Everybody wants a small, or what the market describes as B-segment, SUV these days and so every manufacturer wants to make one – our reviewer went straight from the Kia Stonic launch to that of the Citroën C3 Aircross that will become a direct rival.
Kia believes that a market that was worth 1.1 million vehicles in Europe in 2016 will reach 2.2 million by 2020. In the UK the Stonic is expected to take 10,000 to 15,000 sales in its first full year but the Korean brand’s number crunchers admit that judging by how many the larger Sportage takes, that figure could be conservative. This is a very important car for Kia.
So what makes the brand so confident? Well the Stonic is, like every other B SUV, chasing a slice of the market established by the Nissan Juke – it’s a compact car that has been muscled up to offer more road presence that would a traditional small hatch. In fact, it is directly evolved from the Kia Rio supermini and built alongside it in South Korea.
You can’t have all-wheel-drive in your Stonic, because no buyer these days wants SUV go anywhere-ability, they just require SUV go-anywhere looks. They also want lots of connectivity, one of today’s biggest selling points. And they want style and personalisation, which is why the upper of the two trim levels, First Edition, include a two-tone body and roof paint job.
All this is placed on an attractive body shell, the Stonic presenting a chunky but purposeful visual presence – basically it looks the part, if anything a little sleeker than most of its rivals.
Buying and owning the Kia Stonic
Buyers of the Stonic are faced with an easy-to-understand line-up. There are just two trim levels, ‘2’ and ‘First Edition’, and three engines – the same selection offered to Rio buyers.
The ‘old tech’ if you like is the 1.4-litre petrol unit in the entry-level car. It produces a mere 99hp, which means it takes an asthmatic 12 seconds plus to pass 60mph. And while doing that its combined-cycle fuel economy figure only just breaks 50mpg and it produces 125g/km of CO2 emissions.
Compare that to the star of the range, the three-cylinder direct-injection turbo petrol unit. It’s smaller, just one litre in size, yet it serves up 120 horses. This slashes the 0-60mph time under 10 seconds, while also improving economy and emissions. At just £700 more than the 1.4, the 1-litre a worthwhile step up.
Diesel fans are served by a single 1.6 unit, with 110 horsepower and of course by far the best economy and emissions. Traditionally supermini buyers have only wanted petrol engines, whereas SUVs have been heavily biased towards diesels. But tradition doesn’t count any more – Kia expects 60 per cent of Stonic buyers to choose petrol and admits the figure could end up being a lot higher as negative publicity continues to drive down diesel sales.
At the time of writing the Stonic has not been through a Euro NCAP crash test. The testers will be pleased to see a range of driver-assistance technologies available for the car, including Autonomous Emergency Braking and lane departure warning systems. They may be less delighted that these only come as standard on the First Edition model, being an option on 2 versions.
The 2 does include Vehicle Stability Management as part of its Electronic Stability Control system. Not only does this protect against skidding, the system fights against the car running wide in corners and keeps it straight when braking heavily. Hill Start Assist is standard too.
Those choosing the 2 grade also get some other desirable equipment, such as DAB radio, Apple Carplay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility, air conditioning and rear parking sensors.
Upgrade to First Edition – an increase of £2700 – and as well as the additional safety the extras include a two-tone paint job, keyless entry and starting, heated seats, auto air conditioning and a seven-inch touchscreen navigation system with connected services. And like all Kias, the Stonic offers one significant peace-of-mind feature – a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Discounted service plans are also available.
Inside the Kia Stonic
The interior of the Stonic is typical of recent Kia models. Or more precisely, it’s very typical of the Rio, replicating the layout of its sister car. This is not a bad thing as the setup is user-friendly with all the buttons and switches falling easily to hand.
However – rivals are upping their game. Soft-touch plastics and fine detailing are becoming increasingly the norm in this market, and in this area Kia could soon be left behind. The colour contrasts one gets with First Edition models are essential to lift the finish above the ordinary.
B SUVs are not renowned for their space, being effectively jacked-up superminis, and the Stonic maintains the image. It’s okay up front, and the high seating position – the Stonic is 70mm taller than the Rio – gives the driver good visibility though the thick rear pillars compromise over the shoulder of oncoming traffic.
Driving the Kia Stonic
On the launch event, The Car Expert drove Stonics fitted with the 1.0-litre petrol and the diesel engines – these will take by far the majority of sales. Both are smooth and refined in operation, delivering their power effectively. The diesel does make a bit of noise when accelerating hard, and overall the petrol is the most impressive powerplant.
Ride quality is comparable to the Rio, which is no bad thing. The ruts and bumps of a typical UK road can make themselves felt in the cabin rather than being soaked up by the suspension, but at higher speeds they dial out for a slightly firm but comfortable ride.
The steering is a little too light and devoid of feel, especially at higher speeds, but this also translates to agile progress through urban streets.
In short, this is a very easy car to live with, confident and undemanding. And for that reason, it will likely tick most of the right boxes with its target market.
The Kia Stonic provides the brand with an effective contender in what is now a very important market. It does not stand out from the increasing crowd of B SUVs, but equally it is favourably comparable to most of its rivals. That, along with a reasonable amount of standard equipment and a strong warranty, should put it on many buyers’ shortlists.