The Kia Stonic 'B'-segment small SUV will be at its most popular in 1.0 T-GDI petrol turbo guise. Jonathan Crouch drives it.
The Kia Stonic offers small SUV buyers yet another tempting choice. The looks can be eye-catching and it's good to drive in comparison to most obvious rivals. In addition, this car is reasonably spacious and pretty affordable to run, especially in diesel form or when fitted out with the brand's impressive 1.0-litre T-GDI petrol engine. Plus prices are pitched keenly and you get a seven-year warranty. It is, in short, a very competitive proposition indeed.
In recent years, Kia has become a very significant player on the market for compact crossover SUVs. But the company's never really had a product of this sort to directly target the smallest section of this segment. That's the brief assigned to this Stonic model and, on paper at least, it seems to be almost everything you might want a car of this kind to be.
The name's interesting isn't it? (apparently a combination of the words 'speedy' and 'tonic'). A little surprisingly, this car doesn't share those same underpinnings with sister company Hyundai's Kona model - their entry in this exploding sector - though the two manufacturers do use the same engineware, most notably in this case the 1.0-litre T-GDi petrol unit that Kia expects the majority of Stonic buyers to choose. These people will be buying into a car that gives Kia one of the widest crossover SUV product selections available from any current brand.
This Stonic is 70mm taller than the Rio model it's based upon and to compensate, has lengthened springs and dampers. At the wheel, you don't get a particularly commanding driving position but what is on offer, rather surprisingly, is a slightly sharper driving experience than is available in the Rio. That's down to a standard torque vectoring system that gives you extra traction at speed through tight corners. Plus there's a stiff body shell and fairly firm suspension that acquaints you with small bumps and tarmac tears a little more keenly than is the case with some rivals. It's nothing you couldn't live with though and suspension smoothness improves the faster you go. Thanks to this and very reasonable levels of refinement, the Stonic is a surprisingly able partner for longer trips.
Engine-wise, there's a three-way choice. Most buyers, quite rightly, will ignore the entry-level 98bhp four cylinder 1.4-litre MPi normally aspirated petrol unit and opt instead for the 1.0-litre T-GDI turbo petrol powerplant we're looking at here. This three cylinder unit develops 118bhp and can be impressively clean and frugal. Predictably, there's no 4WD system or traction-enhancing set-up on offer, but a 42mm ride height increase that this model enjoys over its Rio supermini donor design suggests that reasonable progress could be made in slippery car parks or on light field tracks if you were to equip this car with a decent set of Winter tyres.
This is one of the most strikingly Kia models we've seen to date, though the shape incorporates several of the brand's key recognisable signature design elements. Styled in Europe in collaboration with Kia's Korean design studio, the body aims to blend sharp horizontal feature lines with softer sculpted surfaces. Like most cars of this kind, you'll have to add quite a lot to the entry-level price if you're to get the kind of personalised look we've got here, but if that's possible, you'll get yourself a car the neighbours will really notice.
Inside, this Stonic doesn't really seat you much higher than you would be in the ordinary Rio model it's based on. You'll also miss out on the kind of jaunty cabin finishing you might expect from a car of this kind if you don't stretch to a high-grade trim level that brings inside the contrasting roof and mirror colour chosen for the exterior.
And in the rear? Well it's best not to get your hopes up too high here given that the wheelbase of this Stonic is no different from the length available in the little Rio supermini. Let's finish with a few words on bootspace, which thanks to this Stonic model's longer rear overhangs, has risen by 27-litres over what you'd get in a Kia Rio. The tailgate is light to lift and reveals a 352-litre luggage area that's class-competitive but unremarkable by current SUV B-segment standards.
So, what will it cost to buy a Stonic and what will you get for the money? Well, let's see. Most buyers choose this car with Kia's popular mid-level '2'-spec trim, list pricing for which will probably see you paying somewhere in the £16,500 to £18,500 bracket.
In theory, three engines are on offer, but only 8% of buyers are expected to opt for the entry-level 98bhp 1.4-litre MPi variant with its relatively inefficient old-tech petrol unit. You can see why. Only around £800 more gets you a much perkier, cleaner and more frugal petrol lump beneath the bonnet, the 118bhp 1.0-litre T-GDi turbo petrol unit we tried, which is expected to account for nearly 60% of sales and is available with an automatic transmission option.
If you're wondering how much extra it costs to trade up from the Kia Rio supermini this car is based upon, well it's difficult to give you a definitive answer on that because the two cars have slightly different engine line-ups. The Rio isn't offered with this car's 1.6-litre diesel engine and mostly offers the Stonic's 118bhp 1.0 T-GDI petrol unit in its lower-output 99bhp guise. Where direct comparisons between the two models can be made, the premium to move up to this little SUV is between £1,500 to £1,700.
One thing that designers of B-segment SUVs have lately got very good at is restricting the size of the weight penalty that would ordinarily be a major drawback of a car of this kind. With this 1.0-litre T-GDI turbo petrol-powered Stonic model, the weight increase over an equivalent version of the Rio supermini it's based upon can be as little as 25kgs. It's no surprise then, to find that that the running costs of this little SUV are only around 8% down on the fuel and CO2 returns of its more conventional showroom stablemate. Specifically, that means a 1.0-litre T-GDI derivative can return 56.5mpg on the combined cycle and manage 115g/km of CO2. It wasn't very long ago that you'd have needed a diesel to get figures like these in a small SUV.
As with all Kias, the Stonic is covered by a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty that's longer than any other car in the same class. Servicing should be affordable and the various pre-paid servicing packages you can buy will further help manage costs in this regard, with 'Care-3' or 'Care-3 Plus' packages offering retail customers fixed-cost, inflation-proof servicing for either three or five years. Should you sell the car in this period, the remaining scheduled maintenance allocation can be passed on to the next owner.
Here's yet another Kia that should change the way you think about this ambitious Korean brand. Not only is it well built and decent value but it also manages to be cute and characterful in a way that potential buyers will like.
Which is just as well, because it faces a growing army of increasingly accomplished rivals also targeted at buyers in the small SUV segment. True to its name, this car sets out to offer a 'speedy tonic' to Juke and Captur-class models of that sort - a more complete little Crossover than you might have expected this kind of money would buy you. Kia dealers would surely love to have had this car years ago. But they must be pretty pleased they've got it now.