Stonic Limited on test: Kia's New Zealand speedy SUV ascent
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Kia Stonic Limited
- Styling right on point
- Right SUV size at the right time
- Capable in corners
- Not a lot to stir the soul
- Firm ride on 17in wheels
- Entry $24k version makes more sense
Never underestimate the power of a good headline. When Kia New Zealand announced the impending arrival of its baby SUV, the Stonic, late last year it revealed a special launch price of $21,990. And that got everybody fizzing; especially people in the market for a compact SUV.
Small SUVs are so hot right now. They represent the fastest growing segment in the new-vehicle market. Medium SUVs have been the most popular size of passenger vehicle in NZ for a while (including that tricky year that was 2020), but year-to-date 2021 their 20 per cent market share has been overtaken by the small stuff – 24 per cent.
Stonic has been cooked up with a familiar baby-SUV recipe: you take a successful small hatch, raise the ride height and dress it up in chunky body addenda.
Works for Toyota (Yaris Cross), works for Volkswagen (T-Cross) and it seems to have done the trick for Kia, because the Rio-based Stonic does look the part. It’s 70mm taller and 35mm wider than Rio, but on the same wheelbase.
Even at the adjusted post-launch price of $23,990, the cheapest Stonic LX is still a lot of baby SUV for the money. It’s a price that creates a halo effect of extreme value for money over the rest of the range.
But the one everybody talks about isn’t necessarily the one everybody buys, right? There are in fact five different models: the LX, EX and Limited ($23,990-$29,990), capped by two versions of the GT Line: $31,990 or $33,990 for the “+”.
There are two tiers of Stonic because there are two engines. The LX/EX/Limited have a new 74kW/133kW 1.4-litre four that uses what Kia claims is a world-first Continuously Variable Valve Duration (CVVD) system, which can adjust the amount of time the valves stay open for maximum efficiency. It’s matched to a 6-speed automatic.
But tech honours still arguably go to the brace of GT Line models, which are powered by a 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder that has the same power but more torque (171Nm) and is even more economical: 5.4l/100km compared with 6.7l/100km for the 1.4l engine. The GT Line models drive through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The car you see here is the Limited: top of the 1.4l lineup ($29,990), riding on 17-inch alloys (same size as the GT Line models) and composite leather trim inside. You can’t miss the Mighty Yellow finish of our test car (bright colours are a Stonic thing – there’s also Sporty Blue and Signal Red) and it wears the black roof, a $500 option.
A $30k small-SUV is a different proposition to a $24k one, in that there’s a lot more competition as the price ramps up and the car has to fulfill higher expectations.
The Stonic Limited delivers in many ways. There’s plenty of hard plastic in the cabin, but design-wise it looks quite posh and it’s nicely laid out (8.0in touch screen standard on all models) in familiar Kia fashion. That’s the advantage of being part of a much larger SUV family: the box of bits to choose from is extensive and the baby of the range benefits from the quality switchgear demanded of much more expensive Kia models.
The seats are excellent in the Limited and there is actually room for adults all-round – although bear in mind this is a baby SUV that’s just 4.1m long. It’s compact in the true sense of the word.
Dynamically, Stonic has a fizzy personality and a good chassis, thanks partly to decent ContiSportContact rubber (not always a given on a budget-priced baby); the opportunity cost seems to be a surprisingly firm ride on the Limited’s larger wheels and quite a bit of road noise on coarse chip seal.
It’s no powerhouse, but the engine is eager and the 6-speed automatic smooth. But we said it earlier and we’ll say it again: if you’re keen on a baby SUV with a bit more character, you’ve got to try the chirpy, much more torquey 1.0-litre GT-Line before you buy.
The Limited does go a long way towards justifying its price with a comprehensive suite of technology safety features. It’s too long to list (at least not without eating up all of our column inches), but includes everything from LED headlights to pedestrian/cyclist collision avoidance assist to blind-spot collision assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert for those tight city parking spots.
It’s a nicely executed package, albeit one with a weird name. “Stonic”? It’s a portmanteau of “speed” and “tonic” apparently.
KIA STONIC LIMITED
ENGINE: 1.4-litre petrol four
GEARBOX: 6-speed automatic, FWD
ECONOMY: 6.7l/100km, 155g/km