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Car group tests

SEAT Arona vs Citroen C3 Aircross vs Kia Stonic

We deliver our verdict on three all-new SUVs to hit the market – the SEAT Arona, Citroen C3 Aircross and Kia Stonic

A flood of compact SUVs has arrived in the UK towards the end of this year, and we’ve rounded up three of the newest and best that are all hoping to put clear water between themselves and their rivals. However, the contest will be tough, as the cars all feature clever tech to move the game on yet another step compared with the current best in the class.

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First up is the SEAT Arona, tested here in sporty FR trim with 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol power. Conforming to a tried-and-tested recipe that worked for the brand’s Ibiza hatchback, this jacked-up supermini SUV carries SEAT’s hopes that it can continue the success story.

Best small SUVs and crossovers on sale

The Citroen C3 Aircross could be a fly in the SEAT’s ointment, though. With the French brand’s C4 Cactus now being repositioned as a more conventional hatch, the C3 Aircross takes on the mantle as Citroen’s small and funky crossover, developing many of the slightly quirky but extremely individual features of its predecessor and combining these with practicality and affordability.

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Kia’s new entry in the class, the Stonic, certainly looks the part, with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo engine that matches the other two for claimed efficiency. Sharp styling, reasonable practicality and advanced infotainment mean it has the attributes to succeed, too.

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These small SUVs have arrived less than 12 months after the respective superminis on which they’re based hit the UK, highlighting the importance of the sector for these manufacturers. However, the margins are tight – so the winner will have to show a spark the others lack. Read on to find out which small SUV steals the crown.

SEAT Arona

Model:SEAT Arona 1.0 TSI 115 FR
Price:£19,895
Engine:1.0-litre 3cyl, 113bhp
0-60mph:9.0 seconds
Test economy:41.4mpg/9.1mpl
CO2:113g/km
Annual road tax:£140

The Arona has the sportiest looks of our trio, while a downsized 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrol engine features here, so the SEAT promises efficiency, practicality and fun. Priced from £19,895 with this engine in FR trim (although our pictures show an Xcellence model), the Arona is the most costly car in this test – but is it worth the extra?

The Arona’s steering is nicely weighted and precise, and combined with the tauter chassis this is easily the sportiest and most fun car of the three to drive. As the ride is on the firm side, body control is tight and the chassis is well tied down. The car is nicely damped, too, and although there’s more aggressive vertical movement over bad roads, the Arona still smothers bad surfaces adeptly.

This set-up gives the car plenty of grip, which means you can make the most of the smooth, refined 113bhp 1.0-litre TSI unit. It’s nice and linear, so with 200Nm of torque from 2,000rpm there’s enough performance at the bottom end, and it revs out sweetly. Linked to a six-speed gearbox, it’s the most rewarding powertrain here, as the shift action is just on the right side of mechanically involving without impacting refinement.

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As a result, the SEAT was the fastest car on test, accelerating from 0-60mph in 9.0 seconds, while its in-gear performance was strong and had the Citroen covered, even if it couldn’t match the Kia’s more rapid in-gear acceleration. The 1.0-litre unit is quiet, and at speed there’s less wind and road noise than in its rivals, so the SEAT balances a good level of involvement with acceptable refinement.

Testers' notes: “FR trim gets SEAT’s Drive Profile with four different modes to choose from, including Normal, Sport Eco and Individual. These alter the steering weight and throttle response.”

Citroen C3 Aircross

Model:Citroen C3 Aircross PureTech 110 Flair
Price:£18,000
Engine: Engine:1.2-litre 3cyl, 108bhp
0-60mph:10.6 seconds
Test economy:44mpg/9.7mpl
CO2:115g/km
Annual road tax:£140

Citroen’s C3 Aircross replaces the manufacturer’s old C3 Picasso compact MPV – and the C4 Cactus, given Citroen is now repositioning that model. Prices start from £18,000 for this 1.2 PureTech 110 in top-spec Flair trim.

The extra ground clearance and suspension travel in the Aircross is evident on the road, as is Citroen’s focus on comfort. The C3 tracks over rutted surfaces with a respectable level of composure, offering compliance over all but the worst bumps. Even then, the Citroen doesn’t feel as firm as the SEAT.

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However, it’s clearly not as good to drive as the Arona. The Citroen’s engine is strong enough, delivering a fairly gutsy hit of torque thanks to its 205Nm (the most here) at 1,500rpm. This helped it sprint from 0-60mph in 10.6 seconds on test. Although this was the slowest time here, and was not helped by the transmission’s woolly, imprecise and crunchy shift action, it trailed the Kia by only two-tenths of a second.

Due to having only five ratios, the engine has to work harder than the units in its six-speed rivals – hence the C3’s slightly slower in-ratio times. However, the performance and flexibility on offer are acceptable. So is the ride and handling balance. This comfort is welcome, but the light steering is fairly direct as well, and although the Aircross is the tallest SUV here, it doesn’t roll too badly in corners at sensible speeds.

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Testers' notes: “Flair trim gets a bi-tone roof as standard, which certainly lifts the car’s looks given Citroen’s trademark Airbumps are missing. Choose from white, black and orange.”

Kia Stonic

Model:Kia Stonic 1.0 T-GDi First Edition
Price:£19,695
Engine:1.0-litre 3cyl, 118bhp
0-60mph:10.4 seconds
Test economy:38.7mpg/8.5mpl
CO2:115g/km
Annual road tax:£140

The Stonic is Kia’s answer to the Arona and C3 Aircross, and the Korean manufacturer hopes it will enjoy similar success to the bigger Sportage. Here we put the £19,695 First Edition model, running Kia’s 1.0 T-GDi turbocharged petrol engine, through its paces.

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Producing 118bhp from its 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, the Stonic serves up the most power of the trio – but the least torque, with only 172Nm. 

This meant it was only a few tenths faster from 0-60mph than the Citroen, taking 10.4 seconds, although its in-gear performance was relatively strong, helped by its shorter ratios. It accelerated between 50-70mph in fifth and sixth in 9.1 and 11.7 seconds respectively, making it a few tenths faster than the SEAT.

The engine is a little rattly at idle, but it pulls smoothly and revs well. Once you’re using more revs on the move it’s refined, too, and quiet at a cruise. The six-speed manual is on the lighter side but shifts sweetly; it feel more like the SEAT’s transmission than the Citroen’s notchy one.

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However, this is where the positives end. The Stonic has enough grip, but its steering is light and pretty much devoid of feel, while the car never quite feels settled on the move. The suspension fidgets around, and the damping over aggressive bumps is not as smooth as the C3’s. The Kia isn’t as comfortable or as relaxing on the motorway as either of its competitors here. There’s not much roll, and you can carry a good amount of speed through corners, but the Stonic never feels fun in the way the Arona does. Neither does it inspire as much confidence, as this unsettled edge undermines much of the car’s other, acceptable dynamic qualities.

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Testers' notes: “The Stonic’s engine is the car’s best feature, but it doesn’t differentiate itself from its supermini stablemate enough. Its rivals here do, giving them an extra dimension.”

Verdict

First place: Citroen C3 Aircross

It's the Aircross’s versatility which highlights that Citroen has nailed what small SUV buyers are looking for. It’s not as good to drive as the Arona, but it offers acceptable performance and more comfort, while the flexible cabin means it’s much more practical. That the C3 Aircross stands scrutiny when it comes to kit, but undercuts the Arona by a big margin, means it takes victory.

Second place: SEAT Arona

The Arona is a fine effort as a first small SUV from SEAT. It’s fun to drive, is practical enough and serves up some decent tech in sporty FR trim. However, the package isn’t quite as clever as that of the C3 Aircross, and while they match up when it comes to kit, the SEAT is pricier as a cash buy and on PCP. You’re effectively paying more for less comfort and practicality.

Third place: Kia Stonic

Disappointingly for Kia, the Stonic feels like a missed opportunity to do something slightly different for the brand, as it has with its stunning Stinger sports saloon. The car doesn’t feel enough of an SUV in this company, and while its performance and equipment tally are good, it’s pricey and not all that practical. Meanwhile, an unsettled ride doesn’t do it any favours.

Other options from this sector

Hyundai Kona 1.0T Premium

Due: Dec 2017Price: £18,795Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl, 118bhp

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We’ve already driven Hyundai’s Kona SUV on UK roads, and we’ll see how it stacks up next to its rivals soon. It offers plenty of safety, but limited practicality means it might well have its work cut out.

Figures

 SEAT Arona 1.0 TSI 115 FRCitroen C3 Aircross PureTech 110 FlairKia Stonic 1.0 T-GDi First Edition
On the road price/total as tested£19,895/£19,895£18,000/£20,400£19,695/£20,240
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£9,751/49.0%£8,325/46.3%£9,525/48.4%
Depreciation£10,144£9,675£10,170
Annual tax liability std./higher rate£827/£1,653£783/£1,565£857/£1,714
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,552/£2,587£1,461/£2,434£1,661/£2,768
Insurance group/quote/road tax12/£689/£14013/£592/£14012/£595/£140
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£498 (3yrs)£400 (3yrs)£399 (3yrs)
    
Length/wheelbase4,138/2,566m4,155/2,604mm4,140/2,580mm
Height/width1,543/1,780mm1,637/1,765mm1,520/1,760mm
Engine3cyl in-line/999cc3cyl in-line/1,199cc3cyl in-line/998cc
Peak power/revs113/5,000 bhp/rpm108/5,500 bhp/rpm118/6,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs200/2,000 Nm/rpm205/1,500 Nm/rpm172/1,500 Nm/rpm
Transmission6-spd man/fwd5-spd man/fwd6-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel40 litres/repair kit45 litres/space-saver45 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down)400 litres/N/A410-520/1,289 litres352/1,155 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,187/438/1,200kg1,159/621/840kg1,185/455/1,110kg
Turning circle10.6 metres10.8 metres11.2 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/2yrs3yrs (60,000)/1yr7yrs (100,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealers16,000 miles (1yr)/12816,000 miles (1yr)/19610,000 miles (1yr)/187
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.6th/17th26th/14th3rd/6th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars95/80/77/60/5N/AN/A
    
0-60/30-70mph9.0/9.2 secs10.6/11.2 secs10.4/9.9 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th4.3/6.4 secs4.9/7.7 secs4.5/6.2 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th9.4/13.1 secs12.1 secs/N/A9.1/11.7 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph113mph/2,300rpm115mph/2,500rpm115mph/2,700rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph51.6/35.1/8.2m47.5/35.9/8.3m48.0/35.2/9.8m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph68/52/65/7369/52/63/7164/52/62/71
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range41.4/9.1/364 miles44.0/9.7/436 miles38.7/8.5/383 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined47.9/65.7/57.6mpg47.9/61.4/56.5mpg47.1/62.8/56.5mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined10.5/14.5/12.7mpl10.5/13.5/12.4mpl10.4/13.8/12.4mpl
Actual/claimed CO2 /tax bracket158/113g/km/21%148/115g/km/22%169/115g/km/22%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park. sensors/cameraSix/yes/yes/noSix/yes/yes/£600*Six/yes/yes/yes
Auto box/stability/cruise control/AEB£1,080/yes/yes/yes£1,200/yes/£350*No/yes/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/no/noYes/no/noYes/no/yes
Metallic paint/xenon lights/keyless goYes/no/no£520/no/yes£545/no/no
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
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