WITH the compact SUV market booming Kia is hoping to cash in on the ever-growing trend with the introduction of a brand new model called the Stonic.
Priced from Â£16,295 to Â£20,495 the Stonic is available in two high-end trim levels called ‘2' and ‘First Edition' and there's a choice of three powertrains.
The five-door hatchback crossover is based on the latest Rio and is built on the same production line in South Korea - but it offers additional space for those wanting to step up a notch.
The Stonic is slightly longer, taller and boasts higher ground clearance than the Rio and, as is tradition with Kia, all cars are richly equipped so there are no additional costs to catch customers out.
The Stonic has a muscular design with broad shoulders and sharp lines to accentuate its width.
There is a sporty lower intake grille, short front and rear overhangs along with 17-inch alloys, roof rails, sleek headlight clusters with LED daytime running lights and plenty more eye-catching design cues.
First Edition models up the ante with the introduction of two-tone paintwork with the roof, mirror casings and rear spoiler in either lime green, red or orange depending on the main bodywork colour.
Move inside the Stonic and there is a wealth of techno treats to explore, including a seven-inch display with DAB and MP3 compatibility in grade ‘2' which is upgraded to a touchscreen navigation and infotainment system on First Edition models.
All cars feature excellent connectivity capabilities via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay which is standard across the range.
Other creature comforts that can be found on all models are air conditioning, all-round electric windows, rear parking sensors, remote locking, electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors, Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming, automatic headlights, 60:40 split-folding rear seats and a six-speaker sound system.
First Edition cars have a smart key entry system and engine start/stop button, stainless steel pedals, black cloth and grey faux leather upholstery with colour accents, automatic air conditioning, LED rear lights, privacy glass, heated front seats, a D-shaped steering wheel, additional chrome window trim and a duel height luggage floor.
When it comes to storage, the Stonic has all bases covered with a boot capacity that ranges from 352 to 1,115 litres with the rear seats dropped flat. Elsewhere there are cup holders, a good-sized glovebox, overhead sunglasses holder, a convenient tray in front of the gear stick, and door pockets that can accommodate a water bottle.
Safety systems are comprehensive too with electronic stability programme, vehicle stability management and hill-start assist.
Autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning are standard on the First Edition cars and offered as an option on ‘2' models - the price of which will be confirmed next month.
This system is linked to a driver fatigue warning function along with high beam assist. The range-topping cars also feature blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert.
Although the Stonic has not yet been awarded a Euro NCAP safety rating, Kia is aiming for a maximum five stars, especially on models with all the extra kit.
The Stonic line up features three engines. There is a 1.4-litre 98bhp petrol, a 1.0-litre 118bhp three-cylinder petrol or a 1.6-litre 108bhp diesel option.
All models are front-wheel-drive as the take up in the segment for all-wheel drive cars is particularly low at just eight per cent.
At present, the Stonic is equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox, but a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission will be made available next year.
We tried a selection of models starting with the 1.6 diesel-powered Stonic in ‘2' grade.
This car could reach 60mph from a standing start in 10.9 seconds and maxed out at 112mph.
It can deliver combined fuel efficiency of 67.3mpg with carbon emissions of 109g/km. Official prices are yet to be signed off, but this particular vehicle is in the middle of the pricing range, so around the £18,000 mark.
First impressions are vital these days and the Stonic doesn't disappoint with its modern, stylish and funky good looks. The interior is spacious, clutter-free and all controls and readouts are ideally positioned for driver-usability.
The diesel powertrain delivered all the gusto required from a compact SUV and cruised effortlessly alongside the faster-moving traffic on the German autobahns where speed limits are virtually non-existent.
The gearbox is slick and there is a constant supply of power on tap to make light work of overtaking.
The driver benefits from excellent all-round visibility and there is ample room for a couple of adults to stretch out in the back seats with good leg, head and elbow space.
Next up was the 1.0-litre three-pot model again in trim level ‘2' which Kia believes will be the biggest seller. And after a few minutes behind the wheel it's easy to see why.
It's a little fire-cracker of a car that's bursting with life and whizzes through the gears as it zips along at speeds of up to 115mph.
It can accelerate to 60mph in 9.9 seconds (it feels faster) and has combined fuel economy of 56.5mpg with CO2 emissions of 115g/km.
I particularly liked the car's exciting character and the raspy engine note was also a plus factor. The road holding was confident and assured and it is a car that can be pushed enthusiastically into tight bends.
Kia has worked hard on improving the suspension set-up on the Stonic and it is very noticeable as it makes light work of bumpy road surfaces.
We had a short run in the 1.4-petrol model which is only expected to account for about eight per cent of sales and although we had no complaints, it certainly wasn't as exciting to drive as the 1.0-litre car or as efficient fuel-wise as the diesel variant.
Kia enjoys huge success in the UK making it the biggest market in Europe.
In fact, the UK has the fifth biggest sales figures globally behind China, the US, Russia and Korea.
So it makes absolute sense that the company has high hopes that the all-new Stonic will be a huge success and offer stiff competition to the likes of the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur.