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Kia hoping for new small SUV ‘soon’

Not this one: Kia’s Stonic was rejected by the company’s Australian product planners because of its relatively basic powertrain choices that were not a good fit for Australia.

After rejecting Stonic, Kia Australia waits for another small SUV from 2019

22 Jan 2018

KIA Motors Australia (KMAu) has its eyes on a small SUV contender under development within its research and development department to take on the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX, Subaru XV and others “relatively soon”.

Probably sharing components with sister company Hyundai’s Kona small SUV, the new sub-Sportage vehicle could arrive as early as next year, not only in Australia but other markets hanging out for a relatively sophisticated Kia baby SUV.

If you ask KMAu product planning general manager Roland Rivero, the sooner the new model arrives, the better.

“We have to strike while the iron is hot, I guess, and that segment has taken off, and doing extremely well,” he said.

“A lot of our competitors are slowly but surely filling that gap because they see that opportunity.”

KMAu has already rejected the European-centric Kia Stonic for the role, mainly because its powertrain options are regarded as unsuitable for Australian buyers.

The main petrol engine in the Stonic is the 74kW/133Nm 1.4-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder that also does duty in the Rio small car in Australia.

KMAu regards this engine’s performance as borderline in the Rio – and is attempting to get Kia Motors to upgrade it – so it does not want to repeat the problem in the small SUV class.

The Australian Kia operation also knocked back the Kia Niro hybrid SUV, although that is not a small SUV, rather a medium vehicle.

Mr Rivero said Kia Europe had benchmarked the Ford EcoSport when designing the Stonic for Europe.

“Our market is probably more attuned to (Mazda) CX-3 or (Mitsubishi) ASX, with at least a 2.0-litre powertrain,” he said. “And that is not what’s on Stonic with its powertrain at this stage.”

While Mr Riverio said KMAu was still searching for a suitable product to fill the void, he indicated something was in the pipeline, adding: “We hope to fill that void relatively soon.”

Last year, sales in the small SUV segment grew 6.5 per cent, outpacing the overall industry’s growth of 0.9 per cent and making it one of the healthiest vehicle classes in the industry.

Hyundai’s new Kona small SUV – powered by a choice of 2.0-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder in front-wheel-drive variants and 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder with a dual-clutch transmission in all-wheel-drive variants – became the fifth best-selling vehicle in the class in December.

Sales of Kia’s current smallest SUV, the medium-sized Sportage, grew 23 per cent in 2017, while sales of the one-size-larger Sorrento jumped 12.4 per cent.

Kia is preparing to give the Sportage “a tweak” this year. This is expected to include the addition of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) across the range.

Mr Rivero said KMAu hoped to have more than 90 per cent of its line-up equipped with AEB by the end of this year, with only cars where price sensitivity is an issue remaining.

That is likely to mean that the Rio will remain without AEB for now, probably until the next major model change.

The smaller Picanto that was released in Australia in the first half of last year already has AEB across the line-up.

Kia is also working to upgrade safety equipment on its lower-specified Stinger variants after the rear-wheel-drive Stinger 200S and 330S received just three stars from independent safety watchdog Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) last year.

This is likely to involve adding AEB and other items such as lane support system on the 200S and 330S to bring them into line with high-end Stingers such as the Si, EX, GT Line, GT Sport and GT, all of which got five stars.

Five-star safety is seen as essential in the fleet industry which will be targeted by Kia with the Stinger once supply constraints relax.

Australia’s police forces are seen as a great opportunity for Stinger sales now that the locally built Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon have gone out of production.

Queensland in particular is warm to the idea of Stinger. It has several evaluation Stingers on its fleet and has told KMAu that the car’s brakes and other equipment do not need any special modification to meet its requirements.

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