From £16,9707

Kia's Rio-based SUV is short on personality and interior finesse, but the Stonic is one of the better-handling small SUVs out there

Funny name, the Kia Stonic, isn’t it? It actually comes from the words ‘speedy’ and ‘tonic’. This blending of words is supposed to evoke youthfulness and fun, according to Kia. It's evoked plenty of reactions, that’s for sure.  

But it's a good thing that the Kia stands out from the crowd - yes, crowd - because the small SUV market is one of the largest in the automotive space. In fact, since the Kia Stonic arrived in 2017, the compact crossover market has more than doubled in size – and that’s why almost every mainstream manufacturer (and even the odd premium brand) offers what is effectively a supermini on stilts. 

There’s little in the way of body roll, which is a pleasant surprise, although the seats aren’t the last word in supportiveness

At present, the key players in the field are the Ford Puma, Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008 and the Stonic’s cousin, the Hyundai Kona. But with a smorgasbord of models filling the B-segment SUV buffet table, there is a question mark as to how many more platters it can take. 

We’re told that those in the market for a soft-roader are typically uninterested by ruggedness and capability, but are instead after a hatchback-sized car – and they’ve decided that a five-door Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus is a little too big for their needs. 

Buyers want a high seating position that brings with it good visibility; a well-proportioned boot that’s good enough for the Friday big shop; and enough room in the back for children. But crucially, they want all this goodness in a lighter, more economical setting than the average family hatchback. 

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The appeal of a modern crossover is a strong draw, and they like the idea of not following the mainstream of owning a five-door family hatchback. And it's for these reasons why many will arrive at the doorstep of a Kia dealership and drive away in a Stonic instead of a Xceed. 

2 Kia Stonic 2021 RT update hero side

The good news is that the Stonic is a handsome car. Kia admits that it's deliberately styled to appeal to everyone, unlike the more marmite look of the Nissan Juke. 

Much of the Stonic’s design is inspired by the previous-generation Sportage, and continues the rich vein of design form from Kia that has led the brand to launch more outlandish models such as the EV6 and more recently the EV9 SUV. 

A mild facelift in 2021 softened some of the Stonic’s edges; reprofiled bumpers and tweaks to the headlights helped, too. This has culminated in the Stonic neatly combining SUV and hatchback design expressions to good effect – and to this tester's eyes at least, it looks particularly fine from the rear three-quarter.

Suffice to say, the Stonic is a car you’ll notice on the road – and our test car (unlike the Stonic pictured) was finished in Honey Bee yellow, adding more (ahem) sting to its appearance.

There’s a good mix of trim levels, too, starting with the entry-level Stonic ‘2’ moving up to mid-range GT-Line and bookended by the GT-Line S, which is the guise our test car arrived in. Opt for GT-Line and you benefit from larger alloy wheels, climate control, and rear parking sensors. 

Heated seats - which work very well - and steering wheel are added when you step up to GT-Line S trim, with some extra driver aids thrown in, too, including blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and, on models equipped with the DCT twin-clutch transmission, adaptive cruise control.

Sharing its platform with the Kia Rio (which is no longer sold in the UK), the Stonic has the same wheelbase as its supermini sibling, but it’s slightly wider and longer in the rear overhang, as well as having a slightly “jacked-up” ride height and an even higher-rising roofline. Still, the most meaningful differences between this car and its supermini donor are slight: 42mm on ground clearance and 70mm on overall height.

Kia Stonic interior wide

There isn’t much of a buzz inside the Stonic, and despite Kia’s best efforts to push it upmarket, there’s not a huge amount of soft-touch material.

Some bits feel better than others, like the armrest, for example, but there’s heavy use of scratchy plastics on the doors and lower down by your feet. Still, it all feels robust and solid: a dog would have trouble chewing its way through bits of trim, that’s for sure. 

Where the Stonic excels is the configuration of the dashboard, which is thanks in part to the larger 8.0in touchscreen, which is standard across all models. It’s a doddle to use, and easy to navigate between menus due to the addition of some physical buttons that sit below the touchscreen. 

In fact, the number of physical buttons in the Stonic is a refreshing sight, especially when so many of its rivals have now adopted touch-operated buttons which can be infuriatingly tricky to use on the move. The screen itself is ok: it’s a bit laggy at times, especially when you try to zoom in and out of the navigation map.

Apple Carplay and Android Auto come as standard, and while it doesn't operate wirelessly via bluetooth, it's very easy to connect your smartphone using the USB port under the climate controls, and once connected, it works well. Also included is a revised 4.2in trip computer screen that offers sharper graphics. 

From a functional perspective, though, the SUV identity of the Stonic feels half-baked compared to the Ford Puma, for example. Rather than slide conveniently sideways into the driver's seat, you lower yourself down, which means the view out isn’t what you’d call commanding. 

There’s plenty of headroom and height adjustment in the seat: you can crank the lever on the right-hand side to a more crossover-like height should you wish. But overall, this isn’t a driving position that instantly smacks of easy accessibility or convenience.

Rear space is best suited to kids in booster seats and, at a push, an average-sized adult. Taller passengers will need to spread their knees and slouch in their seats to avoid contact with the headliner. With the driver’s seat in our tester's preferred position, leg room was also very limited. 

The boot, in contrast, is a good size at 352-litres and has a handy split-level ‘boot board’-type false floor – there is a rather annoying loading lip, however, which you’ll have to lift heavy cargo over. There are worse hardships, but you’ll notice it when loading your shopping. 

Kia Stonic engine

Considering that the Stonic isn’t offered with a four-wheel drive option and the most powerful engine available is a 118bhp three-cylinder, it’s fair to say that the Kia is more supermini than SUV. 

During its mid-life refresh in 2021, the engine range was given a shake-up, with the previous petrol and diesel motors dropped in favour of a single, 1.0-litre three pot petrol version of the Korean brand’s new-generation Smartstream unit. The headline feature of the Smartstream engine is its variable valve technology, which is claimed to improve efficiency and torque compared to the Kappa motor it replaces. 

You have a choice of two guises: an entry-level 99bhp unit, or a 118bhp mild-hybrid version as tested here. Featuring a 48V integrated starter generator (which Kia brands EcoDynamics+) it is mated to the firm’s intelligent manual transmission (iMT) gearbox. 

The six-speed box is actuated electrically rather than mechanically, which is designed to maintain the engagement of a manual while maximising the fuel economy and emissions benefits of the 48V ISG.

Despite all the new technology, from behind the wheel the changes to its underbelly feel as subtle as the tweaks to its styling. The engine delivers a classic three-pot feel, delivering the occasional raspy thrum, but overall it's quiet and easy to live with. 

The iMT gearbox takes on its role as a traditional manual well: it pairs aptly with the engine, and the throw is neither short nor long. Being electrically and not mechanically actuated, there is little resistance or feel to the gearbox when you shift up and down. It’s hardly thrilling, but in this setting it does its job. 

Around town, it tends to surge a little in response to initial throttle inputs, and so it isn’t always as smooth as you’d like when pulling away from standing. Still, there is enough power and torque on hand for zipping up to speed or – should you need to – overtaking.

Kia Stonic front cornering

Kia has clearly intended to make the Stonic stand out from the crowd in both its exterior design and suspension tuning, aiming to edge ahead of rivals by provoking a composed and thrusting driving experience. 

But in such a competitive segment, the Stonic only partly succeeds, especially when it's compared to cars like the more refined and entertaining Ford Puma. 

At lower speeds, the ride is firm and fracious, especially around town where it should feel more at home than the average supermini. You find yourself being jostled around more – although this isn’t helped by the seats, which aren’t particularly supportive. 

On uneven roads and consistent imperfections, the body fidgets and fusses, and despite the Stonic settling at higher speeds, it fails to reach an optimal level of comfort that you expect of a high-riding car. And while wind noise isn’t too intrusive, road noise is more noticeable. 

The Stonic handles keenly, and to its credit, keeps its body flat at all times. But while it steers at pace, there’s a little too much dull weight at the rim, and too little genuine incisiveness off-centre, to make you really enthused. 

This is due in part to the lightness of the rack, which, despite responding well to inputs, generates little to no feel, thus reducing confidence when pressing on. 

Execute more restraint and the Stonic is capable and composed, managing everything you throw at it without you having to think very hard about what it's doing. And when you consider its target market, its steering setup and moderate levels of grip are acceptable. 

If you’re looking for fun, however, you’ll want to find your local Blue Oval dealership and try a Ford Puma. 

1 Kia Stonic 2021 RT update hero front

As you’d expect, both engines are reasonably efficient and clean-burning, but it’s the mild-hybrid that delivers the best on paper figures, with claimed fuel economy of 50.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 125g/km for the six-speed manual. 

The seven-speed DCT, meanwhile, achieves the same 49.6mpg and 129g/km as the entry-level 99bhp non-hybrid model with either gearbox.

On a 40-mile journey, which included a mix of town, rural and motorway driving, our manual 1.0-litre mild-hybrid Stonic achieved an average MPG of 40.4mpg, which is good but not exceptional. 

GT-Line S cars with the 118bhp motor start from £24,770, although the entry-level model with the 99bhp unit can be had for less at £21,225. Even in top trim, the Stonic is just under £1000 cheaper than the base-model Ford Puma with a similarly powered, hybridised petrol engine. 

Move up the Puma range and the ST-Line Vignale will cost from £29,340, although it does come with a lot of standard kit, including 18in alloy wheels, a digital instrument cluster and extra driving aids such as lane keep assist.

The hike in price over the Kia is evident, however, and we can’t really fault the Stonic’s level of equipment because it has all the important mod-cons, from Apple Carplay to heated seats. 

Kia Stonic front three quarter static

While it is cheaper and less refined than key rivals, there is a lot of appeal to the Kia. No, it’s not a class leader, but it’s a stylish, attainable and pleasantly likeable alternative to many. 

The adoption of the mild-hybrid engines was the standout addition to the range in 2021, adding better fuel economy and a hint of refinement from behind the wheel. It remains a machine that is robust and capable, being well suited to the needs of likely buyers. 

But in a class of many, where leaders like the Ford Puma and Volkswagen T-Cross have moved the small SUV segment forward, the Stonic has merely kept pace with the chasing pack behind. 


Kia Stonic FAQs

Is the Kia Stonic available as a plug-in hybrid or petrol electric?

Kia is committed to electrification, but unfortunately currently there’s no plug-in or EV version of the Stonic. The closest the small Kia crossover gets is the inclusion of a 48 volt mild hybrid system, that uses a powerful starter/generator set-up. This gives a small boost of electric torque when accelerating at low speed as well as harvest electrical energy through regenerative braking when slowing down.

What are the main rivals to the Kia Stonic?

Supermini-based SUV models are big business at the moment, which means the Kia Stonic has an abundance of competitors. The Ford Puma offers similar hybrid tech but is much more engaging to drive and offers greater refinement, while the Renault Captur looks sharper and has a classy interior, as well as a plug-in hybrid option. The Volkswagen T-Cross is more expensive but feels more upmarket, while its sister cars the Skoda Kamiq and Seat Arona promise more practicality and style respectively. Speaking of close relations, the Peugeot 2008 and Vauxhall Mokka look great and have all-electric versions.

How much power does the Kia Stonic have?

When it comes to engines in the Kia Stonic, there’s not a lot of choice. In fact, there’s essentially only one - a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol. In its most basic guise this engine delivers a modest 99bhp, while the 48V mild hybrid-assisted model gets a boost to 118bhp. Neither figure looks particularly exciting on paper, but it’s a smooth and surprisingly responsive unit, making the Stonic feel more eager than the figures suggest.

What choices of gearbox are there for the Kia Stonic?

The entry-level 99bhp Kia Stonic is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox that has a light action and progressive clutch that makes it easy to drive. For the more powerful versions, this transmission is given the brand’s IMT (Intelligent Manual Transmission), which is effectively an electronically controlled clutch. You still operate the pedal in the same way, but there’s no connection between it and the clutch itself. Also available in the 118bhp car is a seven-speed DCT twin-clutch automatic transmission.

Where is the Kia Stonic built?

The Kia Stonic is built in a number of locations around the globe. Most examples are assembled at the Gwangmyeong factory in South Korea, which is one the firm’s oldest plants having been opened in 1973. Cars for the Chinese market are constructed at the Dongfeng Yueda Kia joint venture plant in Yancheng, while examples are also produced by the Lucky Motor Company in Karachi, Pakistan.

How many generations of the Kia Stonic have there been?

Launched in 2017, the Kia Stonic is still in its first generation and was designed to cash-in on their relatively recent small SUV sales boom. There was a very minor facelift of the car in 2020, with subtly revised headlamps, a new infotainment system and the addition of mild hybrid engine options. A second generation machine has not been announced yet, although Kia has already discontinued the current car in its home market of South Korea due to slow sales.

Kia Stonic First drives