From £20,7607
Handsome entrant into the bulging small crossover market has a strong engine and agile handling, but isn’t as comfortable or complete as rivals

What is it?

The Kia Stonic is a supermini-sized crossover here for the general delectation of a European car-buying public currently preoccupied with both compact SUVs and downsizing – and therefore arguably doubly ready to embrace it.

Perhaps we should call the Kia another supermini-sized crossover. This segment is expected to double in size from its 2016 level by 2020, and that’s why we’re seeing all-new models from Hyundai, Citroën, Seat and MG pile into it all of a sudden in addition to Kia. All of them are offering cars alongside the likes of the Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008, Nissan Juke, Mazda CX-3, Vauxhall Crossland X and Fiat 500X that are already on sale. The water in the shallow end of the junior soft-roader market’s swimming pool is evidently rather lovely at present. You wonder, frankly, how many more paddlers it can take.

Sharing its platform with Kia’s Kia Rio supermini, the Stonic has the same wheelbase as the Rio 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 a typical supermini are quite slight: 42mm on ground clearance and 70mm on overall height. A Dacia Sandero Stepway enjoys almost the same advantage over a regular Dacia Sandero in terms of ride height, while a bog-standard, dead-ordinary Nissan Pulsar family five-door is precisely as tall overall.

Since there’s no option of four-wheel drive in the Stonic either and no engine more powerful than the 118bhp 1.0-litre turbo three-pot of our test vehicle, this is a car that plainly wears its SUV garb quite loosely. But that’s increasingly common in cars of this class. Customers shopping for a ‘B-segment SUV’, we are told, aren’t necessarily after ruggedness or capability, but are looking instead for a ‘right-sized’ hatchback – having ruled out a Volkswagen Volkswagen Golf-sized conventional five-door as more car than they need. They want the convenience of a fairly high driver seat, and the improved visibility that grants, as well as a good-sized boot – in a package that’s still lighter and more economical than the average family hatchback. They also like the alternative design appeal of the modern crossover; or at least, they like the idea of not owning another ordinary five-door family hatchback exactly like their last car.

Kia stonic rear 0

What's it like?

Well, it’s not ordinary. The Stonic is a continuation of a rich vein of design form from Kia that started with the third-generation Kia Sportage in 2009 and has culminated with the recently introduced Kia  Kia Stinger executive GT. It mixes hatchback and SUV design idioms sensitively but to striking effect, being particularly handsome – to this tester’s eyes – from the rear three-quarter. Suffice it to say, this is a car you’ll notice when you see one on the road.

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From a functional perspective, though, it’s not immediately obvious when you’re getting in if the Stonic’s had quite enough SUV identity baked into it. You lower yourself down into the driver’s seat rather than sliding conveniently sideways into it, and the view you get out isn’t what you’d call commanding. Headroom is generous and there’s plenty of height adjustment on the driver’s seat cushion, allowing you to perch closer to typical crossover height if you want to. But overall, this isn’t a driving position that instantly smacks of easy accessibility or convenience.

Further rear, the Stonic’s back seats are just large enough for an average-sized adult to sit comfortably behind another, and they’ll be fine for kids in booster seats. Taller adults will need to spread their knees and slouch in their seats to avoid contact with the seatback and roof. The car’s boot is a good size and has a handy split-level ‘boot board’-type false floor – but it also has a loading lip over which heavier cargo will need to be lifted. More mixed tidings, then.

Kia offers a choice of three engines in the car: alongside the 1.0-litre, 118bhp three-cylinder turbo petrol of our test car, there’s a 1.4-litre, 98bhp atmospheric petrol and a 1.6-litre, 108bhp turbodiesel. Demanding just a £700 premium over the 1.4- and undercutting a diesel by an even wider margin, the 1.0-litre turbo is expected to be the most popular motor of the three – and deservedly so.

Kia’s changes to the Stonic’s underbody and suspension in transformation from those of the Rio were mostly intended to improve refinement, and the Korean firm’s three-cylinder engine certainly seems quieter here than it does in a Rio. It starts with a charismatic thrum and certainly makes its presence felt under load, but its combustion noise fades to a muted level when cruising.

The Stonic has a fairly strong, flexible performance level, and gets along A-roads and motorways with an assuredness you won’t find in every small hatchback. Around town, it tends to surge a little in response to initial throttle inputs, and so isn’t always as smooth as you’d like away from standing. But there’s plenty of accessible torque here, which makes zipping the car up to speed, maintaining your momentum – and overtaking when you need to – easy to do.

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The car’s suspension tuning, like its exterior design, is clearly intended to make it stand out in a growing crowd of similar small cars, specifically by engendering a thrusting, poised driving experience – and in that mission, the car only partly succeeds. Its low speed ride is firm and slightly tetchy at town speeds, where really the car ought to feel more at home than the average supermini. The Stonic’s body fidgets and fusses over uneven roads, and while its body control settles down a little bit at higher speeds, it never even approaches the enhanced comfort and isolation levels that you expect of a high-riding car.

The Stonic handles keenly up to a point and keeps its body flat at all times but, though it steers with pace, there’s a little too much leaden weight at the rim, and too little genuine incisiveness off-centre, to make you really enthused. The car’s grip levels are only moderate – and since there’s no other option for now but a 17in alloy wheel, there’s no way to increase those grip levels without departing from factory-warranted specification. And so, while the car’s driving experience certainly isn’t as comfortable as you might have expected it to be, neither is it coherently fun.

Kia stonic dashboard 0

Should I buy one?

The Stonic’s styling and its 1.0-litre turbocharged engine are both convincing enough. Value-for-money counts in the car’s favour too: even in the lower-of-two trim levels available at launch, you get a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment set-up as standard with Apple and Android smartphone mirroring, DAB radio, six airbags and plenty else – for a price that beats the equivalent Renault, Mazda, Peugeot, Vauxhall and others.

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That appealing price won’t buy you the best-handling car in the class, however – nor the most practical or convenient. 

Kia Stonic 1.0 T-GDi '2'

Where Berkshire On sale Now Price £16,995 Engine 3cyls inline, 998cc, turbocharged petrol Power 118bhp at 6000rpm Torque 126lb ft at 1500-4000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1185kg Top speed 115mph 0-62mph 9.9sec Fuel economy 56.5mpg CO2 rating 115g/km Rivals Citroën C3 Aircross 1.2 Puretech 110, Renault Captur 1.2 TCE 120

Kia stonic star car

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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