Kia Stonic GT-Line 2021 road test review

Kia Stonic GT-Line driving on road

Tim Nicholson

Posted August 09, 2021


Tim Nicholson gets behind the wheel of Kia's fun and funky Stonic GT-Line light SUV.

Until a couple of years ago, Kia didn't have any models in the booming small SUV segment. The smallest offering in its line-up was the medium-sized Sportage. Cut to 2021, and not only does it have the award-winning Seltos, but the Niro eco-car and the smaller Stonic have joined the fray. The names might not be appealing, but the models differ greatly. The larger Seltos is a bit of an all-rounder, while the Stonic is based on the Rio light hatch and is more a city runabout. With a growing number of seriously impressive light SUVs available to buyers, is the Stonic a true contender?

Thumbs up

Exterior design, cheaper than some rivals, peppy three-cylinder turbo engine, dynamics and handling. 

Thumbs down

Turbo and engine stop-start lag, pointless sport mode, cheap and basic interior, some safety omissions.

Kia Stonic side rear view

It might be based on the Rio hatchback, but the new Stonic takes the prize for exterior design.


 

How much does the Kia Stonic cost? 

The Stonic arrived in Australia at the start of 2021, more than three years after it went on sale internationally. As a result, the version that’s on sale now is the model’s mid-life update. Kia offers three model grades and two powertrains, with prices starting at $21,490 before on-road costs. The entry-level S and mid-range Sport are powered by a 1.4-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine with a six-speed manual or auto transmission.

We tested the range-topping GT-Line, priced at $29,990 and powered by a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The Stonic carries a price premium over the car it's based on, the Rio. At the entry level, it's about $1000 dearer, but the Stonic GT-Line is $5000 more than the equivalent Rio variant. That’s quite the jump for sleeker exterior styling and a slightly higher ride height.

The Stonic’s older underpinnings mean it’s missing some gear that newer models in the segment have, like tyre pressure monitoring, speed limiter and keyless entry, but standard specification for the most part on par with key rivals.

Those rivals include the Ford Puma, Volkswagen T-Cross, Skoda Kamiq, Nissan Juke, Toyota Yaris Cross and Mazda CX-3.

Our Stonic came with premium paint ($520) as the only addition. GT-Line buyers can opt for a two-tone roof that’s available as part of the premium paint option.

 


What safety features does it have? 

Entry and mid-grade Stonics are covered by a 5-star ANCAP crash safety rating that is carried over from the 2017 rating awarded to the Rio. GT-Line variants are unrated.

Standard safety gear can’t match the newer kids on the block like the Toyota Yaris Cross. The Stonic is missing a blind spot monitor and has regular cruise control rather than an adaptive system.

The lane-keeping aid accurately keeps the vehicle in the lane without bouncing from line to line. This is typical of the high-quality active safety systems found in the current crop of models from Kia and sister brand Hyundai. 

 

Kia Stonic GT front interior

The Stonic's cheap and cheerful interior is virtually identical to the Rio's.


What's the space like inside?

The Rio and Stonic are the same cars underneath, but there is no competition when it comes to which one is the prettier sibling. The Stonic is a looker in all grades, but especially the sporty GT-Line with its sexier wheels, cool LED headlights and styling flourishes.

Inside, however, there is nothing to differentiate the Rio and Stonic.

The cabin is best described as basic. The dash has a simple layout with few buttons, but the central multimedia screen looks tacked on to the top of the dash, and there's lots of hard plastics throughout. Although the fake carbon-fibre inserts on the dash add some flair.  

In fairness, none of its rivals stand out when it comes to interior design and quality either. The VW and Skoda are probably the best, thanks to clean European design.

There are no complaints about the Stonic’s interior build quality, and the flat-bottom leather look steering wheel adds a sporting flavour. The steering wheel controls are clear and well-positioned – as with all current Kia models.

Sporty looking front cloth seats offer decent support and feature cool white stitching. Like most models in this segment, they are manually adjustable.

A central storage bin can hold smaller items, and the door bins will hold larger bottles.

The rear seats are flat but comfy, and legroom is as expected for a light SUV. It’s not too cramped for everyday use, and there's ample headroom, even for your six-foot reviewer. There is one USB port in the rear, no central armrest and no air vents.

The Stonic’s 352-litre boot (1155L with the 60/40 seats folded) takes 52 litres more than the Rio, and it's a good size for a car like this. It’s not as big as the Nissan Juke (422L), Ford Puma (410L) or Skoda Kamiq (400L). The Stonic comes with a space-saver spare wheel. 

 


How does it drive?

While we haven’t driven the 1.4-litre Stonic, we have sampled the Rio with the same powertrain, and it's a little underwhelming. The GT-Line with the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine is the clear pick if you’re after a bit more performance.

The Stonic GT-Line adds to the growing list of light SUVs powered by sprightly three-pot turbo engines along with the Juke, T-Cross, Puma and more. If you think a three-cylinder engine can’t possibly have the grunt of a four-cylinder unit, think again.

While there’s significant turbo lag accelerating from a standing start, the Stonic quickly gains pace and feels more responsive than the Juke. It even maintained momentum on steep ascents. The perky triple is a treat, and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission lets the engine rev out to the redline when accelerating.

As with many small turbo engine/dual-clutch transmission combinations, the fuel-saving engine stop-start system lags too much. We switched it off each time we went for a drive.

The Stonic’s sporty flavour is aided by an excellent driving position and its low-slung stance.

Weighing in at just 1227kg, the Stonic impresses most when it comes to dynamics. As with most new Kias, the Stonic benefited from a local ride and handling program that ushered in tweaks to the suspension and steering to suit Australian roads better. It's another top job by the local tuners. It has a nicely balanced chassis that stays flat when cornering, holding the road well, even on undulating roads. It can, however, understeer if you corner at speed.

The steering has a little heft to it, and turn-in is sharp, but some vibration is felt through the wheel. The brakes feel spongey but proved their worth during an emergency braking test.

Ride quality isn't class-leading, but it's also not bad. It’s a comfortable car for a daily drive in urban and back road settings.

Flicking the switch to Sport mode only results in higher revs and a subtle improvement to throttle response.

A fair amount of external noise creeps into the cabin, so it could do with some better insulation materials.

Kia’s fuel use figure is 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres. We finished the week with 7.2L/100km.

 


The verdict

The Stonic GT-Line is not a perfect car, but there's a lot to like. It's got the dynamic chops to sit among the best in the segment (hello, Ford Puma), and it’s more affordable than most direct rivals. Whether it is worth the extra $5000 over the equivalent Rio GT-Line will be determined by individual buyers, but it’s the sort of car that easily puts a smile on your face every time you drive it.

Kia Stonic GT-Line 2021

Pricing

List price: $29,990 before on-road costs.

Price as tested: $30,510 before on-road costs.

Model range: $21,490 to $29,990 before on-road costs.

Drivetrain

1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, front-wheel drive.

Power: 74kW@4500-6000rpm.

Torque: 172Nm@1500-4000rpm.

Wheels: 205/55 R17.

Fuel

RON 91 ULP, 45-litre fuel tank.

Consumption:  5.4L/100km (government test), 7.2L/100km (RACV test).

Emissions: 125g/km CO2 emissions.

Standard safety

Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep assist, lane follow assist, rear occupant alert, driver attention alert, reversing camera, rear parking sensors.

Standard features

Eight-inch LCD touch screen with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity, climate control air conditioning, six-speaker audio system, 4.2-inch digital instrument display, rain-sensing wipers.

Warranty

Seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Seven years capped-price servicing. Servicing schedule every 12 months/10,000km.

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