Kia has entered the market for small Juke-style compact Crossover SUVs with this model, the Stonic. It showcases the brand's fresh, more charismatic styling approach and offers buyers a highly personalisable choice in this growing segment.
As expected, the Stonic shares the engine line-up used in Kia's Rio supermini. That means a range of lightweight, downsized, turbocharged petrol and diesel powerplants, each paired with a manual transmission. Buyers have the choice of the brand's lightweight 118bhp 1.0-litre T-GDI turbo petrol unit, as well as the older-tech but cheaper 98bhp 1.4-litre naturally-aspirated MPI petrol engine. An efficient 108bhp 1.6-litre CRDi diesel engine completes the range, offering the lowest emissions in the line-up.
The car's European-tuned steering and suspension are designed to offer the kind of fun responses buyers are now expecting from small SUVs these days. The stiff bodyshell should help here, this having allowed the development team to introduce a more compliant suspension system. A carefully calibrated power steering system should provide decent feel through the helm too. The standard 'VSM' 'Vehicle Stability Management; system includes 'Torque Vectoring; and 'Cornering Brake Control; to help you get the power down through the corners. All models are front-driven: there's not much appetite in this segment for 4WD.
This is one of the most strikingly Kia models we've seen to date, though the shape incorporates several of the brand's key recognisable signature design elements, such as the 'tiger-nose' grille. Styled in Europe, in collaboration with Kia's Korean design studio, the body aims to blend sharp horizontal feature lines with softer sculpted surfaces. The brand knows that individuality is important to many customers in the B-SUV segment and the Stonic's 'Targa'-style roof enables buyers to choose a two-tone paint finish. The idea has been to distance this Crossover from the Rio hatchback on which it's based. Hence also the sharp creases and kinks near the door sills and the way that the window line kinks upwards too. Rugged-looking black plastic cladding runs in a ring around the bottom edge of the car and around the wheel arches, plus there are brushed metal skid plates front and rear.
Inside, it's all much more Rio-like. The fascia is basically the same as is the switchgear, though Kia has tried to disguise this with a range of customisable colour schemes. Plusher variants get a seven-inch infotainment touchscreen. Space inside is slightly better than you'd expect from a car of this class, with decent leg and headroom, plus class-leading shoulder room. In the back, a two-step floor allows owners to expand or shrink the 352-litre boot to suit their needs.
Kia may be a late entrant in the B-SUV segment but it's produced an impressively complete contender here. Change the perception you might have of this brand as being somewhat dull and characterless. Products like the Stinger are changing that and this Stonic model is further evidence that Kia is mastering the art of producing desirable, yet affordable cars.
Which is just as well because buyers in the small Crossover class want charisma and individuality, attributes delivered in surprising measure here. If you're buying in this class, this contender is another that really ought to be on our list.Click here to find out more about our Kia Stonic range
Hyundai fills a conspicuous gap in its model range with this Kona, a little SUV aimed at the many supermini-based models now populating the smaller part of the quickly-growing Crossover segment. It's more extrovertly styled than you might expect a Hyundai to be and ticks all the right boxes in terms of safety and media connectivity.
Kona buyers initially get a choice between two petrol engines. The entry-level 1.0-litre T-GDI three-cylinder turbo is borrowed from the i30 and puts out 120PS and 175Nm of torque. It's manual only, using a six-speed box, and drives through its front wheels only. The other unit on offer is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder variant with 175PSbhp, available only with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto box and four-wheel drive. This top petrol model can make 62mph from rest in just 7.9 seconds on the way to 127mph flat out. For the 1.0 T-GDI, the figures are 12.0s and 112mph.
Small Crossovers in this class need to be able to offer fun, agile handling, something Hyundai says is delivered in the Kona thanks in large part to an advanced multilink rear suspension system - though this is only fitted to the 1.6-litre petrol model. Lesser-powered versions get the kind of cheaper torsion beam rear set-up that features on less advanced rivals. There's also an 'Advanced Traction Cornering Control' package to improve traction and damping in bends.
Aware that it was late launching a model into the smallest sector of the SUV segment, Hyundai felt the need to make a bold statement with the design of this car. Hence the aggressive body styling with its two-tone roof, unusual twin headlamps and distinctive 'Cascading' front grille. Short rear overhangs and a low roofline add to the purposeful silhouette, plus contrasting exterior accents and standard-fit roof bars inject a bit of all-important SUV flavour.
Inside, there's a cabin you can colour co-ordinate in a choice of different shades and lots of the switchgear is borrowed from the company's i30 family hatch. Plusher models get a floating 8-inch screen at the top of the dash. Lesser models get a 7-inch set-up. Either way, the infotainment package is compatible with the 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' systems. A head-up display is being offered for the first time in a Hyundai and audiophiles can opt for a thumping Krell stereo system. As for practicalities, well the Kona is a little longer than a rival Nissan Juke, something that really tells in terms of back seat space. Plus, there's a 361-litre boot that you can extend in size to 1,143-litres when the 60:40 split-folding rear backrest is flattened.
With the Kona, Hyundai has clearly benchmarked what buyers want in this class, then ruthlessly set about providing it. Aggressive styling: tick. Trendy media connectivity: tick. Class-competitive safety: tick. Potential for fun handling: tick. It's hard to argue with the finished result. Surprise, surprise, it ticks a lot of boxes.
You can't always create a great product through this kind of process. We'd argue, for example, that the class-leading Nissan Juke has an extra dash of emotive spirit that doesn't come from working through a spread sheet. If you don't care about that though, the Kona makes a strong case for itself. We think it's a car the segment will like.Click here to find out more about our Hyundai Kona range
The Ford EcoSport uses tried and tested Fiesta mechanicals to offer buyers a small SUV with added ride height and chunky good looks. Now it's got a more efficient 1.5-litre EcoBlue diesel engine, sleeker styling and a much classier interior with more sophisticated infotainment technology. In short, it's a far better product all-round.
The EcoSport now gets a choice of five engines, three petrol units and two diesels. Petrol-wise, Ford's award-winning 1.0 EcoBoost three-cylinder engine is available in 100, 125 and 140PS guises. The 125PS petrol variant can be ordered with the option of auto transmission. If you want a diesel, there's the choice of a 100PS 1.5 TDCi unit and front wheel drive or Ford's latest 1.5-litre 125PS EcoBlue powerplant mated either to front wheel drive or to the brand's 'Intelligent All Wheel Drive' system.
Intelligent All Wheel Drive measures how the car's wheels are gripping the road surface and can adjust torque delivery up to 50/50 between the front and rear wheels in under 20 milliseconds - twenty times quicker than it takes to blink. The system seamlessly transitions torque between all four wheels and provides a more secure footing on the road especially in slippery conditions.
We've yet to try the new EcoSport but Ford says that this model has been developed to deliver ride and handling tuned specifically for customers in Europe, with optimised springs, dampers, spring aids, steering gear, Electronic Stability Programme settings and steering assistance profiles.
The EcoSport's styling has been brought more into line with the look of Ford's larger SUVs, the Kuga and the Edge. A more sculpted bonnet with a central bulge delivers a cleaner front-end appearance and the front-end design is now dominated by a smarter trapezoidal grille design and distinctive angular headlights that incorporate LED daytime running lights. Angular fog light housings complete a front three quarter profile that was apparently inspired by the straps of a rucksack and was designed to reflect an adventurous character. The EcoSport's rear bumper and tail light designs have also been revised to deliver a cleaner, more sculpted appearance. Customers can continue to choose a boot-mounted spare wheel option.
Inside, there are easier to use controls and soft-touch materials, plus a new centre console featuring fewer buttons. New seats designs improve long distance comfort and there's an optional adjustable interior lighting system that can be set to one of seven colours. Smart stowage solutions include a new height adjustable boot floor that can be raised to provide concealed storage or lowered to increase luggage capacity to 334 litres. That new centre console features a built-in folding, sliding passenger armrest with a storage compartment ideal for tablet computers or snacks. That side-hinged tailgate still accesses a load space that Ford reckons is big enough to swallow a 560-litre washing machine - once the 60/40 split rear seats are folded, that is.
In this guise, the Ford EcoSport seems to be a much more promising prospect. It looks a more serious product - and is - in almost every respect. Plus, as before, it's practical and decently equipped. Ride and refinement are now very good by class standards too - and the SYNC 3 connectivity system is brilliant.
All these reasons will combine with the small SUV segment's current popularity to ensure that Ford will probably sell as many of these as they can import. My daughter, for example, would love one. It is, as ever, a case of giving the market what it wants.Click here to find out more about our Ford EcoSport range