My son, my daughter, their friends, my students, and everyone else in the age bracket that’s a couple of notches below mine seem to have widely bought into and embraced this K-Pop wave that by now seems to have been established as a perpetual one. So it was just a matter of time before a car brand rode on that wave, especially if the nameplate they’ve put on it has that particular market segment in its crosshairs. There’s one major prerequisite for them to be allowed to do that though- they’ll have to have the K to be able to Pop. Well, Kia is as Korean as a carmaker can get, and their sprightly Stonic seems to fit the bill.
While I feel that their “Style that’s Iconic” tagline seems a bit lofty, I think Kia hit the nail on the head with what a sub-compact crossover should be and be capable of, with the Stonic. No, it’s not a small MPV that’s called a crossover, not a small SUV that moonlights as a crossover either. It’s a decidedly effective mix of a sedan and a mini-SUV that very clearly represents both visually. It is sub-compact with five doors, rear hatch included. It has a 185mm ground clearance that’s taller than a sedan’s, a long-ish 2,750mm wheelbase, and a sizeable 325 liters of luggage space when the rear seats are folded flat. The Stonic is equipped with roof rails as standard, as well as beefy tires mounted on 16-inch alloys. It obviously was configured to appease the dynamic and adventurous individual who’d appreciate a good looking yet versatile small ride that can take on some active outdoor activities outside of the standard city commute, at a moment’s notice, sans modifications. Kia’s young ‘un was made play-capable straight out of the box. But can it really?
So I signed in on what may be the first real proper Media Drive in such a long time, and it was for the Kia Stonic as you may have assumed by now. We all were given very thorough and specific instructions for it, including a flowchart-style set of only two options depending on the results of the Rapid Antigen tests they had administered on us on-site. Not being sent home politely obviously meant you tested Negative. Kia made sure to get the best of the best to lead, pace, and herd all the participants in a fast-moving convoy from BGC to Tagaytay via a scenic (long!) and technical route: George and Louis from the legendary Ramirez family of race car drivers.
Getting out of Manila was really nothing to write home about, as by now we, like the huge chunk of the potential new-car buyers out there, have been accustomed to and are expecting the essential conveniences of having Apple Carplay and Android Auto for entertainment, navigation, and hands-free communication, a clear touch screen lcd display as interface, and a relatively comfy ride and roomy interior, and of course ample power and good handling. The Kia Stonic ticked all of those boxes like a star student on a pop quiz. But then came the clincher.
Exiting Manila and getting into the narrow 2-lane rural roads, we were (expertly and safely) prodded to drive to our destination in a more spirited pace. Six of us, each with our respective Stonics were directed by the lead car to go as fast as we comfortably could through the straights and undulating twisties and the well-calculated overtaking maneuvers. 70-80Km/h may not sound as impressive, but on an extended sequence of tight turns peppered with other cars, it’d require a lot of focus, a fair amount of boldness, and extra eyes from our expert drivers manning the lead and sweeper cars (their overtaking cues and obstacle previews barked through our 2-way radios just seconds in advance). The Kia Stonic, equipped with a 1.4-liter Dual CVVT gasoline engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission surprisingly transcended any pop-reference slathered onto it during its media hype, and performed really well.
Setting my foot down on the accelerator to downshift for immediate overtaking maneuvers elicited quick and reliable power on tap from what would be considered a small engine. It had available Tiptronic “semi-manual” shifting, but I just left it on Drive mostly and just enjoyed concentrating on the car’s balance keeping my lines fluid. For a subcompact, the Stonic felt exceptionally planted in terms of its handling, especially in the tight curves and switchbacks. Its barely-there body roll meant more compliant and predictable dynamics that rewarded me with heightened responsiveness from the slightest steering + throttle inputs at speed. I would have wanted less engine noise and a slightly heavier steering feel from the Stonic, but apart from those, it handled our extended sprint like a trooper. We were all issued eye-catchingly cool Onitsuka Tiger sneakers in a colorway that represented the Stonic’s flagship hue… but the shoes with their thin and flat soles made for very good driving shoes. I wonder if that was also part of the plan, since we were really made to push the potential of the Stonic on the road with our footwork playing a crucial role.
Sure, the priorities of the majority in the market may be vastly different from mine, and I’m not saying the Stonic can’t fulfill them with high marks- but to me, its performance on the more “grown up” tests we put it through, brings it closer to deserving the “iconic” tag. What I mean to say is that underneath the stylishly-spiffy looking package, the tech, comfort and convenience features as standard essentials, is the exceptional substance one is rewarded with terms of driving performance… and actual, genuine fun while at it! Hmm. Now lemme see if I can do some of them K-Pop dance steps.