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Kia Stonic 2021 review: Sport

Though clearly related to the Rio hatch, the Stonic's handsome stance gives it a unique identity.

Daily driver score

3/5

Urban score

3.5/5

What is a Stonic? Is it meant to evoke Audi’s S-tronic? The Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver? Or a gin and tonic – on the rocks of course, as we’re talking about a crossover?

Kidding aside, Kia’s smallest-ever SUV’s name is a portmanteau of ‘speedy’ and ‘tonic’, which begs the question: Is the Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke, Toyota Yaris Cross, Ford Puma, MG ZS, Haval H2, Skoda Kamiq, Volkswagen T-Cross and Hyundai Venue rival an upper or a downer?

Launched internationally way back in mid-2017, Australia is only just seeing this Kia Rio supermini-based crossover, meaning a facelift has already been carried out abroad and it’s getting on a bit in age.

Here we try on the mid-spec Stonic Sport auto on for size.

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

Like Mazda and Hyundai, Kia forgoes the turbo engine route at the bottom and middle of the Stonic range in order to achieve a lower price point, meaning it is possible to buy a base Stonic S manual from $21,490, or $22,990 driveaway for the foreseeable future.

Our Sport Auto is $25,990 driveaway. Our Sport Auto is $25,990 driveaway.

Our Sport Auto is $25,990 driveaway – saving about $3800 on on-road costs depending on where you live in Australia – making it compelling value given what’s included – we’re talking push button start, satellite navigation, powered folding mirrors, audio control-mounted/leather-trimmed steering wheel and 17-inch alloy wheels.

It's got 17-inch alloy wheels. It's got 17-inch alloy wheels.

That’s on top of the base S’ autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, forward collision warning, driver attention alert, lane following assist and six airbags, as well as an 8.0-inch touchscreen with reverse camera and multi-device Bluetooth capability, cruise control, auto on/off headlights, rear parking sensors and seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Strangely, though, the wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto standard in the S becomes wired for Sport and high-grade GT-Line. At least the latter adds a body kit, imitation leather upholstery, climate control, privacy glass, auto-dimming mirror, LED lighting, and a sunroof or two-tone paint job for its $4K premium.

The wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto standard in the S becomes wired for Sport and high-grade GT-Line. The wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto standard in the S becomes wired for Sport and high-grade GT-Line.

Oh, and a 74kW/172Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in lieu of a 74kW/133Nm 1.4-litre naturally-aspirated four-pot unit with a six-speed auto. That’s a biggie. Metallic on all grades costs another $520.

So, is our $26K-driveaway Stonic Sport auto good value? Yes, markedly so, though there are one or two qualifications.

Nowadays sourced out of Japan instead of Thailand, the equipment-equivalent CX-3 is the Maxx Sport from $26,890 before on-road costs (ORC), but the mid-spec Kia’s cost-equivalent is the base Neo Sport (from $24,890 +ORC). But things get complicated, because while the latter misses out on all that cabin space, sat-nav, alloy wheels, leather wheel and two years of extra warranty, its standard 110kW/195Nm 2.0-litre engine/auto combo brings a h-u-g-e performance advantage. Stop/start is also included to help save fuel.

The Stonic Sport gets LED lighting. The Stonic Sport gets LED lighting.

The base Yaris Cross GX from $26,990 +ORC with the 88kW/145Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder atmo engine and CVT auto is roughly $5000 more expensive than the better-specified but less powerful (and not as spacious) Stonic Sport, while – against the circa-$26,200 driveaway base Venue powered by a 90kW/151Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder atmo auto, the Stonic is larger and roomier but has a smaller engine. The Kia also beats both for warranty too.  

Things certainly are looking super-Stonic for the Sport.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

For a four-year-old model, the Stonic is still a bit of a head turner, with happy proportions, chunky lines, clean surfacing, a friendly face and perfectly pert posterior.

For a four-year-old model, the Stonic is still a bit of a head turner. For a four-year-old model, the Stonic is still a bit of a head turner.

It’s actually quite a looker, managing to strike a pleasing balance between big hatch and small crossover. Others can seem a little gawky (Yaris Cross), toylike (Venue) or fussy (CX-3).

This should come as no surprise, since the donor supermini – the fourth-generation Rio – is also a handsome piece of work. Both were designed with winning European buyers over, though it’s also obvious that the Kia’s appeal is universal.

The same applies inside too.

How practical is the space inside?

Another alluring Stonic strength is its interior design and presentation.

Even though it’s now four years old and counting, the general look and feel is very contemporary, aided by the airy ambience, solid build quality, large touchscreen, stylish analogue instruments (with a digital display) and smartly textured trim. It’s all very inviting right from the get-go.

The front seats are a little hard and flat for some folk. The front seats are a little hard and flat for some folk.

The Kia ticks all the required small SUV boxes too – including for driving position, ventilation, storage and ease of operation. It cannot really be faulted here. A USB port front and rear, a 12V outlet and big centre armrest are further thoughtful amenities.

However, the front seats are a little hard and flat for some folk, though they are ultimately OK to sit on over longer journeys.

The Kia ticks all the required small SUV boxes too – including storage and ease of operation. The Kia ticks all the required small SUV boxes too – including storage and ease of operation.

Rear entry/egress is as unencumbered as up front, with higher seating and reasonable space for one 178cm person to sit behind another of the same height. But that rear cushion is also a little unyielding and forces a slight knees-up position that’s a little uncomfy, while the backrest itself seems a bit thin too. The latter is split 60/40, to increase luggage space if required.

The rear cushion is a little unyielding and forces a slight knees-up position that’s a little uncomfy. The rear cushion is a little unyielding and forces a slight knees-up position that’s a little uncomfy.

Note that the rear seat does not slide or recline as in some other rival small SUVs/crossovers.

There is a receptacle for small bottles and a phone on the doors, as well as overhead grab handles, a single map pocket and windows that wind all the way down, but no cupholders, centre armrest, face-level vents or reading lights out back.

More annoyingly, there’s a fair amount of road noise and tyre drone intrusion coming through, making the Stonic a bit of a sonic experience of the annoying kind.

The boot offers 352 litres of cargo capacity with the rear backrests up in place. The boot offers 352 litres of cargo capacity with the rear backrests up in place.

Further back, and offering 352 litres of cargo capacity with the rear backrests up in place or 1155L when they're dropped down, the boot area is big, deep and with a low loading lip, making it a bit of a bonus amongst some small SUVs. A space-saver spare can be found underneath the flat floor.

The smallest Kia crossover is ticking all the boxes so far.

You'll get 1155L when the rear seats are dropped down. You'll get 1155L when the rear seats are dropped down.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Stonic in base S and mid-level Sport grades employ a variation of the Hyundai-Kia group’s Gamma II family of four-cylinder petrol engines. In this case, it is a 1368cc 1.4-litre twin-cam naturally-aspirated G4LC unit with variable-valve timing.

It delivers 74kW of power at 6000rpm and 133Nm of torque at 4000rpm, and drives the front wheels only via a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission supplied inhouse. It features a tip shift manual mode, with a push forward for the next ratio up and a pull back to downshift.

The engine delivers 74kW of power at 6000rpm and 133Nm of torque at 4000rpm. The engine delivers 74kW of power at 6000rpm and 133Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

A six-speed manual for $1500 cheaper is also available.

Alternatively, buyers can choose the GT-Line and its 74kW/172Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol powertrain, also driving the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

How much fuel does it consume?

We averaged a very disappointing 10 litres per 100km at the pump. This is a far cry from the 6.7L/100km combined figure Kia quotes – which equates to 155 grams per kilometre.

The discrepancy is down to one thing: having to floor the throttle everywhere we went. Not such an issue around town, where the Stonic spent most of its time with us (and officially it returns 8.6L/100km), but out on wider roads, or on the motorways and highways, the Kia’s small engine has some big work cut out for it.

The 1.4-litre engine is tuned to drink standard unleaded petrol, and will happily drink the less-expensive 94 RON E10 ethanol/petrol mix.

Fitted with a 45-litre tank, over 670km between refills is possible.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The ANCAP organisation includes the Stonic in the current (YB) Rio’s crash-test rating results because it is “structural identical”, meaning it dates back to 2017 when the standards were less challenging than today. The tests were performed by Euro NCAP.

That said, the scores were updated in 2020 to take in the Rio’s facelift. Both models score a full five-star result. Euro NCAP’s report states that the AEB functions between 8km/h and 160km/h.

Standard safety items include six airbags (dual front, front-side and curtain items), AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, forward collision warning, driver attention alert, lead vehicle alert (that warns the driver when the stationary vehicle in front moves away), Lane Following Assist that helps keep the vehicle centred in the lane, Lane Keep Assist that helps keep the vehicle from straying outside the lane, Hill Start Assist control, Electronic Stability Control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake-assist, rear camera with guide lines and rear parking sensors.

Additionally, two rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as three top tethers for straps are fitted.

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

Kia has led the industry with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty as well as roadside assistance for a number of years, with only Mitsubishi’s conditional 10-year warranty beating it for now.

Kia has led the industry with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Kia has led the industry with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, while published basic capped-price servicing ranges from $281 to $702 depending on the interval. The total is $3039 over seven year, averaging $434.14 annually over that period at the time of publishing. Interestingly, the larger and more powerful Seltos costs less over the same time frame.

 

What's it like to drive around town?

The Stonic is exceptionally well-suited for round-town and inner-urban commuting.

Light steering, excellent vision, a tight turning circle and a six-speed auto that is calibrated for instant throttle response make it an effortless, smooth and pleasurable small-yet-tall crossover/hatch to live with. Aided by a low weight of under 1200kg, the Sport is quite adept at zipping in and out of tight spots and fast-disappearing traffic gaps.

Light steering, excellent vision and a tight turning circle make it an effortless and pleasurable small-yet-tall crossover/hatch to live with. Light steering, excellent vision and a tight turning circle make it an effortless and pleasurable small-yet-tall crossover/hatch to live with.

But there are chinks in the Kia’s armour, even around town. The suspension that works so well in making the Stonic an eager and taut handler is also constantly firm, which results in an unsettled and jiggly ride on all but the slickest of road surfaces. It’s just never settled, and soon driver and occupants alike will tire of the subsequent head toss.

Worse still is the distinct lack of top-end performance.

As we said, the Stonic’s 74kW/133Nm 1.4-litre atmo petrol engine is tuned for immediate reaction to throttle inputs, so it seems sufficiently powerful enough for most peoples’ needs.

However, if you need extra oomph for instant overtaking out on the open road, there just isn’t the muscle there for it to be over quickly, even on the move. Even moderate inclines also knock the wind out of the Kia’s sails, with speed falling away quickly unless you floor the accelerator. And doing so – as we’ve discovered earlier – harms fuel economy and turns a sweet little engine into a tiresome screamer.

Additionally, you cannot really drive around the lack of performance by using the manual tip-shift function, because there just isn’t enough power or torque to tap at higher revs. Other rivals – namely the CX-3 and Honda HR-V – have big engines with deep lungs for just such moments. The bank is empty.  

If you need extra oomph for instant overtaking out on the open road, there just isn’t the muscle there for it to be over quickly. If you need extra oomph for instant overtaking out on the open road, there just isn’t the muscle there for it to be over quickly.

We’re not entirely convinced Kia’s taut Australian handling tune does the Stonic any favours away from the tough city streets either.

Yes, it’s steering is easy and forgiving, with a pleasing, direct action for excellent handling. But while the Continental tyres provide excellent grip, the front end does bounce a little through bumpier turns when cornering fast, and there’s plenty of rack rattle. That stiff ride doesn’t help either.

Plus, it’s not especially pleasant to drive quickly over twisty roads unless – again – they’re super smooth. And out on our highways, motorways and freeways, the whole under structure seems to act as an amplifier for endless road and tyre noise transmission inside.

Superficially impressive when driven benignly, the Stonic starts to wilt a little around the edges when the pressure is applied for extra performance, handling prowess and ride comfort. It’s just not where it needs to be in 2021.  

At least Kia offers the Stonic GT-Line and its turbo-fuelled punch for under $30K driveaway.

Sensationally low priced with high equipment levels, a super-friendly cabin with greater practicality than most rivals and an exceptional warranty, the handsome Stonic is a hugely compelling entry in the light SUV/crossover field, and seems incredibly match-fit to really give established favourites like the CX-3 a massive fright.

Indeed, as an inexpensive entry point for people needing an easy and undemanding commuter of quality, convenience and competence, there really is much to admire. By all means, please put this Kia on your shortlist.

But, while the mid-grade version as tested may initially seem like the year’s greatest bargain, when everything is weighed up, it’s priced about right for the dreary performance and unsophisticated dynamic capabilities on offer.

This Stonic is Sport in name only.

$25,990

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3/5

Urban score

3.5/5
Price Guide

$25,990

Based on new car retail price

Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.