Funny name, Stonic, isn’t it? It actually comes from the words ‘speedy’ and ‘tonic’. Somehow, these are supposed to evoke youthfulness and fun. It's evoked plenty of reactions, that’s for sure.
Still, it’s better that the Kia stands out from the crowd - yes, crowd - because it’s one of the later entries into the exploding small SUV market. It’s designed to go up against the Nissan Juke, Seat Arona and sister firm Hyundai's forthcoming Kona.
It’s not a dynamically gifted segment - sales leader Juke isn’t highly rated by our testers and even dynamics masters Ford couldn’t shake up the segment with the troubled Ecosport. Kia’s facing an open goal with the Stonic, then; all it has to do is make a well-built, frisky-handling small SUV for the right price. Don’t let the fact that nobody has managed to do so yet suggest a foregone conclusion either.
Getting to know the Kia Stonic
It’s a handsome car. Kia says it’s deliberately styled it to appeal to everyone, unlike the love-it-or-hate-it look of the Nissan Juke. With contrasting roof options and a choice of 17in wheels, the firm intends UK cars to appear highly specified, with significant road presence. Not unlike the Juke in some respects, then.
Despite Kia’s effort to push upmarket, there’s not a huge amount of soft-touch material. It feels far more solid inside than the Suzuki Vitara, if lacking some of its quirky charm. And it's £600 cheaper than the Juke and has superior interior materials. Save for the large 7.0in touchscreen, the 2 trim makes the car’s interior feel more stoic than Stonic; somewhat at odds with Kia’s youthful presentation of the car.
The back seats could use a little more room; a hallmark of the chunky-wheeled, high-riding segment. But, at this stage, there doesn’t appear to be any less room compared with the average supermini. Head room is sufficient and the car feels wider inside than its supermini roots would suggest.
Being slapped onto the Rio platform with little more than higher suspension and added length isn’t without its merits; the Rio is a reasonably decent-handling car and the Stonic matches its precise steering, in addition to its slight numbness. The ride of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder is informatively firm but not overly so. It’s just a shame about the excess jiggle in the slightly harder-riding 1.6-litre diesel we also drove.
The ride is a little stiff, so although it settles at higher speeds, it’s fidgety up to around 50mph; every change in road surface, crease and bump is detectable, but not to the extent where it’s uncomfortable. Those mainly driving around town won’t appreciate the stiffness of the diesel, but the 1.0-litre three-cylinder is more suited to urban pootling anyway. There’s little in the way of body roll, which is a pleasant surprise, although the seats aren’t the last word in supportiveness.
Testing the Kia Stonic dynamically
You’d have thought that with a potential bestseller on its hands, Kia might have included safety-conscious lane keeping assist and automatic emergency braking technology on the Stonic, but these are only standard on higher-spec cars and optional on the 2 trim we’ve tried.
Safety-conscious buyers will have to opt for it. Kia insists it’s to keep costs down, as they’re relatively expensive systems for a lower-price car. There are only the 2 spec and the more expensive First Edition available at launch.
You’re statistically more likely to go for a petrol-engined Stonic – 60 percent of buyers will go petrol, according to Kia - with the 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder-engined Stonic being the overwhelming favourite. Just eight percent are expected to go for the entry-level 1.4-litre car.
This is exactly how it should be, though; the frugal 1.6-litre diesel engine is rather loud under moderate to hard acceleration and the 1.4-litre has to be worked hard for a little power. The 1.0-litre’s thrust is more than enough and what little engine noise it has isn’t an offensive sound. The car feels lighter on its feet from the smaller powerplant, too.
Not a radical change in the segment, then, but the class average moves up a grade. There’s a little while to go before a small SUV can be called a driver’s car, though.