Gareth Butterfield finds there’s lots to like in Kia’s new Stonic mini-SUV
JUST when you think you’ve seen all the small SUVs you thought the car industry could muster, along comes this, the Kia Stonic.
But while it might seem as if Kia is a little late to the party in jumping on this seemingly rather pointless band-wagon, it’s not as if it’s just thrown together a half-baked rehash of a tried and tested hatchback.
Sure, beneath the handsome body it’s mostly Kia’s familiar Rio, but the suspension is jacked up, the interior’s completely new, there’s some decent bits of equipment thrown in and did I mention how attractive it is?
Rather than be all bold an outlandish in a Nissan Juke sort of a way, Kia’s played it safe. But it’s created a very masculine, purposeful car and that will curry favour with the sort of people who like this sort of niche. Whoever they are.
The big problem the Stonic faces is not people getting used to its odd name – it’s a blend of “Speedy” and “Tonic”, in case you’re wondering – it’s going to be getting the newcomer to stand out in the crowd.
A handsome snout and raised ride height will only go so far. Kia’s seven-year warranty helps, but this small SUV market is exploding at the moment so it needs a trump card.
And, within a few minutes driving the Stonic, I spotted it. It handles really well.
The small SUV segment isn’t known for its dynamically capable cars, so Kia had a real opportunity to capitalise on an open goal here and they’ve taken a winning shot.
Because it’s based on the Rio, which is a great little car to drive already, they’ve managed to carry over its responsive steering, snappy gear shift and firm but responsive ride.
I like its interior, too. With the wrong colour combination it can look a bit uninspiring, but pep it up a bit with a bright orange or something equally lurid and it looks rather fun. Part of the swooping swathe of plastic on the dashboard, matched by the centre console, lifts an otherwise functional and simple layout that’s a joy to use.
The driving position is good. Visibility isn’t thanks to an enormous C-pillar but it’s no worse than some of its competitors and rear space is perfectly acceptable – both in the rear seats and the boot.
While its name hints at a focus on younger buyers – and there’s nothing to really put them off – a more sober choice of colour outside and in and the Stonic would also doubtless appeal to the more mature motorist.
It doesn’t have four-wheel drive, but that’s par for the course in these cars – and it costs a bit less than the Rio, but it does undercut the Nissan Juke by a little way and Kia does throw in plenty of kit.
The base model, 2, offers most of what you need and then the top-spec First Edition serves up some of the personalisation options, along with some much-needed safety gadgets.
A standard 2, with no boxes ticked, will weigh in at £16,295 and includes a standard seven-inch touchscreen and 17-inch wheels.
It’s the engine choice, then, that might have you delving deeper into your wallet. The cheapest option bundles in a 1.4-litre petrol engine with 98bhp – but for a few hundred pounds more you could have the excellent one-litre, 118bhp lump. And it’s well worth it.
There is a diesel, if you must, but it’s a bit agricultural and, depending on how you drive it, will save you very little in the long run.
There are issues, though. The interior looks and feels quite good until you poke around a bit – you’ll find some cheap plastics.
Not everyone will like the styling, either. Some people prefer the curvaceous Renault Captur, or the frankly-a-bit-silly Nissan Juke.
The question also needs to be asked; What’s the point buying a small SUV? If you can’t take it green-laning then why not buy a Rio? It’s a lot cheaper and broadly the same beneath. Even the Cee’d Sportswagon estate is cheaper and arguably a better family car.
But that’s not the point. The Stonic is in a booming segment so it will sell well. And, unlike some of its competitors, it actually deserves to. It’s a very likeable car.