Kia could hardly have timed its entry into the European B-SUV market better. The sector is the fastest-growing in the continent, and sales in the 31 countries covered by Kia Motors Europe are expected to double to 2.2 million a year by 2020, based on 2016 figures.
By the end of this decade the B-SUV market will have overtaken that for larger C-SUVs such as the Kia Sportage, and will account for 10.3 per cent of all European sales. It is a sector dominated by mainstream manufacturers: currently only two premium brands – Audi and Mini – contest it.
In the UK, Kia expects to sell almost 10,000 Stonics in the car's first full year – but given the phenomenal success of the Sportage, which is by far the company's best-seller in Britain, regularly accounting for more than 30 per cent of monthly sales, that could be an underestimation. Predictions are that Stonic will be Kia's third most popular model in the UK after the Sportage and Rio.
B-SUVs are the 'new cool', attracting buyers from the supermini, small MPV and three-door compact hatchback sectors. But Stonic will not simply cannibalise sales from other Kia models. Rather, it will attract customers from other brands to continue Kia's inexorable upwards momentum.
In 2016 Kia's performance across Europe was almost double the five per cent increase in the overall market, giving the company a three per cent share for the first time. In the UK, 2016 growth was even better – 13.8 per cent compared with just two per cent overall, ensuring that Kia ended with a 3.4 per cent market share.
B-SUV sales in the UK have risen by 50 per cent in the past three years and are expected to increase by another 40 per cent by 2021.
Stonic will initially be sold in the UK in five versions based on three engines and two trim lines, but the line-up could be expanded once the car is established: additional and revised powertrains will become available during 2018, and Kia Motors UK will have the option of taking them.
All versions are front-wheel drive. Four-wheel-drive models account for only eight per cent of B-SUV sales in Europe and is not an option on the Stonic. The UK, France and Italy are forecast to be the most important markets, with sales in the UK split 65:35 between petrol and diesel.