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Kia small SUV still a work in progress

Kia Australia is still searching for its perfect fit in the small SUV segment - the Niro, seen here, doesn't cut it.

Kia Australia isn't happy with the two small SUV offerings the Korean brand has developed, and is calling for local customer needs to be met.

The two small SUVs Kia currently has on sale globally are the Stonic and the Niro - both of which have specific detractors in regards to their saleability in the Australian market.

The Stonic is sold in Europe with a range of downsized engines - a 1.25-litre and 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol, and a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel. The big problem with these is most are manual only.

The Stonic is sold in Europe with a range of downsized engines - a 1.25-litre and 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol, and a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel. The Stonic is sold in Europe with a range of downsized engines - a 1.25-litre and 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol, a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol, and a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel.

The Niro is a US-focused hybrid small SUV, with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol teamed with an electric motor which is incorporated into a six-speed dual-clutch auto transmission.

In their respective markets, the Niro and Stonic compete with the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Nissan Qashqai and Subaru XV, not to mention their Korean cousin, the Hyundai Kona.

"We've studied both of those options, but we believe that they're not the right fit," said Kia Australia general manager of product planning, Roland Rivero.

"For the Stonic it's probably the powertrain - Kia globally was targeting what Europe wants, and I think they were looking at the engine benchmark of the Ford EcoSport," Mr Rivero said of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engine in the Ford small SUV, which has repeatedly won the engine of the year award in its class.

Mr Rivero indicated that Australian buyers are still looking for higher-output, four-cylinder petrol engines in SUVs, and as such, a 1.8-litre or 2.0-litre four-cylinder would be the ideal fit. But, he said, that isn't available as an option at this stage.

"We are still searching for the suitable product to fill that gap," Mr Rivero said. "We've got to strike while the iron is hot, I guess - at the moment that segment is taking off and growing extremely well.

"A lot of our competitors are slowly but surely filling that gap where they see an opportunity, and we hope to respond a lot quicker than four years," he said of the remaining life-cycle periods of the Niro and Stonic.

Mr Rivero said that, as practical as the boxy high-riding model is, customers in Australia aren't drawn to the Soul here like they are in other parts of the world. Mr Rivero said that, as practical as the boxy high-riding model is, customers in Australia aren't drawn to the Soul here like they are in other parts of the world.

"Fortunately for us, R&D at headquarters - we talk to them on a very regular basis - and they understand our needs. Our global footprint is growing, and they're taking a lot of notice of our market. And fortunately for us they are not the only market that's asking for that gap to be filled.

"The small SUV gap needs to be filled as soon as possible, and the current offerings are not the right models," Mr Rivero said.

Kia Australia does have a model that theoretically fills the gap in the small SUV segment - the Soul - but Mr Rivero said that, as practical as the boxy high-riding model is, customers in Australia aren't drawn to the Soul here like they are in other parts of the world - the US, for example.

"Australians don't see it as a small SUV - they see a box-like design hatchback," Mr Rivero said.

Kia Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith said no matter what the company has tried, the Soul simply "doesn't resonate with Australian buyers".

Are you keen for Kia to fill the gap in its SUV line-up with a competitor to the CX-3? Let us know in the comments below.

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