Is Kia a Good First Car? (Rio, Soul, Optima, Picanto +3 More)

Kia may not be the largest manufacturer in the automotive industry or the first brand that comes to mind when car shopping.

But many Kia models make surprisingly good first cars with excellent value for money and generous warranty.

is kia a good first car

Generally: Are Kias Good First Cars?

Kia Motors was a relatively new entrant in the American market in 1992, and at a time when more established makes shifted focus to higher-end and higher-priced vehicles.

Kia may trail the Hyundai in the brand power and reliability stakes, but they make entry-level cars that are affordable and fuel-efficient.

Consumer Reports ranked Kia #19 of 28 automotive brands in their 2021 reliability rankings.

Finding Kia in the bottom half of that ranking isn’t reassuring when you’re looking to buy reliable cars.

Still, Kia vehicles are affordable, and some smaller models boast above-average reliability and excellent gas mileage, making them amazing first cars.

JD Power rates vehicle reliability with a maximum score of 100, and any figure above 80 is good, indicating a reliable car; many Kias in this post achieved that.

Most Kia models are competitive choices – new or used – for teenage drivers on a small budget.

Specific Kia Models:

Kia makes affordable cars, but not all Kia models are suitable for teenage drivers getting their first car.

#1 Is a Kia Forte a Good First Car?

Despite the stiff competition in the compact car segment, Forte holds its own with its beginner-friendly price lower than the competitors.

The Kia Forte is a very competent first car with attractive qualities that budget-conscious first-time owners cannot ignore:

  • Cheap to buy – it can be several thousands of dollars cheaper than competing models from rival makes without sacrificing build quality.
  • Frugal on fuel – mid-30s mpg combined is a respectable figure and a welcome fact for drivers looking to spend less on gas.
  • Good outward visibility – a crucial consideration for new drivers.
  • Inexpensive to maintain – $451 per year, according to RepairPal. $526 is the average for compact cars.
  • Rocksolid reliability – above-average 80+ scores on JD Power across its model years.

The number of recalls for model years 2014, 2013, and 2012 stands out – 3, 4, and 3 recalls, respectively – but they aren’t high by automotive standards.

The Fortes are mostly fuss-free, affordable vehicles for teenagers who daily drive to college and around town.

If you’re shopping for a compact sedan for your first car, be sure to include the Honda Civic in your shortlist.

#2 Is a Kia Optima a Good First Car?

The Optima underwent a redesign and renaming to K5 for 2021 and onwards.

Being a midsize car, the Kia Optima is an average choice for a first car:

  • Above-average fuel economy – close to 30 mpg combined is class-competitive. Only the Accord did better but by a narrow margin.
  • Good visibility – most cars with sloping rooflines sacrifice driver visibility, but the Optima did well on the contrary.
  • Safe vehicles – achieved maximum ratings in the IIHS and NHTSA crash tests.
  • Good reliability – the consistent 80+ scores on JD Power suggest it’s a car you can depend on.
  • Affordable maintenance – $471 per year is below the $526 average for midsize cars.
  • Holds value – a 49% depreciation after five years, assuming a brand-new vehicle, is good news when you want to resell.
  • Eye-catching design – more attractive-looking than the safe-bet Camrys and Accords.
  • Roomy cabin – good for your first car if you expect to carry passengers regularly.

There are many good options with solid first car credentials in the midsize sedan market.

They include:

They are just as impressively reliable, so research them before deciding.

#3 Is a Kia Rio a Good First Car?

Considerations for a starter vehicle typically involves fuel efficiency, safety, and reliability; judging by those criteria, the Kia Rio is a good first car:

  • Excellent fuel economy – combined mpg in the mid-30s is more than ideal for a teenager needing to spend less on gas.
  • Good reliability – minimal recalls in its more than a decade-old history, and the 80+ scores on JD Power show Rios are reliable.
  • Cheap maintenance – about $400+ a year is affordable for most teens.
  • Its diminutive dimensions – small and light equal easy-to-drive for a less-experienced driver.
  • Easy to park – it doesn’t get any easier to park than a subcompact car.
  • Excellent visibility – easy to see out due to the slim pillars.
  • Inexpensive insurance – not the cheapest because it’s a subcompact vehicle.

The Rio suffers from sluggish acceleration, stiff ride, and a relatively noisy cabin – typical of entry-level subcompacts.

Still, with its beginner-friendly price, you’re getting an all-around good first car, although you do have other choices (see below).

Which Rio Year Is Best as First Cars?

Kia Rios are fuel-efficient cars, but it’s a model that has survived more than a decade.

So, which Kia Rio is the better first car?

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.Reliability
2022 Kia Rio3.8/4NA33/41/36NA
2021 Kia Rio3.8/4NA33/41/36NA
2020 Kia Rio3.8/4NA33/41/3682/100
2019 Kia Rio3.8/4NA28/37/3284/100
2018 Kia Rio3.8/4NA28/37/3283/100
2017 Kia Rio3.4/44/527/36/30NA
2016 Kia Rio3.4/44/527/36/3082/100
2015 Kia Rio3.4/44/527/36/3084/100
2014 Kia Rio3.4/44/527/36/3079/100
2013 Kia Rio3.4/44/528/36/3180/100
2012 Kia Rio3.4/44/528/36/3179/100
2011 Kia Rio3.2/4NA27/35/3080/100
Kia Rio model years comparison.

Most Kia Rio model years showed above-average reliability but could be safer considering some rivals scored full marks in the government crash tests.

First-time car owners want fuel-thrifty vehicles.

The 2018 Kia Rio or newer demonstrated improved fuel economy over its earlier iterations and should be the better pick for your first car.

Further, those model years have comparatively better safety ratings.

Rio Compared with Similar Vehicles

There are several exciting alternatives to the Kia Rio in the subcompact car segment.

See how the Kia Rio stacks up against the competition when shopping for your first car.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Kia Rio33/41/3683/100$4343.8/4NAExcellent
Ford Fiesta27/37/3171/100$5523.6/44/5Good
Honda Fit33/40/3679/100$3904.0/45/5Excellent
Toyota Yaris32/40/3580/100$3334.0/45/5Good
Kia Rio comparison with similar vehicles.

The average annual maintenance cost for subcompact cars is $456.

In this case, the Kio Rio is relatively inexpensive to maintain.

But if you want the cheapest subcompact car to maintain, the Toyota Yaris would be your go-to first car.

Overall, the Kia Rio gives impressive fuel economy and is as reliable as its Honda and Toyota rivals, making it a splendid choice for a teenager’s first car.

#4 Is a Kia Soul a Good First Car?

Kia Soul has been one of the company’s best-sellers since its introduction to the American market in 2010.

It has a distinctive boxy SUV style but with car-like ride height and is feature-rich for the price.

All practical needs considered; the Kia Soul is a compelling choice for a first car that any teenager would love to own:

  • Affordable SUV – similar starting price as the Japanese subcompacts but cheaper than the American rivals.
  • Good maneuverability – feels nimble with its responsive steering; a capable ride around town.
  • Excellent visibility – the elevated and upright seating position, plus the boxy shape and slim roof pillars aid the driver’s view out on all sides.
  • Easy to park – its dimension is ideal for inexperienced drivers in an SUV.
  • Roomy interior – the space inside is more generous than its compact exterior suggests. Good when you need to pick up some friends.
  • Charismatic design – instantly recognizable among the competition.
  • Inexpensive maintenance – $437/year is economical when most subcompact SUVs average $466/year.

At the price point, you’re getting an attractive SUV and a vehicle that checks the various requirements for a teenager’s first car.

The stiff suspension leading to a less comfortable ride is the Soul’s noticeable drawback but is forgivable given its many positives.

Which Soul Year Is Best as First Cars?

Kia Souls are generally reliable rides, but which model year should you choose if you’re a first-time owner?

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.Reliability
2022 Kia Soul4/44/527/32/2983/100
2021 Kia Soul4/44/527/32/2983/100
2020 Kia Soul4/44/527/32/2984/100
2019 Kia Soul3.8/45/526/31/2886/100
2018 Kia Soul3.8/45/525/30/2784/100
2017 Kia Soul4/45/525/30/2784/100
2016 Kia Soul4/45/524/30/2687/100
2015 Kia Soul4/45/524/30/2684/100
2014 Kia Soul4/45/524/30/2683/100
2013 Kia Soul3.4/44/525/30/2781/100
2012 Kia Soul3.4/44/525/30/2778/100
2011 Kia Soul3.4/44/525/30/2781/100
Kia Soul model years comparison.

2014 Kia Soul and newer showed remarkably consistent reliability, and any of them would make a great first car.

And if you want a Kia Soul with the best fuel economy, the newer model years should be your focus – the Soul underwent a redesign in 2020.

Avoid Kia Soul year 2014 and 2015 as they have more recalls than other model years (but 4 to 5 recalls aren’t alarming figures).

Pre-2015 Kia Souls were some of their more problematic ones.

Soul Compared with Similar Vehicles

Let’s see if the Kia Soul is a competitive first car compared with rivals in the crowded subcompact SUV segment.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Kia Soul27/32/2984/100$4374/44/5Excellent
Jeep Renegade24/32/2777/100$4983.8/44/5Average
Mazda CX-329/34/3175/100$3454/45/5Average
Mazda CX-3025/33/2884/100NA4/45/5Average
Honda HR-V27/31/2979/100$3014/45/5Good
Subaru Crosstrek22/29/2580/100$4924/45/5Excellent
Hyundai Kona28/32/3079/100NA4/45/5Excellent
Chevy TrailBlazer28/31/2983/100$5244/45/5Average
Kia Soul comparison with similar vehicles.

A Kia Soul is inexpensive to maintain relative to the competition, and when you consider $466 is the average yearly maintenance cost for subcompact SUVs.

The Kia Soul is impressively reliable compared to its direct rivals, making it a highly dependable first car for teenagers wanting the high seating position of an SUV.

Kia Soul’s fuel economy is class-competitive.

#5 Is a Kia Stinger a Good First Car?

The Kia Stinger, introduced in 2018, is not an everyday sedan but a sporty one.

It is an exciting sports sedan for enthusiasts with its level of performance and luxury.

As a car with a base model that spits out 250 horsepower (or more than 360 hp for the V6 variant), the Kia Stinger is not suitable for a first car:

  • Poor fuel economy – for most college-going teens, operating a fuel-thrifty car is crucial.
  • More horsepower than necessary – unless you’re a responsible driver managing those horses.
  • Unsuitable drivetrain for a starter car – only rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive options are available.
  • Relatively poor visibility – the sloping rooflines hamper the driver’s view out. Cool for an experienced driver, but less so for new drivers.
  • Middling reliability – its reliability score on JD Power is lower than most other Kia cars.
  • Average value retention – depreciates approximately 50% after five years if you buy a brand-new Stinger.

The Kia Stinger is a higher-performance car than your regular road-going sedans and is an exciting option if you’re getting a second car.

An RWD car is exhilarating fun for track days but difficult for a beginner driver to control on icy and slippery surfaces.

The Stinger’s AWD option is excellent for car control, but it is expensive and mostly unnecessary for first-time car owners – unless you live in a region that warrants getting an AWD or 4WD vehicle.

#6 Is a Kia Ceed a Good First Car?

The Ceed (or Cee’d) is a hatchback and is only available in the EU market.

It’s hard to go wrong choosing a compact car like the Kia Ceed for your first car:

  • Beginner-friendly price – a hatchback for a first car is as affordable as it gets.
  • A safe vehicle – the Ceed achieved the maximum 5 stars in the Euro NCAP safety rating; 4 stars for the variant without Advanced Driving Assistance Pack.
  • Good outward visibility – thanks to its relatively thin windscreen pillars, although less so out the back.
  • Strong fuel economy – mid-40s mpg combined on the petrol engine; much higher on the diesel variant.
  • The small dimensions – ideal for parking and daily driving around town.
  • Comfortable ride – the suspension soaks up bumps surprisingly well for an entry-level car. The car’s considerable insulation ensures a quiet interior.

The Ford Focus is similar in size to the Ceed, and it’s worth considering if you’re shopping for your first car.

#7 Is a Kia Picanto a Good First Car?

The Kia Picanto is available exclusively in the EU and UK markets.

It is in the same hatchback segment as the Kia Ceed but smaller and has less powerful engines.

First cars need to be cheap to run, safe, and dependable, and the Kia Picanto fits the bill:

  • Frugal on petrol consumption – the bigger engine gets mid-40s mpg, and the smaller 1.0L powertrain can achieve 50 mpg combined.
  • Nimble cars – excellent for driving around town.
  • Compact size – easy to park, ideal for inexperienced drivers.
  • Reasonably safe vehicles – earned 3 stars (standard Picanto) and 4 stars (safety pack-equipped) out of 5 in the Euro NCAP crash tests.
  • Low maintenance costs – inexpensive service and repair parts, partly because of the following point.
  • Extended warranty – KIA UK offers a 7-year manufacturer’s car warranty. The new owner still benefits from the warranty when you resell within the coverage period.
  • Affordable insurance – but not the cheapest. If you want a cheaper subcompact to insure, opt for a Toyota Aygo or Ford Fiesta for your first car.
  • Feature-rich – you get features that are often only available in larger cars.

If you don’t plan to drive long distances regularly, the Kia Picanto is an impressive all-rounder and the perfect first car.

Comparison: Best Kia for Your First Car

See the table below on how the various Kia models compare in the areas that matter for a first vehicle.

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
Safety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)VisibilityFuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. Costs
Niro Hybrid4/44/5Excellent51/46/4983/100NA
Niro PHEV4/44/5Excellent46/105 (*)NANA
Niro EVNANAExcellent123/102/112 (**)NANA
Kia models comparison.

(*) PHEV = Plug-in Hybrid. 46 mpg combined on gas; 105 mpg-equivalent on elec+gas.

(**) 123 city, 102 highway, 112 combined mpg-equivalent on elec.

If you want the most affordable Kia to buy as a first car, opt for the Kia Rio.

If you prefer an SUV with all its plus points but don’t want to spend too much on your first car, the Kia Soul is perfect.

But if getting the excellent outward visibility of an SUV and fuel economy are your top priorities, the Kia Niro Hybrid is a compelling option – 49 mpg combined.

Alternatively, opting for the Niro EV future-proofs your investment, so long as charging stations are within your reach.

Alternative Makes to Kia for a Teenager’s First Car

Based on the Kia vehicles that make good first cars – notably the Forte, Rio, and Soul – other choices are aplenty:

  1. Honda – Fit, Civic, HR-V.
  2. Toyota – Yaris, Corolla.
  3. Hyundai – Kona, Elantra.
  4. MazdaMazda 3, CX-3, CX-30
  5. Chevrolet – TrailBlazer.

Always do your research, inspect, and test drive before buying.