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 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.