With the European compact crossover market set to double to 2.2 million vehicles by the year 2020 it’s no wonder that a rash of new cars in this sector are being launched.
Established big-sellers including the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur are set to be joined by the likes of the Seat Arona, Hyundai Kona, Citroen C3 Aircross and the Ford Fiesta Active.
The Stonic is Kia’s entrant in this so-called B-SUV segment of jacked-up superminis.
The South Korean company appears to be hedging its bets because, depending where you look, it’s being marketed as an SUV and an Urban Crossover.
I prefer the latter description, because no cars in this category have any serious off-road capability. Instead they combine the strengths of a well-packaged supermini with the raised ride height and perceived ruggedness of an SUV.
Based on the Kia Rio, the Stonic is a handsome, well-proportioned car. Slightly longer and muscular than the Rio, it’s also 70mm taller and rides 42mm higher from the ground.
Kia’s signature ‘tiger-nose’ front grille is up front, there’s a “skid plate” and roof spoiler at the rear, plus roof rails and, like most of the opposition, it’s only available as front-wheel drive.
There are two refreshingly simple trim levels – “2” and the high-spec “First Edition” with the latter getting two-tone paintwork – its roof, door mirror casings and rear spoiler are picked out in either black, lime green, red or orange, depending on the choice of main body colour, with matching colour accents inside the cabin.
The interior is comfortable and spacious with enough leg and headroom at the back for two full-size adults. The rear seats split 60:40, while the 352-litre boot is decent, if not class leading, and the load space extends to a useful 1,155 litres with the rear seats folded down.
The instruments are straightforward and it all seems well put together, though a few soft-touch plastics wouldn’t go amiss.
There is a 7.0-inch display with DAB radio and MP3 compatibility in “2” grade, while “First Edition” models get touchscreen navigation. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration is standard across the range.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), which help maintain control in bad weather or on poorly surfaced roads, and Hill-start Assist (to prevent the car from rolling backwards when setting off) are also standard.
The First Edition comes with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW) safety systems, though they are optional on “2” as part of an Advanced Driving Assistance Pack (ADAP) – which is good, but I still think AEB should be standard across all car ranges by now.
All models also get goodies including 17-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, all-round electric windows, rear parking sensors, remote locking, electrically adjustable heated door mirrors, LED daytime running lights and a six-speaker audio system.
“First Edition” adds an engine start/stop button, stainless steel pedals, black cloth and grey faux leather upholstery with colour accents, automatic air conditioning, LED rear lights, privacy glass on the rear side windows and tailgate, heated front seats and D-shaped steering wheel, plus Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
So, priced from £16,295 to £20,495, the Stonic is definitely well equipped and there’s a choice of three engines – a 98bhp 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, a 118bhp 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol and a 108bhp 1.6-litre diesel.
We tested cars fitted with the 1.0-litre petrol and diesel units, though the petrol is expected to be the most popular choice.
For the record, the diesel is the most frugal with claimed fuel economy of 67.3mpg and emissions of 109g/km, while the smaller petrol engine is a second faster (0-60mph in 9.9 secs) and is capable of 56.5mpg and 115g/km emissions.
For me the punchy 1.0-litre petrol turbo is the pick of the engines offering lively performance and surprisingly good refinement. Of course, if you do serious motorway miles, the diesel might be the better option. It’s also a solid performer, but somehow lacking the excitement of the little three-pot.
The steering is light making it perfect for urban streets and it’s an easy car to drive, while the six-speed manual boxes on the two engines I tried are particularly slick.
The car in general feels agile and comfortable on the road and there’s very little body roll thanks to the relatively stiff suspension. However, the downside of this is that road noise is noticeable and bumps can feed back into the cabin.
It’s not perfect, but overall it’s a very likeable car and the different colour combinations really make it stand out.