The value-packed Stonic gets a new mild-hybrid drivetrain for even better fuel economy
After that big Budget 2021 plan was announced in parliament and the revision of the various VES surcharges that’s all about penalising cars that emit higher than allowed levels of CO2, savvy car buyers in Singapore are all asking for that one feature in bread-and-butter cars.
The big feature is of course, “Is this a hybrid?”
Not every carmaker has the storied background in petrol-electric hybrid drivetrains like Toyota, but most are also tripping over themselves to get some kind of hybrid power going for their mainline cars without going too deep into development costs. This has led to the proliferation of slightly overhyped mild-hybrid drivetrains, and while we think that it’s largely a worldwide marketing-led exercise to squeeze the ‘hybrid’ word into a model’s name, there are some proper advantages from a mild hybrid car too.
The updated Kia Stonic seen here is a car that demonstrates this quite well. First launched here at the end of 2018 with a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre turbo engine, the original Stonic, is a very reasonably priced compact crossover SUV packed with features, and now it gains a 48-volt mild hybrid drive that bumps up the overall torque output for punchier acceleration and also makes the car more economical in the process.
It’s important to note here that mild-hybrids are completely different systems from standard petrol hybrids. Cars like the Toyota Harrier Hybrid and Hyundai Kona Hybrid have regular hybrid systems where the petrol engine works in tandem with the electric motor to drive the vehicle. At cruising speeds and low speeds, the petrol engine can shut off completely and the electric drive takes over. The onboard battery is recharged with energy regained from braking and while rolling downhill.
A mild hybrid system on the other hand, such as the 48-volt version on the Stonic M-Hybrid, isn’t capable of providing drive to the car by itself. The electric motor only has a very small battery hooked up to it, and its primary objective is to act as a torque booster for the car during acceleration. Small, very light cars like the Suzuki Swift Sport use the boost to good effect.
At cruising speeds, most mild hybrids are capable of automatic engine-off operation while the battery provides power to the lights, air conditioning, radio, and all onboard electronics. What it can’t do is provide drive power with the electric motor alone. Consequently, they are not as fuel efficient as a full petrol-electric hybrid.
With a car as feature-packed as the Stonic, the mild-hybrid drivetrain further adds to the appeal and keeps the product up to date in Singapore’s fast-moving automotive scene.
Despite the crossover SUV genre tag that Kia is keen to put on the car, it’s not a very tall vehicle, with a ride height similar to many hatchbacks and sedans of the same size. Where it wins is in its boxy but still sleek body shape, which allows for lots of room in the cabin.
The interior is just about identical to the original 2018 release. An eight-inch touch screen control panel, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and while the instrument cluster still has a pair of main analog dials a smaller centre screen allows you to toggle through a whole range of information displays.
Rear head and leg room is very good, and while the cabin is largely composed of hard plastic panels the fit and finish is of a very high standard. A USB charging port for the rear seat also allows for more than one device to be charged in the car at the same time.
It’s not a very quiet car on the move though. The vocal three-cylinder turbo engine and tyre noise make their presence known at every speed, and even when the engine automatically shuts off on the highway the roar from the tyres on the road is constant. To be fair, turbo three-cylinder engines are usually pretty vibey hunks of metal, and the roomy interior of the car does turn it into something of a large reverberation chamber.
You’ll find a large black box stashed where the spare tyre usually goes below the boot floor, and that’s actually the battery pack for the mild-hybrid drive.
Yet despite that, the car is a decently good drive with a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox and a series of important but unobtrusive active safety systems. Besides the usual stability control, the Stonic is also fitted with a torque vectoring system that can individually and lightly brake the inside wheels in a corner to minimise understeer at speed.
It all happens quietly so you’re never aware of it really working in normal driving, but this is ultimately not a sports car and the very wide sofa-like front seats do discourage hard driving because you’ll probably roll out of the seats sideways from lateral G-forces before the car loses its composure.
Six airbags offer plenty of peace of mind, and a digital tyre pressure monitor means that you’ll only need to make a trip to the station air pump when it chimes up rather than have to manually check them all the time.
The SX variant driven here is the pricier option, with large 16-inch wheels, sunroof, fog lamps, and a blindspot warning system that helps ease lane change anxiety. It’s only S$5k pricier than the base model EX trim, so it’s all about whether you feel the extras are desirable. The car to beat in this class remains the Toyota Yaris Cross Hybrid, but while it’s a smoother and quieter drive because of its full hybrid drivetrain, it’s also more expensive.
Full disclosure: we actually drove two Stonic M-Hybrids for this review. The first car was completely new and did not feel as smooth as it should be, with a fuel economy figure that was too far away from the rated claim. We swapped it for a more run-in version with 1,200km already on the odometer and there was a big difference. It returned a fuel economy of 5.6L/100km after two days of rolling around. Every new car has a run-in period where moving components bed-in and smooth out, so the point is if you’ve just bought a new Stonic M-Hybrid and it feels ‘stiff’, don’t panic. It really does smooth out a lot after around 1,000km, which given how economical the car can be, is just slightly over a full tank of fuel.
Kia Stonic M-Hybrid SX
|Engine||998cc, inline three, turbocharged|
|Power||118hp at 5500rpm|
|Torque||200Nm at 2000-3500rpm|
|VES Band / modifier||A2 / -S$15,000|
|Agent||Cycle & Carriage Kia|
|Price||S$94,999 with COE|
|Verdict:||Road and engine noise aside, this is an efficient, spacious, and solid-driving car for the family|