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Kia Sonet 2020: First Drive Review

Published On Sep 11, 2020 By Arun for Kia Sonet

With the Sonet, Kia wants to rewire your notions of what to expect from a small SUV. How much have they succeeded?

From the glitzy Auto Expo show floor to your friendly neighbourhood showroom, Kia’s Sonet has crossed the bridge virtually unchanged. There’s confidence in Kia’s actions too, an outcome of the popularity of the Seltos and the acceptance of the Carnival Indians have shown. For not much else explains why the Sonet appears as loaded as it is, or comes with the drivetrain options that it does. Kia seems to think they have a winner on their hands. To be fair, we think the same too.

Design

What Venue? The shared platform from its Hyundai cousin has been skilfully buried under a skin that’s dressed to impress. It’s old school in a way, with a large bonnet and a stubby rear end. Fun fact: the front overhangs on the Sonet are larger than that of the Venue, while the rear is tighter. 

With its upright and confident face, the scaled down SUV design works well for the Sonet. In the top-spec variants, you are treated to full-LED headlamps with integrated daytime running lamps that double as turn indicators. Elements such as the wide grille (with a sweet knurled chrome outline) and the creases on the hood paired with the flared wheel arches give the Sonet much needed visual muscle. There are some intricate details you’d appreciate, like the chrome surround for the projector foglamps and the layered pattern on the grille that Kia says is inspired by the stepwells of ancient India. 

Dimensions

Parameter

Hyundai Venue

Kia Sonet

Length

3995mm

3995mm

Width

1770mm

1790mm (+20mm)

Height

1605mm

1642mm (+37mm)

Wheelbase

2500mm

2500mm

Ground Clearance

190mm

205mm (+15mm) 

Tyre Size

215/60 R16

215/60 R16

You can easily tell the Sonet is 37mm taller than its Hyundai cousin. Some of it can be attributed to the roof rails and most to the 205mm ground clearance (15mm more than the Venue). It looks like a funky sneaker viewed from the side, especially with the roll-over hoop-like design of the C-pillar. Kia has cleverly added a gloss-black panel here to make the windscreen appear wider than it really is. 

Speaking of which, the Sonet is wider than the Venue, by a full 20mm. This is most apparent viewed from the rear, with the connected tail lamps adding to the visual width of the Sonet. The LED treatment for the stop lamps is eye-catching, especially after sundown. Though, we wish the central reflector strip had a lighting element instead, just like the Sonet Concept. 

It’s slightly surprising that Kia offers 16-inch alloy wheels only on the HTX+ and GTX+ variants. The design of the alloy wheels remains the same, save for a red outline on the centre cap that the GT Line variant gets. There’s a bucketful more of red for the GT, including highlights on the cladding and grille, a different design for the faux skidplates and red brake callipers. We’d have loved to see a set of meaty exhaust tips here. 

Interior 

The upright stance of the Sonet means getting in and out isn’t a task even for the elderly. Seating position is noticeably higher and this feeling is accentuated by the low window line (that’s slightly below your shoulder level), the large windows and the upright but slim dashboard. There’s nothing to grumble about on the ergonomics front: everything is well within reach and the thoughtfully designed stowage spaces make it easy to get used to the cabin instantly. 

For instance, a small slit between the two cupholders can be used to either store your car key or have your smartphone ‘stand’ in that space. If not, you could choose to place it on the wireless charging tray, or the shelf underneath. Door pads have room for a 1-litre bottle, and there’s a (rather unnecessary) umbrella holder too — we just used it for a smaller 500ml water bottle. Under the front armrest, you’d find ample space for your wallet and some more knick knacks. 

The driver’s seat can be adjusted for height from the HTK variant onwards, while a tilt-adjust steering is offered as standard. Despite the rather large ‘wall’ that Kia has built to merge the instrument binnacle with the infotainment console, new drivers will like the high seating position that lets you see the edge of the bonnet and the sides. This will boost confidence when driving through tricky spaces. 

The cabin design also connects to the exterior, with the knurled finish being mimicked on the AC vents and the fog lamp bezel being replicated in plastic for the AC louvres. Interesting triangular detailing can be seen on the speaker grilles and the door pads. 

What truly stands out is the graining of the plastic used for the top half of the dash. It’s smooth to the touch and feels rich. The same plastic continues over onto the top half of the door pads. The lower half of the dashboard has harder and slightly cheaper looking plastics. Kia’s adding another layer of feel good by way of rich leatherette upholstery for the seats, the flat-bottom steering and the elbow rests on the door pads. Neat. 

Rear seat occupants are pampered by the same smooth leatherette elbow rest pads, and a set of rear air-conditioning vents that are offered as standard. There are also twin seatback pockets, and ample space in the door pads for a few rolled up magazines or water bottles. 

The Sonet is happy accommodating four six-footers with ease. While kneeroom is just about enough, there’s no dearth of headroom or foot room. You could ask for slightly firmer seat cushioning, a more relaxed backrest angle, and an extra helping of underthigh support. The cabin’s lack of width is felt sharply here, though, and it will make the centre occupant feel unwelcome pretty quickly. For one, the seat back is contoured to suit just two occupants. Then Kia’s also skipped offering a third headrest. Take the cue. 

Kia is trying to make up for it with a cavernous 392-litre boot. Strangely, 60:40 split isn’t on offer. The boot itself is low, wide and has a large opening. Considering it is at roughly knee level, you don’t need to put a lot of effort in loading up the Sonet. 

Technology and Features

Phew, where do we begin this? The lengthy feature list on the Sonet will make you question if paying more for larger vehicles such as the Creta and the Seltos is warranted. Let’s take the already loaded Seltos for reference. The Sonet barely skips a beat in keeping up with the elder brother. Sure, there’s no side view camera or heads-up display here. But practically everything else has been bundled in. 

We appreciate the addition of an air purifier that claims to protect against bacteria and viruses. This, Kia says, is made possible by using UV light and a HEPA filter. It’s also neatly integrated into the rear-AC tower, but can be controlled only through the touchscreen. Our only complaint is that of a noisy blower. There’s a perfume dispenser too, in case your BMW 7 Series owning neighbour acts too snooty. 

There’s an electric sunroof, climate control, cruise control, auto-dimming IRVM and a wireless charger with a thoughtful cooling function. The party piece is of course ventilated seats, nothing less than lifesavers in our sweltering conditions. And since cars are now gadgets that can be driven, the Sonet gets either an 8- or 10.25-inch touchscreen (depending on the variant you pick) — each with their own party trick. With the smaller touchscreen, you get a nifty ‘wireless projection’ feature that lets you run Android Auto and Apple CarPlay without connecting the phone via a cable. 

The larger touchscreen is paired with an outstanding 7-speaker Bose sound system. More than the Seltos, the sound system on the Sonet does live up to the Bose name. With the subwoofer, this system will appeal to those who listen to a lot of EDM or hip hop — thanks to the thumping bass. 

There’s another coloured 4.2-inch screen inside the instrument cluster that has neat graphics for instant fuel consumption, and basic readouts for trip information. It also shows you the title of the track being played (albeit only when you change tracks) and navigation updates when you use on-board navigation. You also get to see a (pretty pointless) compass here.

To make parking easier, you get 4 front parking sensors and 2 at the rear. Feed from the camera is crisp and the guidelines turn with steering input too. 

Misses are few and far between. Omissions such as 60:40 split seats, an adjustable front armrest and a cooling function for the glovebox are surprising. On the other hand, not having a backlight for the power window switches (except for the driver’s) is plain silly in our books. 

Performance

Petrol

The Sonet is offered with two petrol engines: a 1.2-litre naturally aspirated petrol (with a 5-speed manual) and a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol (with a 6-speed iMT or a 7-speed DCT). Both engines have been borrowed from the Venue, and the outputs remain unchanged too. 

Kia Sonet Petrol

Power

83PS @ 6000rpm

120PS @ 6000rpm

Torque

115Nm @ 4200rpm

172Nm @1500-4000rpm

Gearbox

5-speed MT

6-speed iMT / 7-speed DCT

Fuel Efficiency (Claimed)

18.4kmpl

18.2kmpl (iMT) / 18.3kmpl (DCT)

1.0-litre Turbo

Fire up the three-cylinder engine, and it comes to life with a slight shake and stir you’d feel on the floorboard. Post that, you’ll have next to nothing to complain about. Surprisingly, this doesn’t have much to do with the engine itself. Kia has beefed up the insulation on the Sonet and used different engine mounts to tackle the noise and vibrations. 

The engine itself is versatile, as we’ve seen in the Venue and the Verna. While the numbers suggest a sporty demeanour, it’s clearly tuned to make everyday usability hassle free. Get past the slight lag under 1500rpm, and the engine will be happy commuting around town in second or third, or cruising at triple digits in sixth or seventh gear. 

iMT

We raised an eyebrow at the exclusion of a manual from the Sonet’s list. However, after driving the clutchless manual (iMT) for nearly 500km, we can confirm that you wouldn’t miss the third pedal at all. The iMT is tuned brilliantly, and is a cost-effective solution that not only takes the sting out of bumper-to-bumper commutes but also keeps the fun intact around twisties. Through gear changes, the operation of the clutch is smoother than most drivers that call themselves enthusiasts. Much like the Venue, momentarily lifting your foot off the accelerator (as you would do in a manual) while upshifting makes the experience seamless. There’s no headnod or jerks to speak of. We’d urge you to experience it just for the sheer novelty and ease of use. 

7DCT

The Sonet’s 7-speed DCT doesn’t particularly shine. It simply gets the job done. You’d be underwhelmed if you compared it to say Volkswagen’s DSG. That said, you would appreciate that the shifts are super smooth, and it’s rare that the gearbox gets confused or selects the wrong gear. You get a manual mode in case you want sprightlier acceleration, but there are no paddle shifters on offer. 

Considering the price difference between the DCT and the iMT, we’d tilt in favour of the latter. It offers nearly the same level of convenience, both inside the city and on the highway. 

Diesel

The only engine to be offered across variants of the Sonet is the 1.5-litre diesel. It’s offered in two different states of tune when paired with a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed torque converter automatic. 

Kia Sonet Diesel

Power

100PS @ 4000rpm

115PS @ 4000rpm

Torque

240Nm @ 1500-2750rpm

250Nm @ 1500-2750rpm

Gearbox

6-speed MT

6-speed AT

Fuel Efficiency (Claimed)

24.1kmpl

19kmpl

Compared to Hyundai’s old 1.6-litre diesel, refinement levels on the 1.5-litre motor has clearly taken a beating. The motor’s gruff note and clatter can be heard inside the cabin, with minor vibrations being felt on the floor and pedals. The amped up insulation does help negating a portion of the racket, but that doesn’t eliminate it. You’d have to turn up the volume on the sound system a little more on the diesel compared to the petrol.

6MT

This engine doesn’t dump the torque, it rather delivers it smoothly. Don’t expect to be pinned to your seat while accelerating hard. Stomping on the throttle in attempts to pick gaps (even in city traffic) won’t catch you by surprise. 

Driving the manual within the city isn’t going to be a headache. Sure, the travel for the clutch could’ve been shorter but the weight is very close to that of a petrol engine. Gears too slot in with a satisfying sense of ease. We see this engine being a potent highway cruiser, and should be on your radar if you intend on undertaking roadtrips often. 

6AT

The Sonet is currently the only vehicle to offer a proper torque converter paired with a diesel motor in a segment that offers just AMTs. As a bonus, you also get the Seltos’ engine tune with an additional 15PS of power and 10Nm. 

This drivetrain is best appreciated on long highway trips, where you’d want to cover over 500km a day. The smooth (but slightly slow) shifts from the automatic will keep fatigue at bay, while the diesel engine will ensure the wallet is happy by being frugal. For city usage, it feels responsive thanks to all that torque the engine has to offer. 

Note: Drive Modes and Traction Modes

Automatic variants of the Sonet get 3 drive modes (Eco, Normal, Sport), and 3 traction modes (Mud, Snow, Sand). For everyday office commutes, Eco mode works just fine. Better fuel efficiency will be a bonus. You could choose to switch to Normal when you want to pick gaps in traffic more swiftly. Sport lets you play with all of the engine’s potential, and is best suited for fast highway cruises. 

The three traction modes are practically useless for everyday driving but they might just be handy when you want to get adventurous on a roadtrip. Just don’t mistake them for off-road modes. It’s a 2-wheel drive vehicle that looks like an SUV at the end of the day. 

Ride and Handling 

Tuned for comfort. That’s pretty much the ride and handling package of the Sonet. In itself, the suspension battles harsh road surfaces, surface level changes and potholes with confidence. What amplifies this confidence is the insulation. You hear little of the tyre and road surface, making you believe the ride is plusher. 

Large craters at low speeds are shrugged off with little side-to-side movement. Over sharp edges and expansion joints, you’d notice some vertical movement before the suspension settles. This never gets tiresome though, even on fast expressways.

Both the steering and braking performance seem par for the course. The steering is light enough for city duties and weighs up enough for the highways. Enthusiasts could harp on about wanting more feedback, but for the Sonet’s intended use it does just fine. It holds its line well (albeit with slight body roll) and lets you have some cornering fun in the twisties. 

Safety

Dual airbags, and ABS with EBD are offered as standard across variants. The top-spec GTX+ variant additionally gets side and curtain airbags. If ISOFIX child seat mounts are a must have for you, that’s available from the HTX variant onwards. Electronic stability control, hill assist and vehicle stability management are offered as standard for the Turbo-DCT variants, and across drivetrain options on the GTX+ variant. A tyre pressure monitor is bundled in for the top two variants. 

The Kia Sonet is yet to be crash tested by an independent authority. 

Verdict

There’s very little to hold against Kia’s Sonet. It could do with more cabin width to seat five better, and also add at least one more variant for the automatic transmission. An aspect where not just the Sonet but Kia themselves as a manufacturer needs to prove their long term reliability and dependability. 

The Sonet is ticking all the right boxes otherwise. It’s delivering on the wow factor with pukka mini-SUV looks, quality interiors and a feature list that’d make you question paying a premium for larger SUVs. It’s being sensible and practical too, with loads of cubby holes and a large boot. You get proper automatics, and the engines on offer cover a wide range of usage. 

Kia’s Sonet is rewiring our expectations from sub-4-metre SUVs. It’s proving that a small vehicle can be big on experience.

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