Kia thinks smaller

with new SUV

Kia Stonic, front action
Kia Stonic, front static
Kia Stonic, rear action
Kia Stonic, front static 2
Kia Stonic, side action
Kia Stonic, boot 2
Kia Stonic, rear seats
Kia Stonic, dashboard
Kia Stonic, boot 1
Kia Stonic, yellow front static
Kia Stonic, yellow side action
Kia Stonic, yellow rear static

NOBODY needs a watch the size of a coffee cup's saucer or a handbag you'd have trouble checking in as Ryanair cabin baggage, but lots of people want both of them - although probably not the same people.

And nobody really needs a smallish car that looks as though it could wade streams and shrug off life in the depth of a forest, even if it would drown with the first challenge and pine for its mummy on the other.

No, people want a small SUV because they think it looks good. Not for them the dull practicality of a mere hatchback; not when they want to be seen as adventurous types who stand out from the crowd.

And just at the moment the world can't make enough small SUVs. Sales in Europe alone are expected to double to more than two million annually in the four years leading to 2020. And these are cars with buyers driven by desire, not bargain hunters desperate for a discount.

It means they'll happily pay a premium for the car of their dreams. And that makes the car manufacturers anxious to provide them with something to buy.

Enter the Kia Stonic, the South Korean car maker's first entry to the small SUV segment and a new baby sibling to the firm's biggest seller by far in the UK, the Sportage. The name is a mix of ‘speedy' and ‘tonic', if you were wondering.

Based on the new Rio small hatchback and built alongside it in Korea, the is offered in a smaller number of versions and aimed at buyers with a bit more to spend - there's a premium of around £2,000 if you choose Stonic over Rio.

For the extra cash you'll have a car that is a bit longer and wider than the Rio (now 4,140mm and 1,760mm respectively) but, crucially, 70mm taller and with a bit more ground clearance thrown in too. It means a car that fills its little-SUV role with style, even if there is no 4x4 version because hardly anyone would buy it.

Instead, there's a car that gives a buyer the chance to personalise their purchase with two-tone paint, picking out roof, door mirror casings and spoiler in contrasting colours, and choice of a pair of trim levels.

You will also find a dashboard that borrows heavily from the Rio, so it's crisply finished, logically set out and very easy to read but a bit dull and black. The top version is lightened a little by splashes of add-on colour, but the interior remains more practical (and reasonably roomy front and rear and in the boot) than inspiring.

Kicking off the Stonic range is the £16,295 car in ‘2' grade with a 1.4 litre 98bhp petrol engine. It will reach 107mph, hit 62mph in 12.2 seconds and travel 51.4 miles on a gallon in the official test, while putting out 125g/km of CO2 in the process.

It is expected to be a modest seller, despite a kit count that includes 17ins alloy wheels, air conditioning, all-round electric windows, Bluetooth with voice recognition, rear parking sensors and a six-speaker sound system with steering wheel mounted controls.

First Edition Stonics, from £19,695, add two-tone paint with a contrasting roof, smart key entry, auto air con, heated front seats and steering wheel and splashes of chrome on window trim and door handles.

Next engine up is a three-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit with 118bhp and a 115mph top speed and 9.9 seconds to 62mph time, backed up with 56.5mpg and 115g/km in the official tests.

It costs £16,995 and the £700 premium over the entry-level car makes it look the bargain of the bunch.

Out on a varied route it delighted with sharp steering and a well controlled ride once out of town, where it turns a bit too firm, to produce a car that made you want to keep on driving, enjoying a snick-snick gear change along the way. A dash readout of 45.2mpg cemented the impression of a car that punches above its weight.

For another £800 you can move to a 1.6 litre 108bhp diesel, offering 112mph/10.9 seconds and 67.3mpg and 109g/km. Driving the same test route saw 53.9mpg at journey's end - an expected economy boost from the diesel power unit but in a car that felt heavier and much less inclined to enjoy itself.

In either car you can tell the Stonic, designed mostly in Europe, was also honed on roads the same part of the world and for drivers who value driving enjoyment a bit more highly than soggy-springed comfort. And quite right too.

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