THE only way most car salesmen are going to feel happy at the moment is with a big dose of pills from the doctor.
After the gloomy news about 2017 car sales, which saw the most significant market shrinkage since 2009, few people had much to feel happy about.
But one of the brands that outshone the market was Kia, which enjoyed a 4.31 per cent growth in a market that declined by 5.6 per cent.
Even better for Kia sales teams, the only market segment to grow during 2017 was SUVs, an area where the brand is strong.
Kia has started 2018 with a special SUV promotion until the end of January, giving buyers the first three services free, saving around £199.
To most people, SUV means some big Chelsea tractor-type off-roader but these days it is also applied to smaller family cars that are bigger than the models they are based on, possibly from going for too many of the drive-through takeaways that have made the family expand enough to need the bigger car.
Stonic is what’s known as a B-SUV and it’s sales of these smaller SUVs that are really driving the market rather than the full-fat stuff like Kia’s Sorento.
It’s reckoned that the market for them will be around 2.2 million units by 2020, double the amount in 2016 so it’s an important playing field to be on. But the opposition is tough, with Ford just launching its new EcoSport that really looks like an SUV and bringing in its Fiesta Active later this year.
Citroen has also launched the C3 Aircross with optional Grip Control and that’s also going to be a formidable opponent (we know, because we are using one right now).
Kia is pleased that the Stonic has just gained five stars in the EuroNCAP tests but for that it needs the optional Advanced Driving Assistance Pack at £350 more than the base car or it only scores a mediocre three stars. It seems to even think of it as an option – we say higher safety standards should not be an option.
Stonic, based on the Kia Rio, was designed in Europe with input from engineers in South Korea, and Kia anticipates it will sell 10,000 to 15,000 of the cars in the UK in a full year.
That’s an ambitious target but, as it points out, its larger Sportage mid-size SUV has been a runaway success since its relaunch in 2010. The extra space in the Stonic is a real bonus. Kids always want more room and there’s plenty of that across the back while the boot is also big enough to swallow lots of gear.
There is a spare wheel well under the floor but it was empty on the test car apart from the tyre inflator kit stowed in the middle. The space on either side could be useful “secret” stowage or just a hideaway for dirty boots or dog towels.
There are five Stonic models with a choice of two petrol engines or a diesel. With petrol now favoured by private buyers, it’s the one most people will want to know about so we chose the three cylinder Stonic 2 1.0 T-GDi six speed manual.
GDi means gasoline direct injection, the most efficient current way to run a purely petrol car. This engine produces 118 bhp, a 20 per cent improvement over the 1.4 litre petrol alternative and 10 per cent more than the 108 bhp 1.6 litre diesel.
It’s pleasant-enough to use, a willing worker that doesn’t run out of puff on hills or leave much more CO2 trace in the atmosphere at 115 g/km that the 109 g/km of the diesel.
A rise in CO2 in the air we breathe is one of the penalties of the panic switch away from diesel but, to be honest, there was little point in most people buying a diesel in a low mileage small car anyway.
On a long run, the Stonic could manage 44.4 mpg, with around 38 mpg on shorter urban work. That’s about the same as our own seven seat 180 bhp Ford Galaxy auto, a clear demonstration that in big cars diesel is essential.
But the Stonic is fine for those doing around 10,000 miles a year or less. It’s comfortable, too, with good head and shoulder space although rear knee room is in short supply behind tall drivers.
Kia is running an SUV special offer on its SUVs, including the Stonic, until the end of January.
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Kia Stonic 2 1.0 T-GDi
Does it fit your ego…
0-62 mph: 9.9 secs
Top speed: 115 mph
Bhp: 118 @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 126 lb ft @ 1500 – 4000 rpm
…and your wallet…
Combined: 56.5 mpg CO2 emissions: 115 g/km
Best bits: space for expanding families