With cars -as with everything in life- timing is vital. Introduce an outstanding product with great specs and an incredible price at the right time, and you're setting yourself up for success. Do so at the wrong time, and sometimes it doesn't matter how good a product is. There's a chance you'll fizzle out.
With the Stonic, we thought it could go either way for Kia Philippines. Billed as something smaller than even a subcompact crossover, it comes with good looks, great specs, and competitive pricing. But like many other automakers in our market, they had to launch it in the time of COVID. Is this a case of potential success, or can the Stonic overcome the challenges of the times?
Normally, right after a car is launched in the Philippines, we go on a deep dive or drive almost immediately. The times, however, have made that more difficult, especially for our noses with antigen tests. No matter though, because for a vehicle like the Stonic, it's important to really get to know it. Especially now that affordable personal mobility is more important than ever. And the new normal means we each have the vehicle solo, and that means more seat time.
If there's one aspect of the Stonic unequivocally excels in, it's design. Looking at the design evolution of Kia in the last 10 or 15 years, there's really nothing that we can point out as bad or odd if we're talking purely about looks. This Stonic is no exception.
Simply put, the Stonic really does have curb appeal. We like the look of the face with the Tiger Nose grille, the little slits on the bumper, and the lower air intake. The headlights look good, too. The silver skid plate/underrider is for show only (it's plastic), but it looks good. The only thing we found strange is that the Tiger Nose grille isn't functional; it's closed off, oddly enough.
The rest of the vehicle is also interesting to look at with the crossover (ish) elements like the black wheel arches, running boards, and black bumper. Actually, the kink on the running board for the back row is unusual but interesting.
There's also the two-tone treatment that I liked with the black roof and black A- and B-pillars, but my eye was drawn to the application of a body-color matched C-pillar that goes all the way up and around to the other side, somewhat like a roll hoop or roll bar. It's not so obvious if you pick a dark color, but if you chose the Stonic in yellow or other bright colors, the design really pops. Also noteworthy are those roof rails; I expected those to be "ornamental" only, but Kia says those rails can take a rack, albeit not too heavy.
The Stonic is little. And by that, I mean it's much smaller if you put it side by side with the likes of the Honda HR-V, Geely Coolray, and even the Seltos. Those are much bigger crossovers despite being called subcompacts too. At 4100mm long, 1760mm wide, and 1520mm tall, the Stonic is more like a mini compact crossover. It shares its platform with other Hyundai Kia models such as the i20, the Rio, and the Soul.
Inside, the Stonic is as straightforward as they come. Nice steering wheel. The audio system is neatly integrated into the design. The climate control system is easy to understand. The analog instrument panel is clear and easy on the eyes. The drive selector for the transmission feels natural on your palm. Yes, it's all conventional but still executed very cleanly.
Then you start pouring over the details. The gaps are consistent. I wasn't expecting soft-touch materials on a vehicle of this price, but there are some soft points here and there, along with plastics that definitely do not look cheap. The feel when you push any of the buttons is good. The nubs that control the direction of the vents are quality. The only thing that stuck out to me whilst in the driver's seat is the backrest; the segmented design of the backrest sticks out a little bit like a ridge on your upper back. It's not uncomfortable; it's just a little different.
The back seat of the Stonic was surprisingly good. Given diminutive dimensions, I was expecting it to be tight and uncomfortable, but that wasn't the case. The cushioning is good, and the seating position is comfortable. There's also a decent amount of foot room even if you like to put your feet right behind the risers and rails for the front seats, like me.
The tailgate of the Stonic swings upward, giving a nice and wide opening for the cargo area. With the rear seats up, there's a total of 325 liters of space in the back. That's respectable for a vehicle of this size, but it's behind the leader in this smaller-than-subcompact crossover class: the EcoSport. The load area is also lower as the floorboard (that conceals the space saver tire) is lower than the lip at the back. You can even expand the area if you fold down the rear seats, but it's not a seamless fold flat affair even though the Kia website (oddly) claims it is.
This EX version comes with a proximity key and push-button ignition which we like. The engine behind that good-looking face is a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. There's no turbo, but you do get variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust cams, so despite its size, the Stonic's 1.4L makes 100 PS and 132 Nm of torque with a 6-speed automatic driving the front wheels. If you're opting for the base model with the manual gearbox, the engine is the same but makes less power at 95 PS. As to why, we're not quite sure.
As a city drive, this Stonic is surprisingly fun. I honestly didn't expect much from that engine especially since it only has 100 PS and the max torque comes in at a rather high 4000 rpm, but the rather quick responses of the automatic made it quite good in the city. You can zip in and out of each lane easily with the width of the vehicle, not that I would recommend you do so regularly. The electric power steering also makes it easy to maneuver, and parking is easy given the dimensions and the rear camera and parking sensors.
In traffic, I was able to appreciate the audio unit. It's a 6-speaker 8-inch touchscreen system with the usual features like the radio, MP3, a USB port, and BT. There is no CD player here, but that's OK; your dad or tito will unlikely be the one driving anyway. You'll be happy to know that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but what I liked was the fact that this Kia has an integrated “shelf” just above the USB port that's perfect for my P30 Pro. With a right-angled USB-C cable, my phone can live there for the duration of my drive.
As you look around a bit more, you'll see how the Stonic was made to be meet a specific price point and that they really wanted to undercut a lot of other vehicles in the market, such as subcompact hatchbacks or sedans. Kia didn't opt to put in some features that would have pushed up the price. For instance, you don't get leather seats even in the top trim EX, nor do you get an electrically adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, or a sunroof. At this price, we can't expect that yet.
You've got your basic safety features for all models like dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, child seat anchors. The rear-view camera is standard on all versions, but the rear sensors are reserved for this EX. The EX also gets stability control, hill start assist, and the anti-theft system. But what I liked is that this Stonic EX actually has rear disc brakes; that was unexpected.
After departing from our start point in BGC, we made our way to NAIAX, Coastal Road, and CAVITEX. The Stonic is smooth, comfortable, and rather quiet, with only minor wind noise at 100 km/h from the wing mirrors. It was on the expressway that I decided to do a fuel economy check at an average speed of about 75 km/h. The result from the multi-info display was 18.1 km/l. I thought that seemed a bit too high to be believable, so I asked Editor-at-large Eric (who was joining the same drive but on a different day) to check as well. He got 15.5 km/l at a much faster average of 97 km/h. The Stonic offers fantastic fuel economy figures then, but we'll verify those numbers when we get a chance to fully review the vehicle later on.
Once we got out of the expressways and were making our way through the towns of Cavite, this was where the engine's limitations became apparent. Overtaking not-so-fast-but-not-so-slow vehicles will take a bit more planning as this only has 100 PS to play with. I can't really fault the Stonic for that because this is meant to be an economical city car. I wasn't expecting it to be a performance car by any stretch of the imagination. But that doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable.
Through the many winding sections, twists and turns of the Nasugbu-Ternate highway, the Stonic was simply fun. No, it wasn't powerful, but the way it corners and manages itself around the bends makes us think that they really have a good base upon which to build a fun-to-drive car.
The balance of the suspension, the lightness of the body, the way the brakes keep things under control, and the way the 6-speed auto responds to your throttle input are all very well attuned to each other. The steering doesn't have much feel, but it's precise and intuitive. Yes, I wish for more power, but the mechanicals of the Stonic seem to function well as a package.
Parking up at our rest stop for this drive, I have to wonder if Kia really nailed it with the Stonic. The design is spot on, and the ergonomics are actually decent despite my misgivings about the front seat backrests. It's also well equipped for the price. The way it drives in the city is light and pleasant. Even the dynamics deserve praise by offering fun when the road gets twisty.
I think Kia made a great car with the Stonic. It's a practical, affordable, and comfortable everyday personal car, so much so that I think the timing of Kia is perfect, especially at a time when the market demands something more than a subcompact sedan or hatchback. And at PHP 925,000 in its top-spec, it's a good deal as an everyday urban commuter.
Kia says that the Stonic garnered about 300 unit sales in the three months after its launch, and that's definitely a good sign. Here's the thing: the pricing will change, and that's because this is an imported passenger car from China. It will be subjected to a PHP 70,000 safeguard duty. But given that every competing mini crossover will be affected anyway, the Stonic may still be a great proposition.
There is one important observation I had during my time with the Stonic. It's not about a problem with the vehicle's engineering, quality, or other aspects we usually talk about.
My main concern is that the Stonic crossover may be too much car and not enough SUV.
Even though Kia is marketing the Stonic as a crossover (actually it says SUV on their website), it just doesn't feel like one with the driving position. That's mainly because of the (rather conservative) 185mm ground clearance. As a driver, your POV is still more hatchback than crossover. It just doesn't give the feeling of height like you would expect of a vehicle being marketed as such, and that may be a problem in a country in love with the height of an SUV. Let me explain.
In the last 10 years, we've become well versed with models that have a lot of similarities with the Stonic's concept: a quasi mini crossover. A few examples that come to mind include the Suzuki SX4 Crossover, the Hyundai i20 Cross Sport, and even the Kia Soul. It's worthy to note that these models are no longer available in our market; actually, Hyundai changed their mind about offering the i20 Cross Sport at all. It sold in near-negligible numbers, and they quickly pulled the plug on that model.
And then let's look at the more SUV-ish models in a similar price and size range. The Suzuki Jimny is actually not a crossover; it's an SUV and its 4x4 abilities and classic boxy looks make it very popular. There's still a queue to get one, the last time we checked.
Then there's the Ford EcoSport which is still selling well 7 years since its debut. Despite the mechanical problems that made Ford drop the PowerSh*t -er- PowerShift DCT in favor of a simpler automatic, the EcoSport's SUV design pretensions, upright driving position, 209mm ground clearance, and 550mm water wading depth (claimed) still make it attractive to consumers. In a country where urban floods are a regular part of motoring, that last one is important.
As enjoyable a drive as the Kia Stonic delivers and as stylish as it is, it seems to have been intended for urban markets where drainage isn't an issue. In developing nations, that might not be a fit which is also one of the primary reasons why the other quasi mini crossovers didn't succeed.
Carmakers can learn a lot from the longevity of the EcoSport and the popularity of the Jimny about what our market -or any developing market- truly needs in a crossover.