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Kia Stonic 2021 review: GT-Line

Kia's compact newcomer, the Stonic, is more than a little familiar.

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As surely as night follows day, when there's a new Kia in a new segment, we're told we probably won't be getting it. Those lucky Europeans and then some months (this time years, as it turns out) later, we find out that actually we are getting it.

Not because Kia's Australian arm doesn't want the peculiarly named Stonic - we're still waiting for the reportedly excellent e-Niro. But when that new car is an SUV, even a tiny one, Kia can't make them fast enough. 

However, as m'colleague Tom White reported in December,  COVID stepped in. We're now in the strange position where due to a global pandemic and resulting economic calamity, a car Kia Australia thought it had to forego in return for the excellent Seltos, has in fact arrived to complete the range.

Fresh from the factory, my family scored a top-of-the-range GT-Line for a week to see what it's like in the urban rumble.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The GT-Line tops a three-spec range, starting with the base model S manual at $22,990 drive-away (add another grand for the auto).

Then it's $24,990 drive-away for the Sport (plus $1000 for the auto) and $29,990 drive-away for the GT-Line, which is auto-only and has a turbo engine. 

That's some pretty fancy footwork with the spreadsheets (which I know isn't a thing, imagine how dirty the keyboard would be).

If you've bought a GT-Line, your kebab short of thirty grand gets you 17-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, climate control, a reversing camera, keyless entry and start, rear parking sensors, cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, auto wipers, fake leather bits and pieces, powered and heated folding mirrors, a sunroof and a space-saver spare.

  • The GT-line wears 17-inch alloy wheels. The GT-line wears 17-inch alloy wheels.
  • Underneath the boot floor is a space saver spare. Underneath the boot floor is a space saver spare.

The larger 8.0-inch media screen hosts Kia's updated and very excellent software, with its cool and subtle graphics, fast hardware and, as expected, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Inside is a 8.0-inch media screen. Inside is a 8.0-inch media screen.

The speakers are a bit tinny, but as long as you don't turn them up too much, you'll be fine. Handily, CarPlay is wireless and you can have two phones connected at once to the Bluetooth system. Try that in a Ferrari.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

The Stonic clearly looks like it is related to the Rio, but also bears a strong resemblance to the Seltos. Underneath is the very familiar small hatch Rio but Kia says every panel is different. 

The panels might be, but have a look at the rear door and the way the glass meets the C-pillar and you can tell it's a Rio. 

Which is fine, of course, because I think the Stonic looks really good in GT-Line form, with the bigger wheels, some well-judged cladding and some nice sculpting on the body. 

The Stonic looks really good in GT-Line form. The Stonic looks really good in GT-Line form.

If you plump for the two-tone paint job (which I think looks great), you will go without the sunroof. Also the sun-safe option, but I know some are fans of a hole in the roof.

The cabin is by-the-numbers Kia, which is to say it's well laid-out and looks good, but won't be troubling a beret-sporting art critic for superlatives. 

Unlike the exterior, it's straight out of the Rio, which does have its downsides, which we'll discuss further.

There's a leather wrapped steering wheel. There's a leather wrapped steering wheel.

How practical is the space inside?

For a car this size, it's reasonably roomy. I can sit behind my driving position in the rear seat and while violin playing is off the agenda, it's not claustrophobic.

Front seat passengers have plenty of storage to play with, including a split storage box underneath the console for phone and wallet-chucking. 

Unlike the exterior, inside is straight out of the Rio. Unlike the exterior, inside is straight out of the Rio.

You also get two cupholders, even with the space-robbing conventional handbrake (I like a standard handbrake, though, so I didn't mind too much).

Each front door has a pocket for a decent-sized bottle, but not so rears. And your back seat passengers won't have an armrest or cupholders, either.

Back seat passengers won't have an armrest or cupholder. Back seat passengers won't have an armrest or cupholder.

Boot space is an impressive 352 litres (VDA) with the seats up and 1155 litres with the seats down, although you don't get a flat floor with the seats folded and you do have a drop to the boot floor over the loading lip. Nothing terrifying, but the more you know...

  • With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 352 litres (VDA). With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 352 litres (VDA).
  • Fold the seats flat and cargo capacity grows to 1155 litres. Fold the seats flat and cargo capacity grows to 1155 litres.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

How much fuel does it consume?

Kia's government-mandated fuel economy testing yielded an official combined-cycle figure of 5.4L/100km

As I have found over the years with this engine, that's a fairly optimistic number, my week with the Stonic delivering 8.4L/100km in an almost even mix of highway and suburban running.

The Stonic has that rarest of things in a Korean car - stop-start, which helps rein in fuel usage around town. Happily, you'll be filling the 45 litre tank with standard unleaded.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

In a typical ANCAP quirk, the GT-Line does not (yet) have a safety rating where the S and Sport carry the Rio's five star assessment from 2017. When the rules weren't as tough as they are today.

The GT-Line, as with the rest of the range, scores six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls and a reversing camera. 

The forward AEB works with other cars between five and 180km/h while pedestrians and cyclist detection works between five and 85km/h. You also get lane keep assist and lane following assist.

The kids are looked after with three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Kia offers a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is only shaded by Mitsubishi's caveat-filled, 10-year/200,000km warranty. 

The Stonic demands a return to the dealer ever 12 months or 10,000km, which is kind of irritating as the non-turbo models are 12 months/15,000km. 

As ever, Kia offers a capped-price servicing regime but the numbers aren't yet available on the website (yet).

The GT-Line needs to be serviced more often than the lower spec Stonics. The GT-Line needs to be serviced more often than the lower spec Stonics.

Lucky for you, we've got them. Prices bounce around a bit and are as low as $283 and as high as $704 with the first seven years/seven services costing $3299, averaging out at $471 per visit. 

Over the five years, it's $260 more than the 1.4-litre but you're servicing more often if you drive more than 10,000km per year.

What's it like to drive around town?

I must admit to being slightly puzzled by the Stonic. I've already driven the Rio GT-Line and there is one thing that is the same between the two cars and that's the seven-speed dual clutch's awkward behaviour in traffic. 

The car I had was not at all keen to respond to the movement of my right foot on the accelerator, with my wife and I developing an in-joke about having to make a verbal suggestion about which gear to choose. 

It also rolled back more than I'd like on slopes when starting from a standstill.

The other things I didn't like were the front seats. Straight out of the Rio, they are wide but not very supportive on longer trips, such as the one we took up into the Blue Mountains (a roughly 250km round trip from our home in Sydney). 

The Stonic experience is really good. The Stonic experience is really good.

Complaints about the seats are certainly mine, but I checked in with colleague Richard Berry, who didn't have the same hesitant transmission struggle, so it could just have been a drama with the car I drove. 

The rest of the Stonic experience is really good. The 1.0-litre turbo is definitely the one to go for if you can stretch to it. The numbers don't seem big, but it's got decent punch in the gears and cheerfully climbed the Blue Mountains quietly and without hunting up and down the gears. 

Around the city it also means it's easy to thread through the traffic, with good response from low revs when the transmission is playing well.

The steering is really nice, too, with just the right weight and speed to make city-wrangling easy. The extra ride height and softer suspension also make for a very comfortable ride around town without taking away from the body control. In fact, it's quite a bit of fun.

Once over the little thrill of driving a car we weren't supposed to get (okay, it wasn't that thrilling), a few things became clear. You can now buy a compact SUV with a good long warranty, a bit of Kia flair and a roomy cabin, at least for its size.

It drives really well even if the transmission was a bit reluctant to do what I wanted. It's easy to park and will live very happily in the city while carrying reasonable numbers of people and their things. It may not be as bang up to date as some of its competitors, and the GT-Line's value is borderline, but it delivers plenty in its small package to a rapacious SUV market.


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