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  • It’s a smart-looking compact SUV with several unique desi...
    It’s a smart-looking compact SUV with several unique design elements.
  • Quality of materials inside the cabin, design, textures, ...
    Quality of materials inside the cabin, design, textures, fit and finish look and feel very premium.
  • Fairly large boot, but the absence of split rear seats wi...
    Fairly large boot, but the absence of split rear seats will be felt occasionally.
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Rating 9 9

Kia Sonet review, road test

22nd Dec 2020 7:00 am

With its packaging done right, Kia’s new compact SUV has all it takes to rule to roost.

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  • Make : Kia
  • Model : Sonet
We Like
Feature-packed
High-quality interiors
Smooth and easy to drive
Multiple powertrain options
We Don't Like
Cramped rear seat
Expensive higher variants

A late entrant in the compact SUV space it might be, but the Kia Sonet has made a grand debut in the Indian market, garnering over 50,000 bookings within just two months of its launch.

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Taking a leaf or two out of the Seltos’ success story, this sub-four-metre SUV is one of the best equipped in the segment, and is offered with multiple engine and gearbox combinations, priced between Rs 6.71-12.89 lakh (ex-showroom, India). We now put it through our comprehensive tests to know how it performs in the real world.

Kia Sonet
Kia Sonet

Rs 7.59 lakh * on road price (New Delhi)

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Based on Hyundai-Kia’s K-platform, the Sonet shares its underpinnings, hard points and pretty much its entire endoskeleton with the Hyundai Venue. But its body shell is completely redesigned, with characteristic design elements seen in other Kia models.

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Electric pulse-inspired LED DRLs double up as turn indicators.

The ‘tiger nose’ grille is one of the distinctive signature elements and so are the headlamps with LED daytime running lamps in the shape of the pulse of a heartbeat as seen on an ECG. The sportier GT variants get red studs on the grille, as well as red highlights on the bumpers and sides, and some splashes of red on the brake calipers and hub caps.

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Kink on the windscreen replicates the ‘tiger nose’ grille design.

The power bulges on the bonnet, silver skid plates, beefy wheel cladding and the smart-looking alloys add character to its styling. Look closer and you’ll spot several interesting design elements like the windscreen, for example, which replicates the kinks on the grille; then there’s the blackened panel on the C pillar that gives an impression of a wraparound rear windscreen.

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Stylish wheels; red hub caps and brake calipers on the GT variants.

The rear styling is as distinctive as the front’s, thanks to the smoked tail-lamps – which are connected by a reflector strip running across the width of the tailgate – and the steeply sloping rear windscreen. The rear bumper has a sportscar-like diffuser and twin exhaust housings, but they are just for show and could divide opinion. On the whole, the Kia Sonet is a stylish compact SUV and is likely to stand out in a crowd with its bold and distinctive design elements.

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Strip connecting the tail-lamps isn’t illuminated; it is a mere reflector.

 

Walk close to the car with the key in your pocket and the mirrors automatically unfold, adding a bit of drama before unlocking the vehicle, and getting into the cabin is easy thanks to the raised, upright stance. But once you’re seated inside, it is the interiors that really bowl you over. It isn’t merely the design that looks premium, but the quality of materials, textures, and the fit and finish that make you feel that you’ve got your money’s worth. Finer detailing like the damped AC vents, double stitching and tasteful silver highlights further lift the cabin’s appeal. Certain design elements, like the vertical air vents and the large rectangular bezel that stretches from the instrument cluster to the infotainment screen might polarise opinion, but what’s nice is that the layout of the dashboard looks neat.

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Quality of materials and finesse of all the controls is simply top-notch.

Even the large buttons for the climate control feel great to operate and so does the sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel. What catches your attention is the easy-to-read digital speedometer and the large MID that throws up a plethora of information. The tachometer and the fuel and temperature gauges flanking the speedo, however, aren’t as well executed and are a bit difficult to read.

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Very intuitive and user-friendly system that’s loaded with features and connected tech.

The driving position is upright, and the ergonomics are spot on. The seats are nice and supportive, and what further adds to front-seat comfort is the seat cooling function, which is a segment first. The rear-seat experience, however, isn’t as nice. The seat squab is a bit short, thus thigh support is in short supply. While headroom is plenty, knee and legroom are quite poor as far as segment standards go. The area beneath the front seats liberates some additional foot space for the rear passengers, though. Also, the rear seat isn’t as spacious or as comfortable for three abreast, like some of its other rivals. And while passengers don’t feel as hemmed-in as in the Venue due to an additional quarter glass present in the Sonet, it still isn’t a very bright and airy place to be.

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High seating means getting in and out is very easy. Seats are comfy.

Clever and well-shaped cavities offer plenty of storage options. The door bins are large and there are ample spaces, including a wireless charging smartphone tray, to stow away knick-knacks, but the air purifier placed in the centre armrest console eats into the usable space. Kia has provided many areas in the front and back to keep your smartphone, including two pouches in the front seatback pockets. While boot space is on par with rivals in this segment, Kia hasn’t included 60:40 split-folding rear seats, which would offer additional flexibility to haul spillover cargo.

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Knee room and width at the rear are at a premium, and so is thigh support.

 

Kia has gone all out equipping the Sonet with segment-first features like cooled front seats, a Bose audio system, a smart air purifier, mood lighting, and the automatics are also available with drive and traction modes; we did not notice any perceptible difference between the traction modes. It also features kit like wireless charging, connected car tech, tyre pressure monitor, front parking sensors, a sunroof, auto LED headlamps with daytime running lamps, projector fog lamps, a rear-view camera, a part-digital instrument cluster and a lot more, in line with the competition.

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Segment-first cooled seats are superb. Drive and traction modes only in auto variants.

Despite being stuffed with several desirable features, this Kia misses out smaller things like a 60:40 split rear seat and illuminated window switches (except the driver’s window), and equipment like paddle shifters, rear disc brakes, rain-sensing wipers and driver’s knee airbag, which some of the competition offers.

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An air-purifier, no longer a luxury in this day and age, comes equipped on higher variants.

Bose sound system

The seven-speaker Bose system includes a pair of midrange/tweeter drivers on each front door and a full-range driver on each of the rear doors, augmented by a boot-mounted 6.5-inch subwoofer. There’s no centre channel speaker on the dashboard but the system is well judged in terms of its processing, so that you never hear just the speaker that’s closest to you. There is a nice, even spread of sound throughout the cabin and it maintains a high degree of definition even at loud volumes. The bass is clean, well defined and perfectly blends in with the rest of the speakers. The treble isn’t harsh or aggressive either, like it can get on many other Bose systems, making the Sonet quite an impressive platform for this system. 

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Kia shares its engines and gearboxes with the Hyundai Venue, so it gets an 83hp, 1.2-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with a five-speed manual gearbox in the entry-level models, a 120hp, 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine with either a six-speed iMT or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder diesel with 100hp and a six-speed manual, or 115hp and a six-speed automatic. We’ve sampled all but the 1.2-litre petrol engine.

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Digital speedo is nice; instrument cluster design quite unique.

The 1.5-litre diesel-manual makes 15hp and 10Nm less than the automatic because it uses a less-expensive wastegate turbocharger. This engine is very refined, be it at idle or on the move, and it only begins to rattle past the 3,500rpm mark. But you’d seldom be revving beyond that as power delivery drastically tapers off in the last 1,500 revs. What’s nice is that all the performance is available low down in the rev range, making this one light on its feet and responsive to any accelerator input. It offers the flexibility to amble in a higher gear at lower revs without the need to downshift too often to get moving. Despite being a bit down on power, the manual sprints to 100kph in just 11.73sec, a bit quicker than the more powerful automatic. However, beyond that, it begins to run out of steam and trails the automatic to 160kph by nearly 7.0sec. So, while pedal-to-the-metal driving isn’t its forte, its strength lies in its easy-to-drive character, complemented by a light clutch, slick gearbox and ample low-end pulling power.

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MID is easy to read, is info-laden and includes a tyre pressure monitor.

But for a truly effortless experience, the diesel-automatic is the one to go for. This one uses a variable-geometry turbocharger and is available in the same 115hp tune as the larger Seltos, paired to the same six-speed torque-converter automatic. With a lighter kerb weight, performance is bound to be strong, but it is actually the ease with which this car goes about its duty that really impresses. The transmission is very intuitive and remains in the right gear at all times, and this torque converter feels perfectly in sync with this engine’s tune. The well-judged gear ratios keep the revs smack in the powerband, which only adds to the overall drive experience. There are drive modes too – Eco, Normal and Sport – which alter the responsiveness of this motor. However, the difference between the drive modes is only prominent when driving with a light foot; when driven flat-out, it clocked identical timings in all the different modes.

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Only the driver’s power window switch is illuminated; others aren’t.

The turbo-petrol engine in the line-up is a familiar unit, which we’ve experienced in the Venue. What’s nice is that this small-capacity engine has a very broad powerband and performance from 2,000-5,000rpm is particularly strong, although power delivery isn’t as smooth as Volkswagen’s three-cylinder TSI engine. The dual-clutch transmission does a nice job of masking this engine’s turbo lag. With short ratios, this gearbox reaches 100kph in fourth gear, but the shifts are so quick, and performance is so strong, that it reaches 100kph from a standstill in just 11.42sec. While this transmission shifts quite seamlessly for the most part, it isn’t the smoothest when driving at low speeds in traffic. Also, you’ll often be left reaching for the tip-tronic mode to take manual control of the transmission, and that’s when you’d feel the absence of the paddle shifters. Like the diesel-automatic, this one gets driving modes too, but there’s a greater difference between the modes here. As expected, Sport mode delivers the strongest performance, but what is surprising is that it is actually the Eco mode that is quicker than the Normal mode when driven flat out.

Performance from 0-100kph, 20-80kph and 40-100kph takes 11.42sec, 6.36sec and 8.28sec, respectively, in Sport mode, 12.65sec, 6.79sec and 9.08sec, respectively, in Normal mode, and 12.29sec, 6.69sec and 8.79sec, respectively, in Eco mode.

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Cleverly designed areas all across the cabin to stow your phone and other knick-knacks.

Kia hasn’t offered a conventional manual transmission with the turbo-petrol engine to begin with (it could join the range later), instead it gets an iMT or intelligent manual transmission, in Kia speak. It is basically a manual transmission minus a clutch pedal. It is very easy to get accustomed to this concept of shifting gears without using a clutch. If anything, it makes the driving experience a lot less cumbersome, especially in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The shift action is very smooth and the gears slot into their well-defined gates rather effortlessly. You do need to be conscious of being in the right gear, but there is a prompt on the MID that suggests an upshift or a downshift, and it will even beep in case you have come to a complete halt or are trying to start off in a gear higher than second. What’s nice is that the gear ratios are much taller than in the DCT, and the third gear is so flexible, it can be used from 20kph all the way till 137kph without breaking a sweat. 0-100kph is over 1.7sec slower than the DCT, and this one doesn’t support aggressive launches or quick shifts either. So, while this transmission isn’t for those seeking an engaging drive, it will surely appeal to those who enjoy rowing through gears manually but have certain knee or leg-related ailments.

The Kia Sonet’s suspension has an inherent underlying firmness, which is one of its weak points. While the wide 215mm tyres do a decent job of absorbing road shocks from tinier potholes, the suspension filters through most but the smaller imperfections on the road, leading to a rather busy ride. Sharper bumps lead to more prominent road shocks inside the cabin, and the Kia doesn’t feel as plush as its rivals.

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Firm suspension setup makes the ride quite busy on less-than-perfect roads.

Taking this car on a winding section of road is quite rewarding, as that’s where its firm suspension shines. Body control is predictable and it changes directions quite nicely, with its body roll well in control. Its steering, however, lacks feel and feedback, and doesn’t boost driver confidence. On the flipside, the  steering feel is fluid and twirls with minimal effort, so manoeuvring this car in traffic or in tight parking spaces is a breeze. What makes this car even more user-friendly is the good visibility all around, light controls (in the manual and iMT), and all the parking aids on offer.

The Sonet diesel is a frugal milemuncher, squeezing out above average fuel economy figures. While the automatic returned 13.8kpl and 18.8kpl in the city and highway, respectively, the manual that’s tuned in the interest of fuel economy returned a staggering 15.4kpl and 20.8kpl in similar conditions. The Sonet diesels better the diesel-powered Seltos MT and AT by 1kpl  overall, owing to different gear ratios and a lighter kerb weight.

The turbo-petrol is quite efficient too, with the iMT returning 11.2kpl in the city and 15.8kpl on the highway, while the dual-clutch automatic achieved 11.6kpl and 16.5kpl, respectively. Having a seventh gear does give the DCT an edge over the iMT while cruising on the open road.

Kia has launched a flanking attack on the compact SUV space, leaving no stone unturned with the Sonet’s packaging. Its exteriors are stylish, interiors are polished, and it packs in all the premium kit that the segment demands. In addition, features like cooled seats and a Bose sound system are bound to catch the buyer’s fancy. Then there are multiple engine and transmission options spread across a broad price band, from Rs 6.71-12.89 lakh (ex-showroom, India), thus catering to a wider set of buyers across multiple price points. And when it comes to the fundamentals, its light controls and easy-going character make the Sonet very driver friendly, with the diesel-automatic option being the real ace up its sleeve, and our pick of the range. Not all is perfect though, and the price of some of the higher variants places it within the larger Creta’s space. The ride quality could be plusher and interior space is well below class standards. Look past these shortcomings and there’s little to fault in the well-conceived and well-built Sonet, which is set to be another blockbuster by Kia. 

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