Kia’s new small SUV has arrived

Every car maker is rushing to build a compact SUV – the hottest new cars on sale right now – but is Kia’s version any good? We find out.

Not so long ago, when hatchbacks ruled in small-car world, your choices were few if you instead wanted a compact SUV.

You could go for the cheap, but not very good, Mitsubishi ASX, or the more expensive, and justifiably so, Subaru XV.

There wasn’t much else around.

Today, small hatchbacks are a dying breed and those that remain are being repriced and rebranded as premium offerings, so dealers earn a fatter margin from each one.

Small SUVs have become the new cheap and cheerful class, where first car buyers, downsizers and those in search of honest, affordable transport go looking for inspiration. There are now, would you believe, 36 makes and models on offer.

VALUE

Kia’s smallest SUV, the Stonic, is based on the Rio hatchback.

Prices start at $21,490 for the 74kW/133Nm 1.4-litre petrol/six-speed manual Stonic S; the six-speed auto is $22,990.

So at base-model level Stonic is one of the cheapest SUVs on the market.

The next step up is the Stonic Sport at $24,490 to $25,990.

We tested the GT Line, at $29,990, which runs a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, also with 74kW of power but with 172Nm of torque, matched with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

At this pricepoint, its main rivals are our 2020 Car of the Year, the Skoda Kamiq, plus the Ford Puma, Toyota Yaris Cross and VW T-Cross.

Stonic’s standard equipment list is brief. An eight-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and 15-inch steel wheels are included on S; Sport adds 17-inch alloys, navigation and a few other frills.

GT Line includes sportier suspension, sticky Continental tyres on 17-inch alloys, a sunroof and go-fast interior decor.

COMFORT

A clean, uncluttered, stylish dash features easy-to-read analog instruments and a high-mounted touchscreen.

Voice control is available only by connecting your phone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There’s ample driving position adjustability, and the GT-Line’s well bolstered seat is comfortable and supportive. A USB and 12-volt outlet are provided.

Rear seat space is tight, especially legroom. That said, it’s not a bad place for kids, with a USB connector, elevated bench and wide opening doors for easy access.

The boot is deep, with a couple of bag hooks.

Kia’s local engineering team does extensive suspension tuning on new models to ensure they can cope with Australia’s demanding road conditions and our driving style.

They usually get it spot on, but occasionally Kia Australia’s pursuit of cornering prowess also sees it deliver a car, like the GT-Line, with overly stiff suspension, which results in a firm, at times harsh, ride. Stonic is punishing on bumps; the front end in particular fails to absorb hits great and small.

SAFETY

Autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, six airbags and a camera are standard. There’s no blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert or adaptive cruise, even as options.

DRIVING

Kia’s 1.4-litre, which we’ve driven in the Rio, is a sluggish old gasper, but the GT-Line’s 1.0-litre turbo triple is an entirely different proposition. It features clever engineering designed to extract strong

pulling power from low revs, making it well suited for city driving and highway cruising.

It’s not a performance engine, and 74kW of power is well below average, but it does do the job responsively, smoothly and efficiently in everyday driving.

It will return 4-5L/100km on the highway, on par with some hybrids. Around town, expect 6-7L/100km, assisted by the stop/start feature and the refined, well calibrated seven-speed dual-clutch auto. It runs on regular unleaded, too, which is unusual for a turbo. Most require premium.

Stonic’s lane keeping function is overly intrusive, with the wheel being constantly tugged when the car is still a long way from the lane markings. You can turn it off, but you have to do so every time you start the car.

Stiff suspension on the GT-Line, plus light weight, decent tyres and sharp, accurate steering give the Stonic better than average cornering ability, with minimal body roll and reasonable balance. It’s one of the more nimble small SUVs and sits on the road very securely. The brakes lack power, though.

HEART SAYS

I’m a dedicated follower of fashion and small SUVs are it right now. This is one of the more stylish efforts.

HEAD SAYS

I want a small SUV that corners like a decent hatchback, and the Kia GT-Line certainly does that.

VERDICT 3/5

Stonic GT-Line competes against several classy rivals, and it’s not quite as well sorted — as a deal or as a drive — as it needs to be.

ALTERNATIVES

FORD PUMA FROM $29,990

Ford’s 92kW 1.0-litre turbopetrol triple and seven-speed dual-clutch auto offer similar performance and efficiency. You get more equipment, though, including navigation and wireless phone charging.

SKODA KAMIQ FROM $29,990

Our 2020 Car of the Year offers the best value in the class, a spacious, versatile interior and a comfortable, confident drive. Refined, frugal 85kW 1.0-litre turbopetrol/seven-speed auto.

KIA STONIC GT-LINE VITALS

Price: $29,990 drive away

Warranty/servicing: 7 years w’ty; $2128 for 5 years/50,000km

Engine: 1.0-litre, 74kW/172Nm

Safety: Not yet ANCAP tested, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist, rear door monitor

Thirst: 5.4L/100km

Spare: Space saver

Boot: 352L

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