When Cebuanos look for places, to eat, they live by the unofficial "three M" principle – Masarap (delicious, flavorful), Marami (generous serving), and Mura (cheap, affordable). If it doesn't have all three, then they'd probably look for something else.
If you'll notice, the most popular foods from Cebu likewise have those 3Ms. Like their dried mangoes, for example. Their chicharon. And of course, the lechon.
In the same way, car buyers have their own version of Cebu's three Ms. People want a car that looks good (Maganda), packed with a lot of features (Marami), but at the same time is priced affordably (Mura).
You'll find a lot of those in the subcompact crossover and seven-seater MPV market, where almost every manufacturer has one on sale. In such a competitive segment, the winner is the one that offers something different. Not to mention, due to chip shortage, the one that keeps the units coming also matters.
In Hyundai's case, they have the Stargazer and Creta as their main contenders. That's why a lot is at stake for these two. Recently, they had a slump in sales during the transition from the previous distributor. But now that the mothership has taken over, they want to turn things around, and possibly even do better.
Hyundai has the unit issue covered with units coming from Indonesia. But what about the other important bits to succeed in our market? Well, Hyundai flew us over to Cebu to figure it out.
Prior to Hyundai's invite for the drive, I already had two stints with the Stargazer - one was from their pre-launch test drive in Laguna, and the other was a thorough review of the MPV for a week. On both occasions, I had good impressions of it, so I was a bit more curious about driving the Creta when we departed from NAIA Terminal 2 to Cebu.
However, my time with the Creta had to wait. As it turned out, our first assigned car was the Stargazer, and with the GLS Premium variant, too. Having tested the Stargazer on various road conditions prior, I already knew what to expect. Luckily, a media colleague of ours who we shared cars with hasn't had a thorough experience with the MPV just yet, so I was more than happy to hand him over the keys (or the keyfob) for the majority of the drive.
The good thing about these media drives is that when you share cars with a colleague, you also get to experience how a car feels from a passenger's perspective. And that's exactly what I did with the Stargazer.
We made our way from the Cebu South dealership to the South Road in Minglanilla, and towards the Naga-Uling road heading to the Trans Central Highway - Cebu's version of Marilaque. While navigating through these roads, I noticed the way Cebuanos get a second look when our Stargazer convoy passes by, and I can't really blame them. After all, the Stargazer doesn't have that typical MPV design, along with those striking full-length LED lights. Inside, it's just as comfortable at the rear as it is in front when I drove it. We were seated on the 2nd row so legroom was not a problem, and the chassis refinement is something I really took note of.
As expected, the Stargazer didn't have the punch of a turbocharged engine, so the 1.5-liter four-banger really had to work harder to get through steep inclines. But on the downhill sections, it's where the Stargazer showed composure when it comes to braking. While some soft-riding MPVs would nosedive or become unstable, Hyundai dialed in the suspension and brakes well for the Stargazer to remain level.
Once we reached Lakeview Le Jardin for some (actually, a lot of) Cebu lechon and some touristy activities, we switched over to the Creta while the ones who were driving the crossover in the first half were next to experience the Stargazer.
On the winding roads of the Transcentral Highway, I was able to tell the difference between the Creta and the Stargazer. Now while it may look like comparing apples to oranges, the Creta and Stargazer actually shares a lot in terms of the platform, engine, and suspension. Just like the Cebu lechon we had earlier. Same food, different flavor.
While the Stargazer was a bit on the soft side of things suspension-wise, the Creta was dialed a bit firmer, and a bit livelier on the turns. Where the Stargazer would slowly rotate to make the curve, the Creta with its shorter wheelbase does quicker work in the corners. In addition, the Creta feels lighter on its feet despite having the same engine as the Stargazer, but that's expected as the latter is heavier.
But despite their contrasting characteristics, the chassis of the Creta also exhibits the same composure, together with the precise brake feel I've come to know in the Stargazer. Build quality is great as its interior plastics don't rattle and road noise is also very minimal. But like the Stargazer, it could also use thicker glass in the windows to keep outside noises at bay.
In fact, driving the Creta with its 1.5-liter non-turbo engine reminds me a lot of the Honda HR-V S, as the power deficit is not too big of an issue and does not spoil the fun of driving it.
We eventually concluded our 12-hour long drive with a visit to the beautiful Cebu-Cordova Link Bridge before we had our rest and relaxation time, and this is where the Creta showed its identity as a crossover. Hyundai is going for bold light signatures for their vehicles, and the Creta has this thing called the Parametric Jewel. It's easily identifiable on the road, along with its rather odd-shaped taillights.
While I can still talk about the Creta and Stargazer's vast amount of features and intelligent tech, I believe the driving characteristics of both cars are their main strengths. Both do offer a lot of flavor when you get behind the wheel, and certainly look good from the curb or when you're sitting in sight. Yes, Maganda.
Both Hyundais have ADAS, plenty of airbags, smartphone connectivity, and all that stuff. Are these units fully loaded? Yes, but so are the rest of the competition. Marami? Sakto lang, as we would say.
Hyundai is not exactly selling the cheapest vehicles anymore, but the Creta and Stargazer are priced well compared to its Japanese rivals. Mura? No, but the quality seems to be good vis a vis the price tag.
At the end of the day, what makes the difference is how a car is built to make you want to drive (or ride it) on a daily basis, and that's something Hyundai has done well with both. Whether the new Hyundai will sell in great numbers like its predecessor remains to be seen, but Hyundai's new direction is very interesting.
The Creta and Stargazer have the makings of being unique in the market. Think of it like lechon from Cebu. Every province in the country has its own version, but the one from Cebu will always stand out from the rest.