Given the limitations of many in the class, the Kia actually can hold its head high, says Declan Colley.
THE small SUV market has, in my years doing this gig, gone from being a seriously underwhelming genre — think early Suzuki Vitara — to being one bursting at the seams with contenders, but not necessarily one which is home to a lot of class contenders.
The Suzuki, radical and all as it was at the time with its robust off-roader looks, was still largely a normal machine, what with a simple two-wheel-drive system and no differential trickery. Indeed, there was very little mechanically different between it and, say, a Toyota Starlet.
But the small Japanese company had come up with something of a new formula and while the off-roader chops and simple mechanics made it something of a hit in its own right, the broad idea of a small SUV-type car did not really find wholehearted mainstream support from other, bigger manufacturers.
That was, of course, until we were hit some years ago by a tsunami of small cross-over SUVs which — like the Vitara — looked like an off-roader but, in reality, would never get further off road than a SuperValu car park.
Nowadays, of course, with the likes of the Renault Captur, the Nissan Juke, Skoda Karoq, VW T-Roc, Seat Arona, Ford EcoSport, and others — including the venerable Suzuki — trying to muscle in on the quest for customers, the choice for buyers in this segment is fast becoming head-wrecking. The cross-breeding frenzy into the crossover market is getting a bit overwhelming.
There is some argument to be made here that this whole movement is no more than a fashion thing and that punters’ tastes — manipulated by the manufacturers, naturally, as is the case with practically every mass-marketed thing on the go at any given time — will eventually tire of and move on from this type of design.
Given the increasing popularity of these things, however, you would have to suspect that the car makers of the world have not yet dried up all the possibilities of the SUV — be they small, medium, or large. Perish the thought: We might never see the end of these things. And it is all Suzuki’s fault.
For now, though, the small SUV is firmly in the cross-hairs of any buyer who needs something that is very funky to look at and bursting with equipment and also a car which is easy to get in and out of, will accommodate a week’s shopping, cope with a couple of kids, and maybe a pencil golf bag or two.
The Koreans are the latest to enter the small SUV fray, with Hyundai making the Kona and sister company Kia producing the Stonic — and, no, that’s not an electronic hedgehog.
It is the latter we test this week and as things go it is not a bad contender at all, even given the increasing levels of competition in the segment. The Kia has several things going for it: Price, equipment specification, decent enough engines, and, of course, Kia’s seven-year warranty. These are very important selling points.
That the car is light on driving dynamics and is neither a joyous nor particularly engaging thing to drive and live with, it is nevertheless terribly competent, no matter what tasks you put to it.
It is a vehicle the company has high hopes for as it looks to build on global sales and market share. The name Stonic is reputed to be a mix of the words ‘speedy’ and ‘tonic’. Kia are looking at this car as part of a grand expansionist plan which it hopes to see coming to fruition over the next few years, alongside existing success stories such as the Cee’d or the Sportage.
Will the Stonic be the success story its manufacturers want? Well, it certainly has all the necessary elements in place to achieve that aim. It is smart-looking — handsome, even — has a selection of petrol and diesel engines (which the bias, understandably in the times in which we live, is in favour of petrol powerplants) and is generously kitted out even from the cost-effective baseline model.
AROUND town the Stonic is a handy and effective tool. Large enough to accommodate most families’ second car needs or every single one of the needs of younger, more adventurous types, it drives well, is small enough to cope with almost any parking space, and yet practical enough to meet people’s needs across several generational divides.
That said, the Stonic is tight enough inside; two large adults will rub shoulders in the front, while two large adults is all you’ll get in the back — you won’t squeeze a fifth in. Leg room in the back is tight too and the boot is, how shall we say... tidy. Indeed the boot is about the same size as the class average, but that does not say much about the class.
Equipping levels are good, though, and stuff like the standard 7” touchscreen incorporating satnav and infotainment are pretty intuitive to use.
The car we tried was the K3 third-level specification model and there is a lot of good stuff on offer here for the money, including the aforementioned, as well as cruise control, steering mounted controls, electric windows, and lots more. Many of the interior plastics, however, are disappointingly tacky.
The K3 version also comes with the 1.4-litre 16V petrol engine which is allied to a six speed box and has some 100bhp on tap.
It is, in truth, an average performer — 12.6 seconds 0-100km/h, 172km/h top speed, 125 g/km (for a tax bill of €270 pa) and a claimed consumption average of 5.5 l/100km (51mpg), although it won’t come anywhere near that if you’ve a heavy right boot. Ironically the turbocharged one-litre petrol engine is more powerful and less thirsty, but more expensive.
On the road the car is again average, and the ride and handling, while fine for the needs of most drivers, will disappoint anyone looking for a thrill. Based on the Rio platform, which is no bad thing, the Stonic is nevertheless limited in what it can deliver in terms of driver enjoyment, but as the bar in this class is very low in terms of on-road engagement, the Stonic actually drives better than many.
As a sort of ‘mini-me’ to Kia’s hugely popular Sportage, the Stonic will easily find a happy home in many a driveway and it does bear favourable comparison with many competitors — especially on price.
And, given the limitations of many in the class, the Kia actually can hold its head high among this crowd.
The price: From €18,599 to €22,599 as tested.
The engine: We tested the 1.4 petrol, but think the pricier 1.0 turbo would be better for the job.
The specification: Pretty impressive, all told.
The overall verdict: Not brilliant, but pretty good by class standards.
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