► Testing Kia’s new compact crossover
► Smaller than Sportage, based on the Kia Rio
► Rivals include VW T-Roc, Seat Arona, Nissan Juke
Here’s a depressing thought: Kia forecasts the already 1.1 million-strong European B-SUV sector, in which the Stonic is the latest entrant, doubling by 2020. That means still more compact crossovers that look like off-roaders but with as much talent for tackling tricky terrain as a cow has for figure skating.
Let’s just take one salient fact into account here: the takeup of all-wheel drive in this sector of the market is less than 10%. That means over 90% of buyers don’t want or need all wheels driven, yet the higher driving position and chunky looks still compel them to part with their hard-earned.
The Stonic rides 42mm higher than the Kia Rio it’s based upon, but is it any better? Let’s find out…
What’s the Kia Stonic like to drive?
Surprisingly entertaining, actually. On the road it’s certainly as interesting as anything else in this sector, if not better.
However, there’s an elephant in the room here. We’re yet to try the Seat Arona and sister VW T-Roc (both drives coming to CAR over the next month or so), and strongly suspect they’ll slot into the sector close to top position because the MQB platform they’re based on has impressed in the Ibiza and Polo.
We’re also yet to sample the Hyundai Kona, which offers a near-identical proposition to the Kia, based on the same platform.
But back to the Stonic. In deference to its taller stance, the suspension has been reengineered to compensate. Hydraulic rebound stoppers are employed, which helps to smooth the damping out and settle the ride down quickly.
But that doesn’t mean it’s in any way cossetting. In fact it’s unashamedly firm, even on the German roads that we usually carp on about being ‘glass-smooth’. Lumps and bumps are telegraphed directly into your spinal column, and if you thump over an expansion joint the jolt resonates through the car. It feels more like a hot hatch than a crossover.
It doesn’t quite handle like one, though. The steering’s been tuned for speed and accuracy, and the 2.52 turns from lock to lock means its easy to place on the road mid-corner. The other side of the coin is a relatively large turning circle, meaning the occasional three-point turn where other cars would have done it in one.
The twist-beam rear suspension controls the wheels very well, working with torque-vectoring-by-braking for valuable mid-bend adjustability. It’s not engaging on the same level as a Fiesta, for instance, but definitely a nose ahead of the Nissan Juke Nismo RS.
What about the engine?
There’s a choice of three here, but if you’re after pops, bangs and the rapid dissolution of your tyres then you’re looking at the wrong car.
The one we’re driving here is the best of the bunch – a 1.0 turbo triple-pot that’s also the most powerful in the range, with a heady 118bhp on offer at 6000rpm. The only issue is that nothing meaningful happens until 2500rpm – until that blower wakes up the off-boost performance is dire and can catch you in the wrong gear if you’re not concentrating.
This does make the 115g/km CO2 figure possible, though, and the Stonic’s motor isn’t alone in this shortcoming. We’ve noticed the same in the VW Group’s versions too.
It’s bolted to a six-ratio manual gearbox that works well enough, though the gap in the gate between fourth and fifth was far wider than we were expecting. We had to reach so far across the central console when changing gear that our passenger thought we were trying to grab their knee. Luckily we’re still friends.
Tell me more about the Stonic’s cabin design…
It’s a little deceptive in there. You see, on first inspection it looks quite posh, but one rap of the knuckles on the brittle-feeling plastic on top of the dash and you’re immediately reminded this is a cheap car.
It doesn’t help that the version we’re driving here is in 2 spec, which is entry-level in the UK and looks dull. The only other trim on offer upon launch is First Edition, and with this comes TomTom sat-nav and coloured surrounds for the standard 7.0-inch touchscreen, both dramatically enhancing the Stonic’s appeal.
That said, you can get comfortable easily and the steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake, unlike the Juke’s, plus you’ll get four adults in there without fuss.
What of the exterior styling?
The latest version of Kia’s Tiger Nose grille is a 3D interpretation, but our favourite part of the design is the targa-style body-coloured wraparound C-pillar – a feature you only appreciate on First Edition cars with their selection of contrasting roof colours.
All Stonics ride on 17-inch wheels, while the skidplate on the rear bumper is a nod to its (almost non-existent) off-roading nature.
It might sound like the Stonic leaves us a little cold, but in reality it is a likeable little package that does its job easily as well, if not better, than the vast swathes of rivals it has to contend with. While it’s a little staid in isolation, taken in context it’s a good effort to build a car that a lot of people want to buy.
We suspect Kia could be on to a bit of a sales hit here…