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Kia holds tight for small SUV

Waiting game: The small to mid-size Niro SUV was another non-starter for Kia in Australia.

Recently spotted Stonic unlikely to fill gap in Kia Motors Australia’s line-up

Kia logo19 Apr 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON

KIA Motors Australia will be without a Mazda CX-3 rival in the burgeoning compact SUV segment for at least another two years, with the car-maker’s local arm opting to hold out for a proper small SUV to take on the big guns.

There has been some confusion around Kia’s entrant in the crossover segment, with spy shots of a camouflaged model undergoing cold weather testing surfacing in recent weeks believed to be the much-needed small SUV.

The new small SUV in the images – likely dubbed Stonic – is expected to be revealed this year before going on sale in Korea and Europe late this year or early in 2018.

According to Kia Motors Australia general manager of media and corporate communications Kevin Hepworth, the Stonic will almost certainly not make it Down Under, due to its expected powertrain offerings.

Instead KMAu will wait a little longer for another global SUV model that is yet to be christened, but will hit Australian shores in 2019.

“The drivetrains that will come with that (Stonic), or that we have heard that are available with that, are not really drivetrains that would be suitable in that vehicle in Australia,” he told journalists in Melbourne last week.

“There is another vehicle being developed which is a proper CX-3 competitor, and that’s the 2019 car.”

The drivetrains in the Stonic are likely to be small capacity petrol and diesel units to appeal to the European market, such as Kia’s new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine.

Mr Hepworth described the Stonic as a Compact Urban Vehicle (CUV), which means it is more likely to be a jacked-up hatchback, as opposed to a more traditional small SUV.

Very little is known about the unnamed compact SUV that will follow the Stonic, but it is believed to be a more obvious competitor for the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Mitsubishi ASX and Holden Trax.

It is also unclear if the 2019 compact SUV will be related to Hyundai’s upcoming Kona, which will be the company’s first crossover.

KMAu chief operating officer Damien Meredith admitted that the company was at a disadvantage by offering a model in the segment well after its rivals had established a presence with consumers.

“I think it’s always a problem when you come in late,” he said. “There’s no question about that, but you’ve just got to do the best you can with the product you’ve got. We’re probably coming late into a rear-wheel-drive performance vehicle, but ...

“If we get a small SUV within two years, three years, great.”

Kia has already had one false start with a compact SUV. The company’s Australian arm was hoping the Niro that was revealed at last year’s Chicago motor show would be its crossover saviour, but its size – it is only marginally smaller than the mid-size Sportage – and hybrid-only powertrain meant it was a non-starter Down Under.

Despite a number of new additions to the sub-$40,000 small SUV segment in 2016, sales dipped by 1.7 per cent over the 2015 tally.

It was led by the Mazda CX-3 with 18,334 units, followed by the Mitsubishi ASX (18,126) and then the Honda HR-V (12,403) and Nissan Qashqai (12,259).

So far this year the CX-3 is leading the charge with 4555 sales, a 0.6 per cent boost over the first three months of 2016. For the first quarter, the segment is running 6.7 per cent behind the same period last year.

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