Stating the obvious with KIA's new Stonic crossover
Smooth operator but lacks a certain sparkle
Some people have a wonderful grasp of the obvious. I admire them. When asked a question, be it in private or on the airwaves, they cogently reply in such a manner that I'm left in tongue-tied admiration over their ability to summarise the essence of whatever is being discussed.
A bit like the television programme Catchphrase, which is based on the premise of 'say what you see', it is amazing how often we overlook what's in front of us.
I learned that - yet again - when I took the KIA Stonic for test drives recently. Appropriately enough, perhaps, I'll state the obvious about it from the start - so long as you don't throw your eyes to heaven at the prospect of another new small SUV/crossover. The place is swarming with them and every week we hear of more and more being planned.
Obviously (forgive me for using that word more often than in a Wayne Rooney interview), there is absolutely huge demand.
I've outlined the reasons for that before so I'll not bore you further but there are key elements a small crossover must have: a distinct blend of SUV/coupe/estate/etc looks, higher driving position, smart-looking interior and loads of flexibility.
So how does the Stonic fare under each heading? It is by no means the most striking looking of the new wave. My test car being dressed in black didn't help its muted design, presence or visuality either. It's not dull but in the plethora of some rivals' radical designs it doesn't stand out to any great extent.
I'd describe it as one of the better examples of 'mild' crossover styling which gives it more the appearance of an estate on stilts than a muscular 'faux SUV'. This is such a critical area of choice for buyers. I see it as trailing the more exotic on looks but being a good option for some transiting from saloon or hatch or estate. It depends on what you want: flair and flares, or straightforward lines.
Despite those exterior subtleties, there was a lovely driving position; the seats are high enough to make it easy to access and exit but low enough to avert the necessity to climb up on board.
I was pleasantly surprised with the interior. It was a good deal roomier than I'd expected considering those modest-looking exterior dimensions.
You get a straightforward (obvious?) set of visuals from the dials and clusters and good adjustment on the driver's seat. But I definitely wanted more support for the back of my legs when driving; the seat bottoms felt a bit short. After a long day to-ing and fro-ing you notice things like that.
However, for me the biggest minus was low/poor capacity in the boot. Admittedly, there's a spare wheel and two 'levels' but as a family run-around or whatever, I'd certainly be looking for more. It is the obvious drawback. Car-makers face a choice in situations such as this. Give more rear-seat room and steal some space from the 'trunk' or do the opposite?
If you have growing children whingeing in the rear, who cares about the boot? And anyway, you can fold the rear seats if not occupied, thereby nullifying criticism of a shortage of capacity for the golf bags.
One thing in abundance within the cabin was head and elbow room. The brother and myself made something of an autumn tour of the midlands in it and felt quite comfortable all day (apart from my criticisms of seat-thigh support).
I was happy with the 1.4-litre petrol engine, too, which with a 6spd gearbox smoothly slipped over the kilometres. My consumption wasn't fantastic by any means - 6.9litres/100km - when you consider I was cruising at 100kmh/110kmh a lot of the time. I don't care what anyone says, we'll all miss our little diesels (there is a 1.6 in the line-up) when/if we've hounded them off the production lines.
If I were doing any sort of decent mileage in a car such as this, I would opt for the diesel. I don't, contrary to what some argue, believe it is dead by a long stretch. Not yet.
But if I was just tipping around - school, sports, golf, shopping etc - the petrol (there's a 1.2 as well) would make a lot more sense, I believe.
For all that one might describe as being 'obvious' about the Stonic, there is a real danger of taking its multi-faceted consistency for granted.
A bit like some Japanese cars people dismissed as boring, it was not until you drove something else that you realised how good the 'boring' was in the first place.
I'm not saying the Stonic is boring - it is too early in the current craze for small crossovers and SUVs for that kind of talk. But I am saying it is a much better car than might appear obvious on first acquaintance.
FACTS & FIGURES
KIA Stonic crossover/SUV, 1.4-litre petrol, 100PS, 125g/km, €270 tax.
Stonic prices: from €18,599 (1.2 petrol); 1.4 petrol (€21,099), 1.6 diesel (€23,099).
Standard spec (K1 trim) includes cruise control/speed limiter, 3.5ins instrument cluster, 7ins display screen, 15ins alloys, spare wheel, Bluetooth, rear USB charger.
K2 adds air con, 17ins alloys, rear parking sensor, auto lights, DLRS, front fogs, electric/folding mirrors, roof rack.
K3 (trim level on test car) adds: 7ins nav, DAB, advanced drive assistant technology (ADAS) two-tone faux leather, rear-view camera/fogs.
K4 adds: auto air con, rain sensor, blindspot detection.