THE high numbers convey a straightforward message – we can’t get enough of small SUVs.
If sales of more than a million a year of these compact crackers across Europe isn’t sufficiently impressive, well how about doubling the figure by 2020.
That’s the forecast, 2.2 million, and everyone it seems is getting in on the act.
And as the scene becomes more crowded the competition intensifies, to the point that if your newcomer isn’t smart, top quality, exciting and value for money then the prospect of failure looms large.
Latest to join the race is Korean car maker Kia, a company that traditionally thinks long and hard before entering new areas of the market – then strikes like a cobra.
Its new Kia Stonic is the brand’s first entry into what’s known as the B-SUV segment and is aimed at motorists looking for compact dimensions and efficient engines combined with flexible space and some serious road presence.
Let’s make something clear from the outset, the Stonic is a looker – it has style, shape and is pretty low slung for an SUV.
Depending on which variant you go for, it can be made to stand out even more, and with prices starting from £16,295 it’s competitive too.
Based on the platform of the latest Rio supermini, Stonic is available in a five-model line-up based on grade ‘2’ and First Edition trim levels.
It was originally designed purely as a car for the UK and European market, but such was the reception it generated when shown in Korea that it will also be sold there as well.
A trio of engines are up for grabs in the shape of a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol delivering 118bhp, a normally aspirated 1.4 petrol unit with 98bhp and the 108bhp 1.6 turbodiesel from the brand’s cee’d range. All are front wheel drive, have six-speed manual transmissions and include stop/start.
First Edition models, which really look the part thanks to their two-tone paintwork, are only available with the 1.0 and 1.6 powerplants.
The roof, wing mirror caps and rear spoiler are coloured either black, lime green, red or orange, depending on the main body colour and there are also cabin colour accents on the seats, lower console and display screen.
The ‘2’ grade versions, which start with the 1.4-litre petrol model at £16,295 rising to £18,145 for the 1.6 diesel, are likely to prove the more popular, in particular the ones powered by Kia’s ‘little jewel’ the 1.0 T-GDi.
At £16,995 it costs £700 more than the entry grade Stonic but is faster and more efficient.
This was the first model we put through its paces during a launch exercise based at the southern tip of the Cotswolds and taking in scenic routes close to the famous racehorse training grounds of Wantage and Lambourn.
The Stonic 1.0 ‘2’ model is a real treat of a car to drive and the further you go the more you come to enjoy the turbo petrol engine.
Inside, the dash and fascia isn’t as flowing and easy on the eye as some rivals but it’s all very well put together, the switches are accessible and the quality is premium.
Space is excellent up front and adequate in the back, though things can be tight for a centre rear passenger, and the split level boot is accommodating.
Performance figures of 0-62 in 9.9 seconds with a 115mph top speed speak for themselves and the only time this engine felt in any way challenged was when meeting a steep incline.
Our average fuel return was 45.1 miles per gallon, compared to the official Combined figure of 56.5.
Switching to the 1.6 diesel First Edition, the range-topper at £20,495, brought more torque and another smooth driving experience, though the fuel return was actually only 2.6mpg better than the petrol model.
It’s true though that you feel like you are aboard a more stand-out vehicle in a First Edition, which looks more ritzy and is better equipped with the likes of sat-nav, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and blind spot detection.
But then every car comes well equipped to include extensive safety and connectivity features, including a seven-inch screen, DAB radio plus links to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
There’s also Kia’s seven-year/100,00-mile transferable warranty – and that’s as solid an indication of reliability as you can get.
Back in the mid 1960s Betty Everett sang about things Getting Mighty Crowded. That’s the case on the compact SUV/crossover scene but in the Stonic, Kia certainly has a model that won’t get lost.