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£19,680 when new
What’s a Kia Stonic? It’s Kia’s attempt at a European-friendly small crossover. A rival to the ageing Nissan Juke, brand new Hyundai Kona and well, about eleventy-billion other jacked-up, tough-looking superminis with colour-contrast roofs, plastic wheelarches and less off-road ability than your dining table. Because they’re supposed to evoke an outdoorsy lifestyle, but merely offer more space, a loftier seating position and gnarlier looks in a standard town-car package. Check, check and check! Not quite. Oh, and all crossovers need a silly, marketing collective-meets-preschool name. Stonic is a cross between ‘Sporty’ and ‘Tonic’, apparently. We decided to nickname it Stomach. Looks like the Stomac-…sorry, Stonic has all of those boxes ticked… Kinda. It’s taller than a Rio, sure. And more ‘grrr’ looking. But actually, unless you pump the seat way up high, you’re eye-level with VW Passat drivers. It doesn’t feel at all tall or commanding. Not compared to, say, a Citroen C3 Aircross, which does a proper impression of an SUV, giving you a vista of a view ahead, and a pensioner-friendly step into, not lunge downward, when boarding the cabin. The Stonic’s lowly. Because it’s sporty? It’s faux sporty. All crossovers, in fact any tall car, from a Dacia Duster to a Range Rover, have a compromised ride because engineers have to fit tougher anti roll bars to stop it falling over like a well-oiled student in fresher’s week when you arrive at a corner. Now, in a Duster, you don’t care, because it’s cheap and ace off road. In a Range Rover, very expensive and clever suspension helps soothe the ride. In a cheap crossover, you’re caught in the middle, with no off-road nous or pricey suspension. So, they tend to be quite jiggly about town. Kia’s chosen to mask this with a film of sportiness, allied to reasonably quick, light steering. But it hasn’t worked. There’s a tinny, rattly quality to the ride, which once you’ve noticed it, is impossible to ignore. All you can think as you rumble along is “I bet a Kia Rio would’ve handled that speed bump/expansion joint/railway crossing/pothole/drain cover/dead hedgehog better.” Sure, there’s plenty of grip, the centre of gravity feels far lower than the earlier-mentioned Citroen, the gearshift is slick and you could almost kid yourself into thinking it’s chuckable. But it’s not actually a talented mover. And the 1.0-litre T-GDI turbo engine, good for a claimed 118bhp, 172lb ft and 0-62mph in 9.9 secs, feels more strangled than it does in other Kia applications. So the whole car’s left feeling rather sluggish and uninteresting to tool around in. Does anyone buy a crossover to be interested in how it drives? No, but that’s the crux of my point. The Stonic doesn’t counter that with being taller, or massively roomy, or even moderately interesting to look at. The main visual interest comes from the clashing paint hues, really. Visibility is poor especially from the rear, and because the designers have demanded that the numberplate lives on the bumper, not the tailgate, the boot door is small. So, you have a high sill to lift your cargo over, and that makes shopping or loading baby accessories a chore. What’s good? Inside, you get the usual Kia touchscreen. It’s a real unsung hero among infotainment interfaces: Peugeot, Citroen and Ford are way behind this simplicity and speed of response. And in this all-the-toys First Edition, there’s lot more equipment besides. For £19,695 (or well around £250 a month) you get heated seats and a heated steering wheel, automatic climate control, lane departure and anti-crash braking assist, blind-spot guardian angel, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mirroring, electric windows and mirrors, and a reversing camera plus parking sensors. It’s all built solidly out of standard-fare-for-the-class hard plastics, with a token splash of colour to remind you this is a fun, zany, lifestyle-focused crossover. Otherwise, the Stonic’s run of unremarkableness continues. The engine dies away at a cruise but there’s quite a lot of tyre noise to compete with. The seats are comfortable, and there’s reasonable cabin storage. It’ll do about 35-40mpg in The Real World. See, there’s nothing truly offensive or even that disagreeable about the Stonic, but it just lacks any major boon, benefit or selling point, really. It’s a plug for a hole in Kia’s range, nothing more. Same could be said of so many crossovers… Exactly. As every car maker scrambles to create its own Evoque moment, with profits to match, most feel phoned-in. The Stonic falls into the same trap as the Seat Arona, Vauxhall Mokka X, Audi Q2, Renault Captur (to which almost all of these moans apply), and so on, and on and on. When the market is so saturated, only the absolute belters stand out. Interestingly, the new Hyundai Kona, which shares some interior architecture and engines with the Kia but sits on a new platform, looks a lot wilder and drives with more verve. It feels like it has a USP, a purpose. Kia’s cooked up some really strong cars of late: the Picanto and Stinger in particular. So we know Kia can do better than the humdrum, also-ran Stonic. So can you.