Yeah, yeah, these things aren’t real 4x4s. We know. But that hasn’t stopped more than a million people buying them, nor has it stopped the Nissan Juke from wedging itself firmly in the top ten best-sellers list.

In fact, this is a market (dubbed B-segment SUV, if you’re interested) that’s expected to double in Europe to more than two million units by the time 2020 rolls around.

Numbers like that are pretty convincing, so it’s not surprising Kia’s Korean head honchos green-lighted a pitch from its European arm to put together a Juke rival of their own – although we hear the Koreans were sufficiently impressed with the result to roll the car out on sale there, too.

That car is the Kia Stonic – apparently a contraction of ‘speedy’ and ‘tonic’ – and although it’s based on the Rio hatchback, that’s no bad thing in our book.

the Stonic rocks a youthful look all of its own

Compared to the Rio the Stonic is 75mm taller and longer, 35mm wider, and has a 45mm increase in ground clearance. Although the two are clearly related, the Stonic rocks a youthful look all of its own, and if you opt for one of the ‘First Edition’ models, it’s a look that includes funky contrasting colours for the roof, door mirrors and rear spoiler.

That contrasting colour spills over into the interior, too, with highlights around the floor console and the 7-inch touch-screen. That’s home to a decent media and navigation system on the First Edition, and although the entry-level ‘2’ model loses the satnav, it gets to keep the screen as well as both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay so you can always use your phone’s built-in apps.

Just as we found with the Rio, cabin space feels generous, with an incredible range of adjustment in the driving position allowing even the lankiest of drivers (that’s me) to get comfortable.

Space for rear-seat passengers isn’t so great, though, although the boot is a little larger than the Rio’s at 352 litres, rising to 1,155 litres with the seats folded. First Edition models also benefit from a dual-level boot floor.

Overall, the Stonic is a cheerful place to spend time, with a chunky steering wheel that feels great in the hands, instruments that are a model of clarity, and just enough contrasting trim on the doors and seats to lighten things up nicely. We will, though, repeat a complaint we had with the Rio about the climate control’s red display being all but illegible in daylight.

Adding to the cheery feeling is Kia’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that warbles away to itself unobtrusively. Despite a modest-sounding 118hp it still manages to turn in a creditable 9.9 second 0-60mph time, and although speed demons will find it needs a few thousand on the clock before it achieves its best, at more modest speeds its torquey nature makes it easy to get along with.

There’s also a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol with 98hp, plus a 1.6-litre turbodiesel with 108hp. The 1.4 wasn’t available to test at launch, and although the 1.6 diesel ratcheted the Stonic along with a greater sense of urgency than the 1.0-litre unit – likely thanks to its 260Nm of torque – it sounded a little coarse by comparison, while the added weight (70kg or so) tended to take the edge off the otherwise decent ride.

All engines drive the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox, with ratios sensibly chosen to match each engine, plus a slick, satisfying shift action. A double-clutch auto may follow next year.

This segment isn’t known for over-burdening drivers with a sense of engagement, but the Stonic still manages to offer up an agile set of responses. Admittedly the steering – while beautifully light at parking speeds – doesn’t deliver much in the way of feedback, but does at least make up for it with a quick 2.52 turns lock-to-lock.

Which is just as well, because the little Kia corners surprisingly flatly, and it’s no stretch at all to call the Stonic fun.

In fact, we’d go as far as to say Kia have managed to give the Stonic something that’s often missing in this market: personality.

Kia have managed to give the Stonic something that’s often missing in this market: personality

It should prove reassuringly safe, too, with Autonomous Emergency Braking and Lane Departure Warning standard on First Edition and optional on the ‘2’, while the higher spec model goes on to add Driver Attention Warning, High Beam Assist, Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

Prices for the Stonic ‘2’ start at £16,295, while a petrol ‘First Edition’ can be yours for £19,695, both of which are covered under Kia’s 7-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

Amidst a sea of largely similar offerings, it’s surprising how much the new Stonic stands out: attractive design, a sense of individuality, and a well-judged set of road manners all combine with the sense of rugged practicality that has drawn people to this segment in their millions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, we suspect Kia might have a hit on their hands.

Tester’s Notes

  • Three-cylinder petrol the pick of the bunch; warbles away characterfully to itself, never feels harsh
  • Diesel feels more urgent, but is louder and extra weight seems to dull the responses
  • Slick shift-action from six-speed manual transmission
  • Corners flatly, rides well albeit with a sporty edge.
  • Not much steering feel, but beautifully light at parking speeds
  • Generous cabin space for all but those in the back; cargo space up slightly over the Rio
  • Instruments are wonderfully clear, but climate control’s red display all but illegible
  • A compact SUV with a personality all of its own
Entry-level Price £16,295 Price as tested £20,240
Engine 998cc 3-cyl petrol Transmission 6-speed manual
Power 118ps @ 6,000rpm Torque 171Nm @ 1,500-4,000rpm
0-60 9.9 secs Top speed 115 mph
Economy 56.5 mpg CO2 115 g/km
Dimensions 4140 x 1760 x 1520 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1185 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.