New wave of small SUVs reviewed

 

Cheap cars are hard to find. That's partially due to increased demand from people avoiding public transport in the wake of COVID-19, but also because manufacturers are moving away from bargain machines.

Increasingly strict safety and emissions standards, combined with Australia's insatiable appetite for SUVs, means $30,000 has replaced $20,000 as the new-car ownership entry point for many motorists.

We examined the cheapest SUVs from three value-driven brands in the Kia Stonic, Hyundai Venue and Skoda Kamiq.

The Hyundai Venue and new Kia Stonic take on the Skoda Kamiq. Picture: Thomas Wielecki
The Hyundai Venue and new Kia Stonic take on the Skoda Kamiq. Picture: Thomas Wielecki

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KIA STONIC GT-LINE

Few brands match Kia's bang for the buck. Every car in the range has a seven-year warranty with seven years of capped price servicing and most are loaded with plenty of equipment.

Based on the budget Rio hatchback, the Stonic is Kia's entry level SUV. We tested it in premium GT-Line trim for $29,990 drive-away, bringing standard kit such as an 8-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus toys such as climate control, smart keys and premium cloth trim with faux leather elements.

The Kia Stonic has funky looks and a long warranty. Picture: Thomas Wielecki
The Kia Stonic has funky looks and a long warranty. Picture: Thomas Wielecki

The GT-Line targets boy (and girl) racers with a turbocharged engine, sports suspension and the sort of flat-bottomed steering wheel normally found in a VW Golf GTI.

The 1.0-litre three-cylinder motor uses 5.4L/100km to make 74kW and 172Nm, sending drive to the front wheels through a dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Kia has added plenty of standard gear to its most expensive Stonic. Picture: Thomas Wielecki
Kia has added plenty of standard gear to its most expensive Stonic. Picture: Thomas Wielecki

That sporty approach delivers a firm ride that feels satisfactory in isolation but busier than ideal when compared with rivals. The engine occupies the middle ground here, feeling stronger than the non-turbo Hyundai but not as impressive as the punchy Skoda.

Turbo Stonic models don't have an ANCAP safety rating - lesser versions controversially derive from the 2017 test of a Kia Rio. While auto emergency braking and lane keeping assistance are standard, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are missing.

 

HYUNDAI VENUE ELITE

As with the Stonic GT-Line, Hyundai's Venue Elite is a well-equipped variant of an entry-level car. You get an 8-inch stereo with satnav and smartphone mirroring, along with funky cabin treatments that vary depending on your choice of exterior colour. Our example's denim seats divided opinion among the test team.

The Venue is the oldest of the bunch. Picture: Thomas Wielecki
The Venue is the oldest of the bunch. Picture: Thomas Wielecki

Unlike the Kia, it comes with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts as standard, along with modern basics such as auto emergency braking and lane keeping that deliver a four-star rating.

The Hyundai makes do with a 1.6-litre non-turbo engine delivering 90kW, 151Nm and 7.2L/100km economy. It's a buzzy, stressed-sounding engine that misses out on the effortless low-rev torque of turbo motors.

Hyundai's conventional six-speed automatic transmission is smooth at low speed but can feel lost on hilly routes, hunting between ratios to find the right gear.

There are plenty of choice for buyers, with our test versions featuring denim seats. Picture: Thomas Wielecki
There are plenty of choice for buyers, with our test versions featuring denim seats. Picture: Thomas Wielecki

The Venue feels cheaper than its rivals, with more tyre and road noise than buyers should expect for about $30,250 drive-away. Softer suspension means the Venue rolls from side to side more than we would like to see, and the rear feels bouncy over bumps.

 

SKODA KAMIQ

The cheapest SUV in the Skoda family comes here as News Corp's reigning Car of the Year. While the other models sit toward the top of their ranges, this is the entry level Skoda Kamiq sold for $29,900 drive-away with an automatic transmission.

But it doesn't feel like an entry-level car.

The Skoda Kamiq was crowned News Corp Australia’s car of the year in 2020. Picture: Thomas Wielecki
The Skoda Kamiq was crowned News Corp Australia’s car of the year in 2020. Picture: Thomas Wielecki

You get dual-zone climate control, a digital dashboard, 18-inch alloys, wireless smartphone charging and a powered tailgate missing in the Kia and Hyundai, plus clever touches such as an umbrella in the driver's door, and a rechargeable torch in the boot. It has a similar 8-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the only five-star safety rating here thanks to front and rear auto braking, lane-keep assist and active cruise control. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are part of a $4100 driver support pack with luxuries such as front and rear heated leather seats.

The Kamiq feels a step above the competition for fit and finish. Picture: Thomas Wielecki
The Kamiq feels a step above the competition for fit and finish. Picture: Thomas Wielecki

Passengers have more room in the Kamiq than other models - it's the only one with a back seat suitable for large adults on long trips. It's also the best to drive, with a strong engine that uses less fuel (5.0L/100km) to outgun rival machines with 85kW and 200Nm. The 1.0-litre turbo triple's dual-clutch auto feels great on the open road but can be a little lumpy in town.

Skoda's suspension also strikes the best balance between comfort and engagement, bringing a taut composure rivals struggle to match.

 

VERDICT

The Skoda remains at the top of its class, thanks to a spacious cabin, strong standard features and impressive road-going behaviour. Kia's warranty, punchy engine and modern cabin land it the silver medal, though Hyundai's well-equipped Venue is also worth a look.

The Skoda Kamiq trumps the competition in more ways than one. Picture: Thomas Wielecki
The Skoda Kamiq trumps the competition in more ways than one. Picture: Thomas Wielecki

SKODA KAMIQ VITALS
Price: From $29,990 drive-away

Engine: 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo, 85kW/200Nm

Warranty/servicing: 5-year/unlimited km, $1400 for 5 years

Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, lane keep assist

Cargo: 400 litres

Spare: Space saver

 

KIA STONIC GT-LINE VITALS

Price: From $29,990 drive-away

Engine: 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo, 74kW/172Nm

Warranty/servicing: 7-year/unlimited km, $2128 for 5 years

Safety: Unrated, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane keep assist

Cargo: 352 litres

Spare: Space saver

 

HYUNDAI VENUE ELITE VITALS

Price: About $30,250 drive-away

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl, 90kW/151Nm

Warranty/servicing: 5-year/unlimited km, $1623 for 5 years

Safety: 4 stars, 6 airbags, auto emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert

Cargo: 355 litres

Spare: Space saver

 

Originally published as New wave of small SUVs reviewed