Citroën C3 Aircross vs Kia Stonic vs Seat Arona Comparison

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SUVs based on small hatchbacks have their flaws, but they’re getting better all the time. The Citroën C3 Aircross, Kia Stonic and Seat Arona are proof of that – but which is best?

*** Note : £1 = $1.33 (correct at time of post)

The contenders

Citroën C3 Aircross 1.2 Puretech 110 Feel
  • List price £16,200
  • Target Price £15,970

New Aircross is based on the C3 but is longer, taller and heaps more practical.

Kia Stonic 1.0 T-GDi 118bhp 2
  • List price £16,995
  • Target Price £16,995

Has a bit more power than its rivals here and is the only one with a six-speed gearbox.

Seat Arona 1.0 TSI 95 SE Technology
  • List price £17,545
  • Target Price £16,545

The most expensive, despite having the weakest engine. Can it make amends?

Citroën C3 Aircross vs Kia Stonic vs Seat Arona

It’s funny how small things can have a huge impact on desirability. There’s nothing inherently alluring about a laptop, for instance, but wrap it in a slimline aluminium case, stamp a silhouette of a half-eaten piece of fruit on the cover and all of a sudden everyone wants one. And how many of us would spend £25 on a pair of flip-flops if they weren’t brightly coloured and adorned with a Brazilian flag?

It’s a similar story with small SUVs. Let’s face it: they’re really just small hatchbacks with mildly jacked-up driving positions and a few trinkets loosely inspired by what you’d find on a proper 4×4. And yet somehow they’re in a completely different fashion league than their lower-riding, more conventional compatriots.

But there’s always been a problem: no SUV south of £20,000 has ever been particularly brilliant. Sure, cars such as the Renault Captur and Suzuki Vitara have been easy enough to recommend, but we’ve always had to do so with the caveat: “You could have a better car for less cash if you’re prepared to forgo the chunkier styling and slightly raised driving position.” Could that finally be about to change?

Step forward not one, not two but three new models that could seriously shake up the small SUV ranks. The cheapest and tallest of the trio is the playfully styled Citroën C3 Aircross, an indirect replacement for the boxier C3 Picasso MPV, which we always rated highly. To shine here, the C3 Aircross will have to see off the altogether more grown-up and supposedly sportier Kia Stonic, as well as the sharp-suited Seat Arona, the Spanish brand’s second foray into the SUV market after last year’s hugely successful Ateca.

That leaves us with two burning questions: which of these new arrivals is best, and can any of them really prove to be a superb buy without any provisos?

Driving – Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Our contenders may be dressed differently, but they have one thing in common: all have turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engines. The Arona’s tiny 1.0-litre unit pumps out the least power, so it’s ultimately the most lethargic performer, yet it’s never frustratingly slow and you’d need a stopwatch to tell the difference in acceleration compared with the more powerful C3 Aircross.

You can certainly feel the extra muscle the Stonic has over its European rivals, though. Whether you rev its engine hard or accelerate from lower revs in the higher gears, the Stonic steadily pulls away from the field and copes more easily with inclines and motorway slip roads. It helps that the Stonic is the only one of our trio with a six-speed gearbox, because it means there’s a smaller jump between some of the ratios.

Changing gear in the Stonic and Arona is a largely pleasant experience. The former requires a bit more effort, but both have precise shifts that are free from any irksome notches. The Arona has the more positive and feelsome clutch pedal, making it the easier car to drive smoothly around town, but the Stonic isn’t the slightest bit fractious in stop-start traffic. Sadly, the C3 Aircross is, due to its nasty cocktail of a heavy, numb clutch pedal, a light accelerator and a woefully vague gearshift. Driving smoothly at low speeds requires lots of practice and the sort of concentration you’d need to thread a needle.

Things don’t improve much when you pick up the pace, either, because the C3 Aircross has the grabbiest brakes and the most remote steering. It also leans the most dramatically through corners and feels the least stable and composed along bucking and bounding B-roads. At the other end of the scale is the Stonic; it’s surprisingly eager to tuck its nose in to bends and stays the most upright through them, while its quick, meaty steering is a good match for that relatively sharp handling.

Mind you, although the Arona doesn’t display such tidy body control, it hangs on at even faster speeds through corners and its steering, while slower, gives you more information about the relationship between tyre and road. Factor in the most progressive, smoothest brakes of the bunch and the Arona is the most enjoyable to drive.

It’s the most comfortable, too. It’s fair to say that none of these cars rides like a luxury limo – or even a Volkswagen Golf, for that matter – but the Arona deals with the kind of bumps and scars you find in most towns and cities with reasonable aplomb. It’s the most settled at motorway speeds, too.

Meanwhile, the more softly sprung C3 Aircross initially fools you into thinking it’ll be a comfortable companion, but above 30mph you become acutely aware of your torso bobbing up and down and your head tossing from side to side. Hit a pothole and there’s a sharp crash as the suspension struggles to cope.

The Stonic couldn’t be more different; its firm suspension keeps things more controlled over potholes and badly broken patches of asphalt. However, you’re continually jostled around over minor imperfections and the ride doesn’t even settle down on the motorway, making the Stonic the most annoying on long trips.

Citroën C3 Aircross

Behind the wheel – Driving position, visibility, build quality

Since you’re in the market for an SUV, there’s a decent chance that you like to sit a good distance from the road. If so, you’ll find plenty to like about the C3 Aircrossbecause, with its driver’s seat set to its lowest position, you’re still a fair few centimetres farther from terra firma than you are in the Arona or Stonic.

But, removing personal preference from the equation, all three have fundamentally sound driving positions, with plenty of seat adjustment and pedals that line up reasonably neatly with the steering wheel. Some of our testers wished the Arona’s steering wheel retracted a bit farther into the dashboard, while others found the C3 Aircross’s gearlever a bit of a reach, but neither issue is a major one.

Long-distance comfort isn’t ideal in the three cars, though. That’s because their driver’s seats simply don’t provide enough lower back support, although the C3 Aircross is worst in this respect. Adjustable lumbar support would help but isn’t available on any of our contenders, even if you’re prepared to pay extra.

Chunky, clearly labelled buttons and knobs make the dashboards of both the Arona and Stonic a doddle to use. If you’re a bit chilly and want to nudge up the interior temperature, you simply twist a dial. In the C3 Aircross, you need to delve into the hopelessly unintuitive touchscreen; it’s such a faff that it would be quicker to stop off and buy a jumper.

They may all look suitably frisky on the outside, but climbing aboard the Arona or Stonic is a bit of a comedown; both interiors are conservatively styled and built with hard, grey and not very appealing plastics. But the face of the Arona’s dash is at least painted a pastel grey to lighten the mood.

There’s more to get excited about inside the C3 Aircross. From the art deco air vents to the silver accents below the touchscreen, everything is just that bit more interesting to look at. You can even choose from various colour schemes if you’re prepared to pay extra, including a two-tone tan and black dashboard and seats, or grey seats with red highlights on the dash. Just bear in mind that the quality of interior plastics aren’t actually any better than those in the Arona.

Infotainment systems

Citroën C3 Aircross

Very disappointing. The C3 Aircross’s touchscreen doesn’t have the contrast or crispness of graphics you might hope for, and the delay between pressing the display and anything actually happening is long enough for you to make a cup of tea. On the plus side, it is the only one of our trio available with an upgraded sound system and emergency response (an SOS button that connects to the emergency services). Smartphone mirroring is also standard.

Kia Stonic

It’s a shame you don’t get – and can’t even add – sat-nav on the 2 trim, but otherwise the infotainment system stacks up pretty well. The interface is more logical than the C3 Aircross’s and the screen responds more promptly when you prod it. We also like the fact that there are physical shortcut buttons flanking the display rather than touch-sensitive pads; it’s easier to hit the one you want at a glance. Sound quality from the six-speaker stereo could be better.

Seat Arona

Easily the best system here. For starters, the Arona has the biggest and brightest touchscreen, which means you don’t need to study it hard to decipher instructions displayed by the standard sat-nav. As with all of our trio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring is included in the price, but the Arona also gets wireless phone charging as standard. Our only complaint is that you can’t upgrade the mediocre six-speaker stereo.

Citroën C3 Aircross rear seats

Space and practicality – Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

As is often the case with small cars, we’d recommend avoiding the C3 Aircross’s optional panoramic roof (£950) if you’re tall or plan on carrying anyone who is. It may flood the interior with light, but it badly compromises head room, particularly in the back. You won’t have any such dilemma on the Arona or Stonic, because neither is offered with a panoramic roof and both have enough head room (front and rear) to comfortably accommodate occupants well over six feet tall.

If you had to sit in the back on a long journey, you’d choose the Arona; its extra leg room over the Stonic means you feel slightly less hemmed in, although the fact that the frame of the rear door is right next to your head does block your outside view. The C3 Aircross has the least rear knee room but is just about the most comfortable for three adults sitting side by side, mainly because its seats are mounted relatively high and the person sitting in the middle doesn’t have to straddle a chunky transmission tunnel.

The C3 Aircross’s optional Family Pack (£490) seems like a no-brainer; it adds, among several important safety aids, sliding rear seats. These allow you to prioritise rear leg room or boot space at your will, although our car didn’t have this feature fitted for us to test. The Arona and Stonic have no such tricks up their sleeves, but all three cars have rear seats that fold down in a 60/40 split.

With the rear seats in place, the C3 Aircross has the longest and tallest boot and managed to swallow six carry-on suitcases – one more than its rivals. Still, even the Stonic, which has the shortest and shallowest load bay, can carry almost as many shopping bags as a VW Golf; it’s just a pity that there’s no height-adjustable boot floor to reduce the hefty 11cm lip at the boot. The Arona and C3 Aircross come with height-adjustable boot floors as standard, so their boot entrances are flush with the floors of their load bays.

Citroën C3 Aircross

Has the longest and tallest boot, so you can ultimately ¬fit the most clobber in it. It does have the narrowest boot aperture, though.

  • Boot 410-1289 litres
  • Suitcases 6
Kia Stonic

It’s disappointing that you can’t have a height-adjustable boot floor with the 2 trim, resulting in a big lip at the boot entrance. But floor of load area is nice and square.

  • Boot 352-1155 litres
  • Suitcases 5
Seat Arona

Has the widest load area and you get a height-adjustable floor as standard. Boot space is roughly on a par with a Volkswagen Golf’s – impressive for this class.

  • Boot 400-1280 litres
  • Suitcases 5

Citroën C3 Aircross

Buying and owning – Costs, equipment, reliability, safety and security

As SUVs go, these are very cheap choices indeed. However, it’s worth noting that all three cost considerably more than the hatchbacks on which they’re based (the Citroën C3, Kia Rio and Seat Ibiza).

Then again, you probably won’t choose to pay in one lump sum. Finance packages are extremely popular in this class and, if you sign up to a three-year PCP deal, the Arona will cost you the least in monthly repayments. You’ll need to budget an extra £7 a month if you want the C3 Aircross, while the Stonic will cost you an eyebrowraising £49 more each month.

The Arona is also the cheapest option if you plan to lease, with the Stonic once again the dearest by a big margin. Meanwhile, company car drivers will sacrifice the smallest amount of their salary in benefit-in-kind tax by choosing the C3 Aircross, although there’s only around £70 a year to split all three cars (for those in the 40% tax bracket).

If you do have the wherewithal to pay cash, the C3 Aircross will make the smallest dent in your purse after haggling. The unwillingness of Kia dealers to barter so soon after the Stonic’s launch makes the Korean car the most expensive to buy at the outset. However, factor in all the bills you’re likely to face during three years of ownership, including depreciation, real-world fuel economy, insurance, tax and servicing, and the Arona will actually end up costing you the least. The Stonic remains the most expensive choice in the long run.

As for what you get for your money, there isn’t a great deal to split our trio; all come with alloy wheels, electric windows all round, manual air conditioning, cruise control and dusk-sensing headlights; only the C3 Aircross misses out on rear parking sensors. If personalisation appeals, the Arona stands out because you get a choice of five paint colours, including several metallic ones, along with a contrasting roof, should you want one – all for no extra charge.

Spend an extra £250 on your C3 Aircross and you’ll get an Exterior Colour Pack that turns the roof rails and door mirrors orange (as pictured) or white and adds some decals on the rear three-quarter glass area. Disappointingly, the Stonic isn’t available with any personalisation options unless you upgrade to a pricier trim level, while the only standard paint colour is brown.

At the time of writing, none of our contenders had been appraised for safety by Euro NCAP. However, it’s disappointing that the Arona is the only one with automatic emergency braking and driver attention alert (these aids cost extra on the C3 Aircross and Stonic). That said, there is no alarm in the Arona. Both the Arona and C3 Aircross will warn you when you’re about to stray out of your lane, while the latter even displays the speed of the road you’re driving down on the dashboard, so you’ll have no excuse if you get a ticket through the post.

Citroën C3 Aircross, Kia Stonic & Seat Arona

verdict

We can see lots of people falling for the C3 Aircross’s cutesy looks, plus it has the biggest boot here and is available with some practical touches. Sadly, it’s badly let down by the way it drives, and the infotainment system is frustrating to use. It finishes bottom of the pile.

Second spot goes to the Stonic, which impresses in many ways, particularly its punchy engine and tidy handling. It’s a pity that personalisation options are reserved for the higher trims, but it’s the firm ride and uncompetitive PCP deals that ultimately keep the Stonic off the top spot.

The new Arona is the best of the bunch, then. It’s a cracking all-rounder that doesn’t really have any major weakness other than being potentially easy to break into due to its lack of an alarm.

Ultimately, you’ll still find better value in a regular small hatch – such as the brilliant Seat Ibiza – than any of these small SUVs, but the margins are much closer than ever before.

1st – Seat Arona

  • For Most entertaining to drive; smoothest ride; roomiest rear seats; cheapest PCP payments; most standard safety kit
  • Against Weakest engine; no alarm; you can’t add any options
  • Recommended options None
Specifications: Seat Arona 1.0 TSI 95 SE Technology
  • Engine size 3cyl, 999cc, turbo, petrol
  • List price £17,545
  • Target Price £16,545
  • Power 94bhp @ 5000-5500rpm
  • Torque 129Ib ft @ 2000-3500rpm
  • 0-60mph 10.8sec
  • Top speed 107mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 57.6mpg
  • True MPG 45.9
  • CO2 emissions 111g/km
2nd – Kia Stonic

  • For Nippiest acceleration; agile handling; seven-year warranty; logical dashboard
  • Against Firm ride; no personalisation options on this trim; priciest to buy and run
  • Recommended options Advanced Driving Assistance Pack (£350)
Specifications: Kia Stonic 1.0 T-GDi 118bhp 2
  • Engine size 3cyl, 998cc, turbo petrol
  • List price £16,995
  • Target Price £16,995
  • Power 118bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque 171Ib ft @ 1500-4000rpm
  • Gearbox 6-spd manual
  • 0-60mph 9.5sec
  • Top speed 115mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 56.5mpg
  • True MPG 41.4mpg
  • CO2 emissions 115g/km
3rd – Citroën C3 Aircross

  • For Biggest boot; cheapest company car; optional practicality aids
  • Against Poor ride and handling; sloppy gearshift; grabby brakes; unintuitive infotainment system
  • Recommended options Family Pack (£490), Exterior Colour Pack (£520)
Specifications: Citroën C3 Aircross 1.2 Puretech 110 Feel
  • Engine size 3cyl, 1199cc, turbo, petrol
  • List price £16,200
  • Target Price £15,970
  • Power 109bhp @ 5500rpm
  • Torque 151Ib ft @ 1500rpm
  • Gearbox 5-spd manual
  • 0-60mph 10.5sec
  • Top speed 115mph
  • Gov’t fuel economy 56.5mpg
  • True MPG 43.5mpg
  • CO2 emissions 115g/km

(whatcar.com, https://goo.gl/gUEdr7)

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