Sales of SUVs show no sign of abating and manufacturers are clamouring to get a share of the action. Kia has been well served in this sector by the Sportage, one of my favourites and now in its fourth incarnation.
However, in the motoring world big is not necessarily beautiful as buyers look to downsize and cut running costs. This smaller B-SUV segment has been well served by the Nissan Juke and more latterly the Renault Captur.
Coming soon are rivals from Hyundai, Skoda and SEAT, to name but a few.
Expect to see European sales in this sector double over the next few years to reach the giddy heights of 2.2 million annual sales.
Keen to get a share of the action, Kia has just launched its new contender, the Stonic. Based on the Rio supermini and built alongside it in South Korea, this is a good place to start. The Rio is undoubtedly one of the best all-rounders in its class.
Kia is aiming to achieve 10-15,000 UK sales in the car’s first year and some 70,000 in 31 European markets – readily achievable I would suggest.
Stonic and Rio share the same wheelbase, with Stonic some 70mm taller.
Added width and greater rear overhang maximise luggage and passenger space.
Experienced design boss Peter Shreyer has gone for a clean look, with some instantly recognisable touches such as the ‘tiger-nose’ grille. It is perhaps not the most distinctive design, but bold is not the Kia way.
Those wishing to stand out would be best to choose one of the brighter colours available and there is the option of some contrasting roof colours to brighten things up.
The spacious interior boasts ample head and legroom for four people, five at a push with a modest 352-litre boot for luggage.
Fit and finish is exemplary, but most of the plastics used are hard to the touch. The dash can be livened up with a splash of painted plastic to match the chosen roof colour but other than that there is little to excite.
I suspect many buyers will not be fazed by this and instead will notice the smooth operating controls, intuitive touchscreen and excellent driving position. The latter is a little less elevated than in some rivals which some will bemoan, but keener drivers may well be happy.
Three engines are available. The entry-level 1.4-litre petrol is likely to sell in limited numbers and was unavailable to drive at the media launch. Instead most buyers are likely to be drawn to the 118bhp 1.0-litre three cylinder powerplant.
Refined, perky and suitably green, it suits the Stonic rather well:
0-60mph in 9.9 seconds
Combined economy 56.5mpg
Emissions – 115g/km CO2
The higher mileage business driver may well be drawn to the 1.6-litre diesel engine. It will prove to be more economical, but it lacks the petrol engine’s sparkle.
Do the sums before you commit:
0-60mph in 10.9 seconds
Combined economy 67.3mpg
Emissions – 109g/km CO2
All models come equipped with a slick six-speed manual gearbox and light clutch. Power is fed to the front wheels with no plans for all-wheel drive versions.
Out on the open road the Stonic feels safe and composed, if a little lacking in driving thrills. There is less body roll than in some rivals, the downside being a ride which can feel a little firm at lower urban speeds. I would prefer a little more suspension compliance.
A quick blast at motorway speeds proved to be a pleasant affair with wind and road noise both well muted.
Just two trim grades are available – ‘2’ and ‘First Edition’. Standard features include 17″ alloy wheels, air conditioning, automatic lights, Bluetooth connectivity and a powerful six speaker audio system.
‘First Edition’ models add two-tone paint with contrasting roof colour, keyless entry, automatic air conditioning, heated front seats, smarter cloth and faux leather upholstery, satellite navigation and a dual-height luggage floor.
Prices start at £16,295 for a 1.4-litre ‘2’, rising to £20,495 for a diesel-powered ‘First Edition.’
As most private buyers opt for a Personal Contract Plan (PCP), Kia has some opening deals that start at just £179 per month. The APR is a reasonable 4.3%, but a hefty deposit will be required (from £4,764). Your local dealer will tell you more.
Kia offer a class-leading seven-year warranty on all its models so those looking at long term ownership will be reassured.
The Stonic is well equipped to succeed and whilst lacking some of the character of more extrovert rivals, its strengths lie deeper. Decent to drive, well equipped and beautifully made, a 1.0-litre ‘2’ grade Stonic should suit most and would be my pick of the range.