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 Sportage in 2009 and has culminated with the recently introduced 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.
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.
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.