Car review: Kia's Stonic M-Hybrid ups the mild hybrid game

[This article was first published on straitstimes.com]

The Stonic M-Hybrid subcompact is bang for the buck compared with its non-hybrid twin

Mild hybrids are mostly unimpressive. They do not meet the expectations of better efficiency often asso- ciated with full hybrids. Yet, they cost a bit more than conventional petrol cars.

Kia’s new Stonic M-Hybrid may be an exception. The car has a 1-litre direct injection three-cylinder engine paired with a 48-volt hybrid system. It cruises readily with its engine off, giving it a markedly better fuel efficiency than its non-hybrid predecessor.

The test-car averages 6.5 litres/100km versus its stated 4.7 litres/100km and 11.1 litres/100km chalked by its non-hybrid sibling two years ago. This is indeed a significant improvement, even if one wonders aloud if a 1-litre three-cylinder non-hybrid car should have had a better real-life efficiency than 11.1litres/100km.

While its new-found frugality should not be sniffed at, it is the car’s overall easy disposition which pleases more. At the wheel, the Stonic M-Hybrid is light and breezy, as a subcompact should be. It betrays none of the laggy traits which tend to surface intermittently in a full hybrid.

And unlike full hybrids, which save the most fuel in city driving, the Kia excels on the expressway. Lift your foot off the pedal and the car seems to coast with a tailwind. Its gears are disengaged and, often, the engine will also shut down completely in this mode.

Its 48-volt lithium-ion hybrid system ensures all vital functions in the car are not interrupted when the engine is asleep. So, the chilliness of the air-conditioning is not diminished in the least and, more importantly, steering and brakes still work as if the engine was still running.

As soon as it detects the slightest pressure on the throttle, the engine will come back to life and you get lag-free acceleration. It is a wondrous feeling to be seemingly powered by wind in one instance and to be able to step up the performance by a notch in the next.

Some costlier cars have this capability, but the Stonic M-Hybrid outshines them in two ways. One, its engine goes into slumber mode a lot more readily. Two, its efficiency change is more palpable.

The car’s performance figures are not compromised either. In fact, with the extra boost from its mild electrification, the car has accrued additional power and torque to more than offset its 30kg weight gain to 1,288kg.

This translates to a nippier car which responds to pedal inputs like a bigger-engined rival. At the helm, it certainly feels quicker than its 10.4-second century sprint suggests, and its seven-speed gearbox never feels like it has to work hard to find the right cog to fit the occasion – whether it is filling gaps in the city or overtaking on the expressway.

The Stonic M-Hybrid is not too shoddy when it comes to equipment either. Features include an 8-inch infotainment set with wireless connectivity to Apple and Android phones, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, and metallic pedals – all encased in a mildly facelifted body.

The Kia Stonic M-Hybrid comes with an 8-inch infotainment set with wireless connectivity to Apple and Android phones, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever.

As with most South Korean cars, this Kia offers pretty decent value. At merely $4,000 higher than the pricing of its non-hybrid predecessor (despite a surge in COE prices since the last car was launched), the Stonic M-Hybrid packs more performance, efficiency and bang for the buck.

Looks like there is hope yet for mild hybrids.

[Source article: The Straits Times] © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction. Published 2 Jul 2021.

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