Last week, I visited the Frankfurt auto show and two things really jumped out at me. Firstly, the world needs to get ready for an electric future - we're going in that direction. Secondly, the B-SUV segment is growing at an incredibly fast pace. At the car show, a rake of new B-SUV models was unveiled and launched. We saw the new KIA Stonic, the Citroen C3 Aircross, Hyundai were prepping to release the Kona, SEAT was showing off their wares with the Arona, Volkswagen are introducing the T-Roc, and Ford are talking about a new EcoSport.
This year, 1.1 million B-SUVs have been sold in Europe, and in Ireland we're doing our part. 41% of Kia's sales in Ireland during 2016 were SUV. It appears that Renault, Peugeot, Opel and Nissan are leading the B-SUV race with the Captur, the 2008, the Mokka and the Juke. They have certainly been capitalising on being early to this B-SUV market. But with this being a relatively new segment, there seems to be no brand loyalty, and the current leader's share could go anywhere with a raft of new models coming. The Kia Stonic, the VW T-Roc, the Arona, the C3 Aircross, etc., all want a part of this growing market and the next few years will be interesting to see who wins this current craze.
All of this brings me onto the real topic of this article. The brand-new KIA Stonic. I met it in Frankfurt last week, and over the last couple of days I've been enjoying it on the roads and in the surrounds of Berlin, Germany. Now, as names go, Stonic would not be my favourite. Perhaps it'll grow on me in the future, but for the moment, I'm not completely won-over by the title. However, this is probably the worst part of the car, because as an overall package, the Stonic certainly has itself together. This car will be a big contender in the small SUV market during 2018. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that KIA's estimate of selling 1,000 units over the next twelve months should be achieved. It's hard to sell 1,000 units of any individual model. Think about it. There are more than 260 different models in our market. We'll possibly sell 132,000 new cars by the end of 2017, and the biggest-selling car in the country at the moment is the Hyundai Tucson - which has just 4,819 registered since January 1st (figure correct as of September 1, 2017). So, selling 1,000 cars would probably be enough to put a model into the top-forty best selling cars in this country.
The secret to the success of the Stonic will be the reasonable price tags, which range between €18,599 and €24,599, and the fact that the Kia Stonic is a good car. Last week we viewed the Citroen C3 Aircross at its static launch in Dublin. On a personal level, I would probably say that the C3 Aircross is nicer looking than the Stonic. It's quirkier, and feels more robust. But, judging by Citroen's focus on comfort instead of drive, the Stonic is probably a better handler on the road (I’m yet to drive the C3 Aircross – which is why I’m using the term “probably”!).
To drive, the Stonic is good. This KIA is built using the Rio platform, but with some tweaks. For example, because of the bulkier body, the KIA Stonic is made stiffer by using very high tensile steel and 98 metres of bond adhesive. This, coupled with a retuned front suspension, new rear shocks and a new hydraulic rebound stopper, the body of the Stonic holds well and this results in good handling, a nice ride and a comfortable drive.
We brought the Stonic to one of the most fascinating test sites that I've ever been on. This was an old German, and then Soviet airfield called Flugplatz Werneuchen. At this location, various make-shift handling courses were put in place for us to check handling, turning, traction control, emergency brakes, reversing and more.
The tracks were fun, and it was gutsy for KIA to make them available to us. Courses like this can show warts and all from a car, but as we sped through the courses with our foot down revving second and sometimes third gear, this B-SUV handled itself neatly. Through the wet, the traction control systems kept us on course, and as we slid left to right through cones, the Stonic was as precise as it should be given the fact that it should not normally be driven in the way we were driving. But, given that the Stonic won't be driven like this in real life, and given that I got circa 100km under my belt over the last couple of days, the Stonic is surprisingly good on the road. It doesn't suffer hugely from body roll, it soaks up bumps easily, and it trots along without any difficulties. The steering can on occasion be a bit on the light side, but most buyers won’t necessarily notice this.
Powering this car is a line-up of familiar engines. All are available with the Rio and other cars from the KIA range. There is one diesel and three petrol choices on offer. Entry level cars come with the 1.25-litre petrol (85hp) engine. The diesel option is a 1.6-litre offering 110hp. The biggest seller for KIA will be a mid-trim level with a smooth 1.4-litre petrol (100hp) engine. However, the one to look out for is the 1.0-litre 3-cylinder 120hp engine. Be warned though, while this engine is the most fun, it can be noisy at idle and while under pressure - it's quiet while cruising.
The previously mentioned 1.4-litre petrol model will be the volume seller according KIA. This contrasts with the current market leader, the Renault Captur, of which just over 95% of those sold last year were diesel. We've seen a dramatic enough shift in the direction of petrol during 2017, with many manufacturers reporting growth to petrol sales. Take Citroen for example, they tell us that 75% of their C3 sales so far have been petrol - that's hugely different from previous year’s. Kia reckon that 76% of their Stonic sales will be petrol.
Higher trims will have plenty of Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) available. These systems include; Lane Keeping Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Emergency Brake, Blind Spot Monitoring (level K4 only), and more. This is all great. However, I think that all manufacturers should build safer cars and make all ADAS technology available as standard with all future cars. After all, consumers spend huge money on cars, and manufacturers should make all of them as safe as possible as a rule.
Each car will receive a 7" display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. The interior is available with four colour variations. There is good shoulder, leg and head room to the front. The plastics in row two are slightly cheaper to the touch, but I was happy to see a USB charge point in the rear. None of our test models had a central armrest in row two, and one of the front seats had a storage pocket to the back of it. Row two offers good enough legroom, but at just under six feet tall, I would prefer to sit in the front. Head room is excellent in row two, and while three adults could squeeze in there, try to keep it to just two!
The boot offers 352-litres of space and has a split-level floor. When the boot floor is at the highest level, the 60/40 split second-row seatbacks can lie flat. Every KIA Stonic will come with a spare wheel.
Outside, there are nice lines indented into the bonnet and the tiger-nose grille looks good. I'd prefer a more honey-comb effect on it though. There are nine body colours available and five roof colours. The crisp horizontal lines add a nice touch of style, as do the 17" alloys (15" also available).
The Irish arm of Kia has decided to simplify their trim levels by naming them K1, K2, K3 and K4. K1 being entry level and K4 being the top. K1, which starts from €18,599 includes cruise control, Bluetooth, a 7" screen, a front and rear USB charger, 15" alloys, and a spare wheel. K2 (from €21,099) adds items like LED daytime running lights, 17" alloys, rear parking sensors, and manual air conditioning. K3, which starts from €22,599, includes Advanced Driving Assistance Systems, heated front seats, 7" navigation and DAB radio, a rearview camera, and dual air-conditioning. The top level K4 (from €24,599) adds the 1.0-litre engine with 120hp, metal pedals, a smart key with Push Button Start and Blind Spot Detection. Kia Ireland reckons that the big sellers will be K2 and K3.
The new KIA Stonic will arrive in Ireland on October 27th and we reckon it’ll do very well for what is a growing brand in this country. The B-SUV and C-SUV segment will be very interesting to watch over the next 12 months as we watch buyers shift their attentions.