New compact SUV primed for Stonic baby boom
Swallow the marketing spiel all you want, it’s not the 20-somethings chasing weekend adventures that are driving the sports utility vehicle surge.
Retiring Baby Boomers are playing a pivotal role in the popularity of SUVs. Ageing knees and hips appreciate the easy entry and exit, plus they have the money to spend.
Kia has been a fledgling brand over the past decade and the Stonic arrived this year to fill a void in its compact SUV realm.
Sitting below the Sorento, Sportage and Seltos, the Stonic is based on the same underpinnings as the pint-sized Rio hatch. Aimed at city dwellers or those who stick to around-town duties, prices begin at $23,990 with an automatic transmission.
For an extra investment of $7000, you get the range-topping GT version which comes with all the trimmings.
Not only do modern drivers love SUVs, but car companies are equally enamoured. The greater ride height delivers a feeling of extra space and road visibility, and buyers seem happy to pay a premium.
Buy the Rio range-topper and it’s $5000 cheaper than this GT Stonic even though it shares the same engine and gearbox. Although for the extra investment the Stonic sits higher, as well as being wider and longer.
Being the GT-Line it’s the Stonic standout with a bodykit, glossy black finishes around the grille and door mirrors, along with a sports steering wheel, carbon-fibre look dash, climate control aircon and ‘premium’ seats.
Infotainment comes via an eight-inch touchscreen, six-speaker stereo, satnav with 10 years of traffic information and updates, along with smartphone mirroring apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The latter operates wirelessly on base models but has to be tethered to phones on up-spec variants which have satnav functionality.
Exterior options include having a contrasting black roof colour. White is the only hue which doesn’t attract a $520 premium, with grey, black, grey, blue and yellow also available.
Kia built its reputation on the back of a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and it’s only trumped by Mitsubishi which offers 10 years or 200,000km.
Return to a dealer and capped price servicing is available for seven years at an average cost of $471 which is slightly above mid-range for mainstream vehicles. Due to being turbocharged, the intervals are annual or every 10,000km — the non-turbo models are on average about $35 less to service each maintenance visit and are required every 15,000km or yearly.
Kia has typically been strong in the safety realm, but the Stonic falls short on some vital new features.
Modern essentials like brakes which can be automatically applied if the driver fails to act quick enough in the event of a frontal collision, as well lane keeping assistant to help keep the Stonic within lines if it begins to wander, as well as functionality which analyses attention levels and advises when to take a break is all standard.
Although absent from the list is radar cruise control to maintain a set distance from other vehicles in traffic, rear cross traffic alert to warn of oncoming vehicles when reversing, and blind spot warning to help avoid sideswiping incidents.
Yet in a quirk of the system, the Stonic non-turbo models still pick up a five-star crash rating courtesy of its Rio underpinnings. The hatch was tested back in 2017, and the criteria is now far more stringent.
The cabin is typically well designed, as we’ve come to expect from modern Kias, although there are a lot of plastic finishes across the dash.
A flat-bottom steering wheel and aluminium pedals add a sporty touch, as does the fake leather trim on the seat bolsters and centre console lid.
Nothing feels too technical operationally, with the primary touchscreen easily navigated courtesy of shortcut buttons, and the aircon quickly changed via two knobs.
Three passengers across the back seat can be achieved, although the rear only has footwell aircon vents. During a scorching hot day we loaded up and completely filled the car where there were no complaints about comfort, apart from a firm rear bench.
Each door has a bottle holder and there are dual cupholders to look after takeaway coffees in the console. In front of the shifter is a useful storage area for phones, keys and wallets.
Keeping tech charged can be done via one USB port in the back and another in the front.
Boot space is reasonable for the size at 363 litres (about 40 litres bigger than the Rio), and the seats fold 60-40 but there is a stepped loading area once they are collapsed.
Three-cylinder turbos seem to be the flavour of the moment for manufacturers and their compact SUVs. The Stonic follows a similar pattern as carmakers strive for efficiency both around town and on the highway.
From start-up it generates a nice sound we’ve come to expect from triples, although it falls short of sporty.
Defaulting to “eco” driving mode, the Stonic can feel sluggish with stuttering gear changes. That mode is best left to highway conditions, with “normal” and “sport” offering a smoother driving response.
With ample torque coming from the little engine, it’s fun to drive when pushed and it’s surprisingly good when you attack the bends with enthusiasm.
Despite some road noise the Stonic feels well-planted on the highway and more robust than the size dictates.
During our test we saw fuel consumption of 6.8 litres for every 100km running on regular unleaded, which is about one litre more than the official figure from Kia.
Size no longer matters. I want to sit high and there is no need for the big and burly cabin. Plus, it looks the goods and has a sub-$30k price-tag.
The marketing department tell me it’s Insta-worthy, so it must be pretty, but I prefer my social activities to be real. Getting to the cafe, parking and running around town is simple in a compact package that feels bigger than it is.
MAZDA CX-3 S-Touring $30,990 D/A
The sales leading compact SUV, all models are powered by a 2.0-litre 4-cyl good for 110kW/195Nm. Comes with some nice kit, like a seven-inch touchscreen, satnav and better safety tech than the Stonic. Small boot, just 264 litres.
VW T-CROSS 85TSI LIFE $29,990 D/A
The little 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo, 85kW/ 200Nm engine that could in a beautifully designed, space efficient body, T-Cross is a class front runner and a must drive if you’re after a compact, kid friendly suburban SUV.
While aiming for the TikTok generation, for this sort of coin its more likely for those with pacemakers. Some safety features are missing, but the Stonic has ample funky factor in a loveable package.
AT A GLANCE
KIA STONIC GT-LINE
PRICE $29,990 drive-away (competitive in genre)
WARRANTY 7yr/unlim’ km w’ty (great), $3299 for 7 services (OK)
ENGINE 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo petrol, 74kW/172Nm (zesty, fun)
SAFETY Unrated, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane keep assistance, fatigue warning (needs more)
THIRST 5.4L/100km (6.8 on test)
SPARE Space-saver (expected)
BOOT 352 litres (good)