Kia Stonic review: Hyundai Kona alternative in Europe tested

By topgear, 22 June 2021


Carmakers do love to make up a weird name, but what even is a Stonic? It sounds like something you’d drink on a long train journey, but Kia says the name is a cheesy mashup of speedy and tonic. We’re not really sure what it’s all supposed to mean, but then Volkswagen managed to splice tiger and iguana when it came to the Tiguan badge and no one’s too bothered about that.



The car itself is something of a mashup too, a crossover that mixes elements of SUV and hatchback in a compact footprint. It’s a tough area of the market to compete in, simply because there’s so much to choose from. It’s also a tough class to assess, with cars costing more than the superminis they’re inevitably based on and not offering advances in practicality. You’d assume that something that looks taller and bigger would have a lot more space for passengers and a bigger boot, but it’s not always the case. 

The Stonic’s arrival in 2017 meant that Kia now offers the full suite of SUVs, from the smaller Stonic through the medium-size Sportage and electric Niro efforts to the larger Sorento. There’s even the jumbo-sized Telluride, but Kia doesn’t sell that in Europe because it wouldn’t really fit – that one is strictly for the likes of the US market. The expanded range and increasing spread of electrified options shows Kia’s intent to strengthen its foothold.

Of course, the first priority is to be profitable, so it wouldn’t be a criticism of the Stonic to say that it was a Kia Rio on stilts. The Stonic gets its platform and engine options from the supermini, which is good, because the Rio is one of the better options in the Korean carmaker’s line-up. Sadly the Rio is often overlooked for being a bit dowdy, so the Stonic aims to counter that with an injection of style and appeal to a younger, more fashionable crowd. There’s plenty of choice to be found on the options list, but not when it comes to engines – there’s just the one turbocharged 1.0-litre 3cyl engine in this car, with 99bhp or 120bhp available. The latter adds a 48V mild hybrid boost, with some trick tech to cut fuel consumption. Gearbox choice in either power output comes down to a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.


The Stonic’s hip design is a largely successful effort, albeit dependent on colour choice and spec. The entry-level car doesn’t get the black contrasting roof of more expensive models that disguises some of the car’s SUV bulk, and as with most modern designs the car looks progressively better the larger the wheel. That doesn’t necessarily tally with ride comfort of course. It would be easy to get carried away with colour choices here, but for our money the yellow doesn’t work as well in the rainy real world as it does in the brochure. The metallic blue and red options will stand out from the standard-fit black or grey all new cars seem to come in these days. 

And the Stonic needs to stand out, because it’s theoretically up against the likes of the Honda HR-V, Renault Captur, Nissan Juke, Toyota CH-R, Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Kona… the list goes on and on. What can the small Kia bring to the table that none of these others cars do? Well, there is always the company’s famous seven-year warranty to fall back on if all else fails. 



“Meets the brief, but simultaneously fails to justify its existence”

The Stonic is a reasonably likeable car, with solid, uncontroversial styling on the outside and a decent interior that’s been designed to a budget. Does it do enough to stand out in a packed segment? Probably not, but then again its rarity might stand in its favour, with rivals becoming slightly dull through their ubiquity on the road.

We’d happily recommend the Stonic as an inoffensive companion, but at the same time perhaps question some of the fundamentals. You’ve got a styling-led car that offers no real improvement on the hatchback it’s based on, while a little extra cash could get you something from elsewhere in the Kia range that would meet your needs marvellously well. It’s not that we’re against SUVs per se, we understand the appeal, we just don’t know what this one is actually for. 


Any SUV starts at a disadvantage when you get behind the wheel – by virtue of their genetic makeup none of them are going to be the last word in driving dynamics, with all that extra ride height and added weight. But then you’ve got behind this particular wheel because you want the extra ride height and the perceived security and whatnot that comes with that. 

Indeed, the small SUV segment is expressly image-oriented, with cars in the class putting emphasis on eye-catching styling and lifestyle nods. That’s not to say that carmakers aren’t putting the effort in – these days the Stonic is up against the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Kona and Nissan Juke, which all ride and steer with relative aplomb. 

The Stonic is agile enough, the front end is keen going into corners and feels true to its hatchback roots. Kia’s fitted the car with quick steering that gives the car a darty feel, and this works well in town. Not that you can feel what’s going on, that light steering wheel is very heavily assisted and doesn’t tell you much. There’s no real pleasure to be had from pushing the Stonic, but it gets on with the job in a businesslike fashion.

The car exploits its SUV stance well up front – the squat front end is useful for parking, you can see where the car ends – but the rear of the car is overcome by style over substance, you can’t see much out of the back. You’ll appreciate the standard rear parking sensors and a rear camera is also thrown in from GT-Line spec upwards.

The ride is a touch firm for our liking, you can feel where Kia has had to tighten things up to keep body roll in check. The entry-level ‘2’ spec car gets 16in alloys, but the 17in wheels of GT-Line and above have a notably negative effect on the ride. We also found that the suspension gets occasionally flummoxed over speed bumps, heaving over the inconvenient obstacle and bouncing you off the other side. As with many SUVs, it’s a classic style versus comfort trade-off. 

There’s barely anything to call between the 99bhp and 118bhp versions of the Stonic’s 1.0-litre engine. All versions of the car manage the 0–100kph run in around 10 seconds or so, offer a top speed of about 185kph and are officially rated at 5.65l/100km, so you can except low- to mid-7l/100km in real world driving. 

The reason the more powerful engine isn’t quicker is that Kia has introduced a range of its so-called ‘EcoDynamics’ measures to minimise fuel consumption. That powertrain now comes with a 48V mild-hybrid set-up that in manual guise now means a ‘by wire’ gearchange. You still work away at the clutch, but it’s an electronic rather than a mechanical linkage. It’s supposed to mean the engine can be turned off earlier. It takes a little getting used to, lifting your foot off an inert pedal until the car starts to crawl forward. 



The Stonic’s interior is competent and pragmatic – everything is basically fine. The seats are comfortable, you’d quite like a bit more room in the back, but you don’t have adults in the back that often anyway. The plastics are hard and scratchy in places, but that makes them a bit more durable, you suppose.

This Kia is intuitive and easy to operate, there are some nice buttons on the steering wheel and no one is interested in pushing any boundaries. The yellow exterior paint option is probably the wildest thing about the Stonic, it’s the car equivalent of ‘I shouldn’t have a second glass of wine but go on then’. A reminder that people buy these cars for the pictures of windsurfing in the brochures, but really need something that’ll fit a couple of weekend bags for the airport run or get them to the shops.

You have to remind yourself that being in an SUV doesn’t necessarily make it the more practical option, these cars trick you with their stylish ways into forgetting you’re in a supermini-sized crossover, not a giant 4x4. The 352/1,155 litre bootspace with seats up and then folded is marginally larger than the Rio’s 325/980 litres, but in practice the difference doesn’t make for a lifechanging improvement in utility, and it’s certainly not enough for the car to have graduated to a viable family option. Likewise, the perceived spaciousness of the cabin doesn’t necessarily translate into actual space, but there are useful cubbies and places to lose your belongings that you don’t find in the Rio. 

As ever, Kia makes up for any shortcomings in material quality with a decent kit list – all cars get an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple and Android connectivity, rear USB plugs, cruise control, rear parking sensors and aircon. As you climb the price list there’s a parking camera, keyless go, LED projector headlights as well as heated seats and steering wheel. All but the entry car also get access to Kia’s connected services, which offer TomTom-based satnav and the ability to find where you’ve parked your car on your phone. Useful if you don’t go for the yellow paint option. 


Given Kia’s reputation for reliability, and that now-expected seven-year warranty, owning a Stonic should be painless. The entry-level ‘2’ spec car starts off at a reasonable £18,450 (RM106k), which just manages to undercut the Juke by £150 (RM859). Further afield, the entirely respectable Renault Captur starts at £19,300 (RM111k). Go for the bells and whistles of the top spec Stonic GT-Line S and you’ll be looking at £22,500 (RM129k). 

If you’re looking at monthly leasing costs, the entry Stonic will cost around £220 (RM1.3k) a month, while the GT-Line S would set you back about £270 (RM1.5k) a month. This suddenly looks pretty good against the Juke (£255/£319 (RM1.5k/RM1.8k)), while it’s comparable with the Captur (£228/£288 (RM1.3k/RM1.6k)).

The real danger for the Stonic is the realisation that you’re perhaps better off getting a Ceed Sportswagon for a couple of thousand extra that’s genuinely practical, drives better and offers a broader range of powertrain options. But sadly no yellow paint option or a contrasting roof. 

The Stonic should be fairly easy on your wallet when it comes to running costs – all the models in the range are officially rated around 5.65l/100km, which should mean a reasonable return on fuel economy as long as you’re not wearing your heavy shoes. Kia also offers servicing packages which cover certain renewables over a period for a fixed cost – certainly worth looking into.