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Opinion: why small SUVs are key for upstart brands

Autocar Tuesday, 20 June 2017
The new Kia Stonic gives the firm an opportunity to prove itself in a new market segment

The small SUV segment is exploding in popularity - and new models are finally showing some signs of creativity

By 2020, there’ll be two million small supermini-sized SUVs sold in Europe each year. Last year, it was one million. There are 19 such cars on sale, and another 10 coming by 2021. Spot the trend?

*Kia Stonic officially revealed: news, pictures and video*

While popular, the segment has yet to throw up anything interesting to drive, nor anything that interesting to look at since the Nissan Juke, which invented the segment. The Skoda Yeti has come closest to combining the two, but that’s been replaced by the Karoq, which is hardly a beacon of creativity.

*Opinion: why the Skoda Karoq has an identity problem*

While the small SUV awaits its Ford Fiesta moment (think fine everyman dynamics, and a look that refuses to date), there are at last signs of some quirkier, more individual designs by car makers.

They might be polarising, but the likes of the Hyundai Kona, Kia Stonic, which has been revealed today, and the Citroen C3 Aircross all show progress away from making a small SUV simply a bloated, anodyne derivative of a supermini.

Indeed, if anything, SUVs are almost badge neutral to buyers and the models are seen as brands in their own right; it doesn’t matter who’s made it, as long as it is interesting to look at and nothing obvious to do with the supermini parked next to it in the showroom.

Kia’s European COO Michael Cole aggress: he reckons it’s easier for less established brands to crack SUV segments with interesting products and designs, where they’re not competing against nameplates such as Golf and Fiesta, which have dominated established segments for decades. 

“If everyone enters a new segment, then no-one has that heritage,” he said. “When you go up against the likes of the Golf and the Fiesta it’s harder to break them. To enter a segment where no-one has the history, it’s easier. We’ve shown we can beat the opposition as a design-driven brand, and back that up with quality products. We’re showing that with our SUVs.” 

The newcomers to the segment are at last breathing some life into it with some interesting designs. Now, if someone could just make one that’s genuinely engaging to drive…
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