There is a little battle brewing between two the major Korean auto brands in the Philippines: Hyundai and Kia.
Abroad, the two brands are siblings; they are, in fact, part of the same group, and share many things like their development, design teams, factories, so on, and so forth. Locally, however, they couldn't be further apart. Hyundai is the bigger of the two; under the leadership of domestic distributor HARI, Hyundai has performed very well, consistently performing in third place in terms of sales behind Toyota and Mitsubishi.
Kia, on the other hand, has had a variety of challenges, particularly with pricing. So bad was the climb for Kia that their sales dropped dramatically, and were subsequently taken over by another company: Ayala. With renewed vigor in their new parent in the Philippines, Ayala-Kia opened fire at the market with a new model: the Soluto. The very affordable Soluto was to be their entry grade car with an attractive design, good pricing, and sourced from China. Yes, it's a Chinese-Korean car; that makes sense for Ayala because their other brand, Volkswagen, is almost exclusively offering Chinese-made VW models. And they're doing very well with these “Peoples' Cars” from the People's Republic.
But as if by fate, once Kia announced their pricing for the Soluto, Hyundai Philippines -not to be outdone- showed their hand. It contained this: the Hyundai Reina. And at the time, they cleverly priced it to undercut Kia.
Now Hyundai has traditionally not fared as well as we would have thought with their small cars and small crossovers. Yeah, the Accent does sell very well, but smaller and more affordable offerings like the i10 and Eon didn't quite perform to their full potential on the sales tallies. Even the reception for their small crossovers like the i20 Cross Sport and Creta wasn't strong enough; strange in a country where crossovers and SUVs do so well. It seems everyone was gravitating towards larger Hyundais like the Tucson, Santa Fe and the Grand Starex.
Something tells us, however, that the Reina might just buck that odd trend. The first thing to keep in mind is that the Reina hails from one of Hyundai's plants in the PRC, though sales of Korean-branded cars in the world's largest automotive market have plummeted as of late. Why? It's because there's a diplomatic spat of sorts between Seoul and Beijing.
Now we can get into the issues between Manila and Beijing, but we're about the car, not the politics. And so far, my time with the China-made Reina is surprising in a measured and pleasing way.
While the Reina was definitely built to be as economical to produce as possible to meet an affordable price point, that doesn't mean it looks cheap. Actually, far from it. The look itself is unmistakably Hyundai; clean, sleek, and with some neat touches thrown in like character lines on the side to break up what could have been a slab sided vehicle. I've always believed that design should never be sacrificed on the altar of cost, and the Reina is proof of that. The Reina looks proper for a small Hyundai, not some cheap and old looking little car.
The Reina's designers were able to achieve this through clever economization, if that's an actual term. The primary way you can tell is by the absence of any unnecessary frills on the body. No costly chrome here as the Reina comes with color keyed door handles, a black grille, black moldings on the window panes, and no rear garnish. Heck, the wheels are steel rims with full plastic caps. When you look closer, you'll also notice that the Reina's trunklid is a one piece affair of stamped steel; that's cheaper to produce. They also put the plate on the bumper; that's probably a more cost-effective alternative. There are no foglamps, apart from the rear fog which was built into the headlight Hyundai didn't even fully paint the undersides of body panels you won't see like the trunklid, engine bay or the hood; it's just a primer-ish shade of gray, with a bit of orange tossed in the mix.
Pop open that door and you're met with a cabin that frankly looks far better than normally expected. Actually, if you're familiar with the cabin of a Hyundai Accent (with which the Reina is fairly closely related) or Elantra, you won't feel that you've actually downgraded too much, if at all. The plastic panels, while hard, are of good quality judging by the finish and assembled with consistency. The fabrics appear to be well made, the switches are pleasing to operate, and the primary controls, while made of urethane and plastics, are nice to hold. All in all, it's a pleasing space to be in.
The more we examine the vehicle's cabin, the more we're pleasantly surprised. The steering has power assist, the mirrors are electrically adjustable, and all windows are powered. The front inner door panels, for instance, have no switches for the windows; instead, the switch panel is in the center stack below the A/C controls while the rear doors have their own window switches. This is another clever means of economizing the car's construction, as it reduces the wiring and switchgear. That also frees up some space on the front doors to make the handles a little larger to serve as pockets; perfect for quick access to a phone or a wallet. The only real thing I miss is Bluetooth; it's really more of a necessity than a luxury in this day and age, especially with a law harshly (and rightfully) penalizing distracted driving.
Hyundai has two versions of the Reina, both of which are identical in design, differing only in the gearbox used. The one we're driving has a 4-speed automatic driving the front wheels, and it's bolted onto a 1.4-liter gasoline engine with multi-point injection. Hyundai's brochure says it only has MPI, though foreign examples of this motor have variable valve timing; we're not quite sure if this one has it though. Nevertheless 95 horsepower is available on tap, along with 132 Newton-meters of torque; plenty for this pint-sized saloon.
When Chinese-made econoboxes first entered the market about 12 years ago, I got to experience what they were like to drive; in short, they were generally unnerving. In some vehicles you hear creaks and rattles that you can expect from a poorly-maintained second hand car, not a brand new unit. These were sounds that spoke of a body that was not put together very well. Those earlier Chinese cars made me want stay home rather than go out, but thankfully the Reina showed me how far they've come.
In daily city driving, the Reina performs much better than the price tag (or its point of origin) would suggest. The monocoque feels well built. There are no unusual noises even when going over rutted concrete roads. The damping of the suspension is proper; actually I would contend that the behavior of the suspension is comparable to much more expensive vehicles. And the tires, while made by Maxxis, actually have decent grip and are fairly quiet.
The somewhat old-school 4-speed auto shifts smoothly and rather intuitively without any gear hunting, and the electric power steering is a joy to use when maneuvering around tight city streets. The only thing that takes getting some real getting used to is the central power window switch; whenever I pull up to a toll gate, a parking lot booth, or a drive-through counter, I often found my left hand looking for the switch, only to remember I need to use my right.
After refilling the tank, I crunched the numbers a bit, and it seems the Reina was doing 11.3 km/l in the city (22 km/h average speed); I reckon it can do even better if the A/C's thermostat was adjusted a bit. On expressway driving, the Reina also did very well. Normally I'd expect a small car to be very susceptible to crosswinds at speed, but the Reina held its line fairly cleanly; no excessive corrections needed as it cut through the air at about 90 km/h. Fuel economy at an average speed of 85 km/h isn't too bad either: 16.8 km/l (2 passengers) if you're being sensible with the throttle. Fuel economy on the highway could be better if I tried harder, but that's the limitation of a 4-speed.
As for handling, you can't really expect much for an economy car, but the Reina actually does fairly well. Steering is precise, braking is decent (and you've got ABS to give better control under hard braking in slippery conditions), and the grip from the tires isn't too bad either. Depress the throttle and the gearbox drops down a ratio or two for better acceleration out of corners. And the roadholding ability of this econobox while cornering (a bane of many cars of this price point) is quite good too. It's not exciting by any definition of the word, but still the Reina is surprising when it comes to the drive. As a drive, the Reina is good considering that it's built to be affordable, but deliver a drive that can't be defined as cheap.
There are a few things I wish Hyundai improved on with the Reina. One is the addition of Bluetooth as standard. Cars like the Reina are meant for younger first time car owners, and so BT connectivity is a must to avoid expensive violations. The other is the rear seat: it's a bit too hard for comfort, and can be a pain on longer drives. There are more, but they're more of extras we'd like them to add rather than a fault with the Reina itself.
I actually like Reina. That's not an exaggeration. I think Hyundai nailed it with the Reina's fundamentals as an everyday drive. It's well made, it's nicely designed, and sufficiently equipped for daily driving in metropolitan areas. The pricing is good too, though Hyundai had to raise the price from the initial PhP 648,000 for this 1.4L automatic variant to PhP 688,000. It's a rather sharp increase for a mass market car, but that doesn't detract too much from our opinion of it.
Yeah, it's a China made Hyundai, but as reviewers, we have to approach every car, SUV, truck, bus or whatever wheeled conveyance it is with an open mind. At least this one won't try to sell me a networking scheme over “coffee”.