Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With The Kia Stonic

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At the beginning of August, we had an action-packed few days. Kia had been in touch with a challenge – as someone who never backs down from a challenge (unless it involves confrontation, violence or disciplining another parent’s kid), I gladly accepted. They loaned us their new compact crossover – the Kia Stonic – and invited us to take it for a spin as we explored some of the fun, family-friendly things to do across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Below, you’ll find some info on the Kia Stonic, our review of the places we visited across Herts, Beds and Bucks and my thoughts on the Kia Stonic:

A Bit About The Kia Stonic…

The SUV market has grown massively over the last few years – it seems like everyone has one. Well, the Stonic is Kia’s first furore into the compact crossover / small MPV / B-SUV / raised hatchback (or whatever you want to call it) market. It’s based on the latest Rio supermini, but the Stonic has been tweaked – greater ground clearance, higher centre of gravity, increased weight and more sporty driving characteristics, to name a few.

In the UK, the Stonic is available in five versions, based on three engines and two trim levels (more info here). Designed to offer sportiness, dynamism and practicality for families around Europe, Kia has high expectations of the Stonic. Packed with extensive connectivity features, advanced electronic driver assistance systems and loads of features as standard – including 17″ alloy wheels, air conditioning, electric windows, rear parking sensors, heated door mirrors, automatic lights – you can kind of understand why.

We were provided with the Kia Stonic 1.0 T-GDI First Edition with 6-speed manual gear box. The First Edition upgrades a couple of things compared to the lower ‘2’ trim level, most notably the two-tone paintwork and matching colour accents, a 7″ touch screen information / entertainment screen and driver assistance systems like Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Detection.

First impressions were certainly positive. I really liked the look of the Stonic – I certainly couldn’t consider it boring to look at with its two-tone graphite and lime green paintwork. Having never driven a Kia before, I was looking forward to getting behind the wheel, putting it through its paces and seeing how it performed as our main family car for a few days.

So, with that, we got our thinking caps on to decide which family days out we wanted to do in Herfordshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire – here’s how we got on:

Day 1: Buckinghamshire

Our first day with the Kia Stonic saw us cross the county border to Buckinghamshire. First up, we headed over to Beaconsfield to visit Bekonscot Model Village. It’s been a couple of years since we last went to Bekonscot (review and video here) and we’ve been meaning to go back for quite a while – this gave us the perfect opportunity to do so.

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic walking into bekonscot model village

When it comes to family-friendly places to visit in Bucks, Bekonscot is right up there. Having opened in 1929, its claim to fame is that it’s the oldest model village in the world. Set in the 1930’s, you’re able to explore a number of little towns and get an insight into life in the past.

Particular highlights include the zoo, the circus, the fairground, the cable cars, the ‘on fire’ house and the ‘funny’ puns for shop names. There’s also a new section which has been added since we last visited, which features Hanton Road tube station – the smallest underground station on the entire network!

That’s not all though. Central to the model village is the Gauge 1 miniature railway which runs throughout the different towns. You’ll see it going through tunnels, heading over bridges and stopping off at train stations to pick up passengers. Just like our last visit, L loved waiting for it to whizz passed – the little trainspotter.

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic exploring Bekonscot model village collage

With more than 200 buildings, 3,000 inhabitants, 1,000 animals and hundreds of vehicles, there’s plenty of things to look at – the issue when you have young kids is trying to get them to slow down so that you can take it all in! Still, it’s a cool place for kids to explore, point things out that they see and ask (too many!) questions.

In addition to the model village, there’s a ride-on railway, an outdoor playground, and a couple of paid-for fairground-type games. All in all, Bekonscot is a fab place to visit with children.

After spending a fun few hours at Bekonscot, we made the short journey over to High Wycombe for lunch. The missus and I love smokehouses and proper BBQ grub – the food was always one of the highlights when we used to do USA road trips pre-kids. Unfortunately, they’re few and far between in the UK. Our nearest – and one of the best we’ve found – is Bluegrass BBQ Smokehouse.

Considering we were over this way, we decided that it’d be rude not to pop in for lunch. We shared the Pit Boss Platter, which included baby back ribs, brisket, burnt ends, chicken, pulled pork, fries, coleslaw and corn on the cob – I’m salivating just writing that! L had the Cheesy BBQ Beans N Sausages from the kid’s menu. As always, the food was awesome and left us stuffed.

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic Bluegrass BBQ High Wycombe pit boss platter

On the way back to the car, we took a slight detour through Eden Shopping Centre as they have a Kids Corner featuring a free, small soft play area. More and more shopping centres are investing in spaces like this for kids – it’s a brilliant idea and makes shopping a more fun tolerable experience for everyone. Plus, it saves you a few quid!

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic high wycombe eden shopping centre kids corner

Hughenden Manor – one of a handful of National Trust properties in Bucks – is on our way home, so we decided to stop off for a few hours in the mid-afternoon. Previously the country house of former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, it now offers around 1,500 acres of park, woodlands and gardens to explore – plus, you can have a wander around the actual manor if you’re that way inclined (we’re not!).

Whilst there, we played on the woodland playground made from logs and timber, did a spot of gardening in the walled garden and rolled down the hills near the manor. It was at this point that L decided to throw a massive tantrum after an action-packed day, so we decided to call it quits and head back home in order to recharge the batteries for the following day!

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic hughenden manor collage

Day 2: Bedfordshire

Our second day of adventures took us up to Bedfordshire for Woburn Safari Park. What better way to try out the Kia Stonic than in a place with roaming lions, bears, giraffes and monkeys?! The missus and I came to Woburn about five years ago and remember it being a good day out, however it’s not somewhere we’ve been with the kids.

L was particularly excited about getting up close and personal with the animals – well, behind the safety of the car door! Although we have annual passes for ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, there’s definitely something different and more exciting about safari parks.

Woburn is basically split into a Road Safari and Foot Safari – the former being where you drive around the animals and the latter being more like a traditional zoo. We arrived for opening time to try to avoid some of the queues and began our encounter with the animals.

The Road Safari took us through a number of different ‘areas’ which make up the 360 acre park – this included the Northern Plains, Savannah Grasslands, Kingdom Of The Carnivores, Giraffe Junction and African Forrest. In total, there are over 1,000 animals roaming freely as you drive through the different enclosures – highlights include zebras, bison, camels, rhinos, buffalo, tigers, wolves, bears, lions, giraffe and monkeys.

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic woburn safari park animals from in car

The enclosures are large, so spotting some of the more illusive animals can sometimes take a combination of luck, patience and timing. However, there’s plenty of animals around that get crazily close to the car. We had a giraffe walk right in front of the car, found two bears and a wolf just feet away from us and were pretty close to a pride of sleeping lions.

We also had one particular money take a shine to the Kia Stonic (perhaps the two-tone paint work?), however not wanting any damage to the loan car, we continued to slowly move so he couldn’t hop on and steal a windscreen wiper! From that point, L was obsessed about animals getting too close in case they scratched the car – sensible kid.

In total, it probably took about an hour to do the entire Road Safari. We decided to do a quick route as soon as we arrived, then went around again as we were leaving. This gave us the chance to go a bit more leisurely and spot some of the animals we hadn’t first time around. It was absolutely boiling, so the Stonic’s air conditioning came in really handy – more so than the heated seats and heated steering wheel…

Once you’re done in your car, you can park up in the centre and check out what else Woburn has to offer. I’ve always thought of it as just being the safari park, but there’s actually a lot to do on foot and this seems to be expanding with recent additions like ‘Farmyard Friends’.

First though, we had to do something non-animal related. Our trip coincided with a meet and greet with the characters from PJ Masks. As a fan of the Disney show, we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to let L meet Catboy and Owlette. Strangely though, Gekko wasn’t present, so I can only speculate as to his whereabouts – I’m putting my money on a drunken night out.

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic woburn safari park pj masks meet and greet

After the awkward ‘let your kid hug a random stranger in an outfit’ experience, we went about exploring. The first thing to say is that we found plenty of places to let the kids play. Mammoth Play Park is a huge indoor soft play with separate areas for younger and older children. We also found an outdoor playground near the monkey enclosure and a couple of bouncy castles by the reptiles. L always needs a break from looking at animals after a while, so areas like this give her something else to do and help recharge her batteries.

During the day, there’s also plenty of free talks and demonstrations. There was basically something happening every 15 minutes, which meant we were able to check out a Birds In Action parrot demonstration, watch a feeding of the lemurs in Land Of Lemurs and have a meet and greet with the Elephants at Elephant Meadow. The latter was particularly cool as they walked the elephants by the audience, allowing people to give them a pat and stroke.

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic woburn safari park foot safari

Within the rest of this on foot area, you’ll find a number of different enclosures that allow you to encounter the animals. Rather than looking from afar behind glass like most zoos, you’re able to walk into some of the areas and get up close and personal. For instance, the Australian Walkabout allows you to wander with wallabies and rhea, whilst Monkey Business is home to some playful squirrel monkeys – the latter was a particular highlight.

Over the other side, you’ll find the newest area which features red pandas in Himalayan Heights and the Farmyard Friends walk-through with sheep, goats, pigs and donkeys. Around this area, we also found Land Of The Lemurs which took us through the lemur enclosure, as well as an area for penguins, capybara and tortoises. Other places to note are Otter Falls, Sea Lion Beach and Desert Springs with meerkats, mongoose and porcupine.

We were genuinely impressed with everything available for families at Woburn Safari Park and it was a great day out. As I said earlier, I’ve always thought of it as just being the Road Safari, but it’s so much more than that. We ended up spending an entire day at the park and were all knackered by the end of it – any plans to explore Bedfordshire after we were done at Woburn were quite sensibly sacked off!

Day 3: Hertfordshire

After an action-packed two days with the Kia Stonic, our final day saw us take a bit more of a chilled out approach in our home county of Hertfordshire. As this coincided with the heatwave, we popped over to Cassiobury Park in Watford to enjoy the sun. This park has fast become one of our favourite places to go for a free / cheap family day out in the area.

Firstly, there’s the splash park which opened in 2017. This features two paddling pools and over 30 splash pads, water jets and fountains which are situated around a large area with a cushioned play surface. It’s all enclosed so you know your kids can’t run away, there’s plenty of space for seating and there’s even toilets and changing cubicles nearby. There were also a lot of wasps!

L loved jumping and laying down in the two paddling pools, whilst ‘Beetle’ got his first splash park experience with the jets. To me, this is what a splash park should be (minus the wasps) – hats off to Watford Borough Council for investing and doing it properly.

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic cassiobury park

After having some splashy fun, we popped up to the cafe – Daisy’s In The Park – which overlooks the splash park. This was built at the same time as the splash park and offers drinks, snacks and food – we opted for milkshakes and ice-cream to cool down.

Next to the splash park in the Hub, you’ll also find the outdoor play area which has also gone through redevelopment in recent years. This has a huge range of play equipment for ages under 12, including a zip wire, climbing frames, swings, a trampoline and imaginative play equipment such as a vehicle. It’s a fab play area.

After this, we kicked a football and played Frisbee for a bit, before heading home for a late lunch. If you’ve not been to Cassiobury Park before, you’re really missing out. In addition to this, they have a miniature railway, outdoor gym equipment, sports courts and plenty of different routes to walk around. A few hours can quickly turn into a full day of family fun.

Once we’d eaten, we headed out once more to do something a little different. We’d heard that there were sunflower fields somewhere near Tring, so decided that it’d be pretty cool to see if we could find them, then maybe pick one for the garden. After driving in the general direction and getting lost a few times, we managed to find three huge fields filled with sunflowers – it was an awesome sight.

We wandered through the fields, attempted some Instagramable photos, ran away from the bees, spent way too long selecting a sunflower, paid our £1 and returned to the car. It’s at this point where we realised it was a little too big for the car, and after attempting to get it in undamaged, discovered that we’d lost half of the petals! Ah well, it was still a pretty cool place to visit – we’ll just have to grow our own next year!

Finally, A Few Words On The Kia Stonic…

I was really impressed with the Kia Stonic. I’m no stranger to cars in this market – I’ve owned a Nissan Juke and Audi Q2, as well as driven a Vauxhall Grandland X – and the Stonic definitely stands up to them. In fact, I liked it more than I thought I would and it definitely has some favourable points when compared to these other compact crossovers.

For instance, it had more assistance features than the Q2, was a more comfortable drive than the Grandland X and was much nippier than the Juke. It may not be for everyone, but I’d also say that I preferred the aesthetics of the Stonic – it’s certainly better looking than the ugly Juke!

From a family perspective, the car did everything I needed from it on our days out. Fitting our two car seats was a doddle because of the ISOFIX anchor fixings, the information system kept us entertained with The Greatest Showman soundtrack and we just about got everything we needed in the boot. There’s actually a dual height luggage area in the boot, so I removed the ledge so that the pushchair would fit in – it’s not the biggest boot, but there’s little difference to the Juke or Q2.

Exploring Family Days Out In Herts, Beds And Bucks With Kia Stonic first edition photos in use

Space in the back was fine and the kids had adequate room. One of my bug bears is car seats in the back impinging on leg room in the front, but this thankfully wasn’t the case. The only ‘issue’ was when the missus attempted to squeeze into the middle seat in the back of the car whilst going around the safari park to soothe a crying baby – the car seats made this practically impossible, however that’s hardly surprising.

In terms of driving, it was comfortable, handled well and had a nice little kick of acceleration – something that surprised me from a 1.0 litre engine, although I guess that’s the T-GDi bit doing the work. I’m used to driving an automatic these days, so it took a bit of time to get used to changing gears again, however that’s neither here nor there. Thankfully, the missus enjoyed reminding me to change up gear so I wasn’t doing 60mph in 2nd gear.

As mentioned, I’m a big fan of the exterior aesthetics. There’s the Kia ‘tiger-nose’ main front grille, 17″ alloy wheels, roof fails, privacy glass and two-tone paint with contrasting roof, which I think make the Stonic stand out. Inside, the interior feels quite standard, plasticy and not as luxurious as the likes of the Q2 (understandably so considering the price). However, some nice little touches include the stainless steel pedals, the cloth and faux leather upholstery with colour accents and the D-Cut steering wheel with leather trim and accented stitching.

In terms of features, there’s a lot of stuff on the Stonic, all designed to assist the driver. For instance, the Lane Departure Warning System lets you know if you’re drifting, High Beam Assist automatically switches the car between dipped and full beam, there are Rain Sensing Front Wipers which turn on automatically when it’s raining and Blind Spot Detection provides a light in the mirror if someone is in your blind spot.

As well as this, there’s Intelligent Stop And Go which turns off the engine when station to save fuel and emissions, heated seats and steering wheel for the colder months, and this particular car had a Reversing Camera System built into the central display. Things that are a little more standard these days – such as Cruise Control, Speed Limiter and Sat Nav – were also present and came in useful.

To summarise, I reckon that the Kia Stonic is a fab car if you’re looking for a family compact crossover. On the road from a little over 16k (ours was £19,695) which makes it well priced, with Kia’s seven year / 100,000 mile warranty and packed with features, it certainly provides a great option in this market. For us, it would be too small as our main family car – particularly due to the boot – but I’d have no qualms in this bad boy being our second family car.

What do you reckon to the Kia Stonic First Edition? Is it something you could see yourself driving? Have you been to any of the places we visited in Herts, Beds and Bucks as part of our family adventure with the Stonic? Let me know below!

Disclosure: This is a commissioned post in collaboration with Kia.