the other hot seller in this segment. Introduced in 2011, the current Sonic can also be had with one of two engines. The base unit is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that generates 138 horses and 125 pound-feet, while the more expensive versions come with a turbocharged, 1.4-liter, four-pot that cranks out 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Depending on trim and engine, the Sonic uses either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Pricing for the 2016 Sonic starts from $14,345.

Read more about the Chevrolet Sonic here.

Honda Fit

2015 Honda Fit High Resolution Exterior
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The Honda Fit is another option to consider is you’re in the market for a subcompact. Redesigned for the 2015 model year, the new-generation Fit employs Honda’s more recent design language, a better looking interior, and a new 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Output sits at 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque and travels to the wheels through either a six-speed manual or a CVT. The Fit’s fuel economy is pretty impressive at 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway, at least when compared to the Rio 5-Door. Pricing for 2016 starts at $15,890.

Find out more about the Honda Fit here.

Conclusion

Kia Rio 5-Door Exterior Spyshots
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There aren’t any official details to run by as of this writing, but if previous updates are any indication, the Rio 5-Door should feature numerous improvements compared to its predecessor. Hopefully, the next-gen hatch will inherit its forerunner’s impressive roominess and comfortable ride and combine them with a better experience behind the wheel, more convincing performance, and a drivetrain that will return at least 40 mpg on the highway. If Kia manages to bring something like that into showrooms, the Rio would stand a better chance at giving the Fiesta, Sonic, and Fit a better run for their money.

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    • * Tough competition from Ford, Chevy, and Honda
    • * Likely to become the most expensive in its niche
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