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Kia Sonet test drive review

S Muralidhar | Updated on September 11, 2020 Published on September 11, 2020

We test-drive the new sub-compact SUV from Kia to find out what its USPs are. Is it the best yet? And should you be booking one for yourself?

When the sub-compact, under-four-metre SUV category debuted, there may have been detractors who felt that the size restriction takes away from the essence of the body type. But those sceptical voices are fading away even in mature markets where this form and size factor, it is felt, may make for the right urban commuter. Today there is the abundant choice in this segment with almost every major brand sporting one in their portfolio. The latest one, the Kia Sonet, is late to the party and yet possesses the right mix of ingredients to rock the boat.

A record-setting number of potential buyers have put down cash on the Sonet on the very first day of bookings being opened. They haven’t even seen the vehicle in the flesh yet. If that is anything to go by, then it is clear that design is increasingly the key differentiator, especially when the brand’s generic attributes have become consistent. For the Sonet, its design will be the first draw amongst potential buyers. While endowing it with its own unique characteristics, Kia has smartly given the Sonet both trademark family design traits and features that seem to have been reinterpreted from the Seltos - the bigger sibling. Both these contribute to making the Sonet seem very different from the Hyundai Venue - a vehicle with which it shares a lot of its underpinnings.

WATCH

 

Design

 

The heartbeat LED signatures in the headlamps and tail-lamps, the tiger-nose grille on the raised hood give it the connection to the Seltos, while giving it the necessary SUV flavour. With what seems like an elongated bonnet, faux skid plates in the front and rear fenders, and the prominent wheel arches with contrast cladding deliver the stance for it look bold despite its compact footprint. The connected tail-lamps and the dual faux tailpipes treatment give it a deceptive visual width when viewed straight on from the rear. The C-pillar treatment is its unique, mildly quirky twist, and may not be to everyone's liking. But it adds more SUV character to the Sonet. The fit and finish for the exterior are clean. Shut-lines are tight, materials used feel good, and there is no evidence of this having been built to fit a budget. Red accents highlighting the GT Line trim variants are a nice touch.

 

Interior

The Sonet’s cabin is where more surprises are hiding in plain sight. Again there is an air of premiumness in the cabin of my test mule GT Line diesel automatic variant. The black theme works in the cabin, though there are other dual colour theme trim variants also. Even if we ignore the marketing brochure claims about the dashboard theme and its elephant-inspired design etc. must admit that the layout is clean, fresh and very SUV-like with features like the vertical orientation for the aircon vents and the raised centre console. The elongated, unified binnacle combining the instrument cluster and the infotainment display has also been executed well, very Seltos like. The auto climate control panel and the elaborately constructed seats with the contrast red double stitching caught my eye.

 

I’m not a big fan of features being loaded on to cars just for the sake of building up a list, rather than being genuinely useful. So, for me, a sunroof is very dispensable, though buyers across segments seem to want one in their cars. But, the Sonet gets a load of features that can be used every day and will improve the ownership experience, and many are features from a segment above. Stuff like a cooled wireless charger slot, ventilated driver and front passenger seats, front parking sensor, option to connect two phones via Bluetooth to the infotainment system (one for music and another for other functions), and the air purifier which conveniently offers virus protection are all likely to be used every time the Sonet is taken out for a drive. It also gets all the 57 connected features under the UVO, including remote engine start for both manual and automatic variants.

 

Kia claims that the Sonet’s cabin space offered is also higher than many competitors, including segment-leading boot space of 392litres. Younger buyer focus, a Kia brand attribute, means that the flat-bottom steering wheel, wireless Apple CarPlay, AI voice recognition etc. have been integrated. The 7-speaker Bose audio system and perfume dispenser in the air purifier may initially seem like overkill, but then if buyers appreciate the segment-above features, I’d say why not.

Performance

The Sonet’s powertrain options include the Smartstream G1.2 petrol engine delivering 83PS of peak power and 115Nm of torque, the 998cc turbocharged G1.0 T-GDi petrol and the turbocharged 1.5-litre CRDi Diesel engine in two output levels depending on whether it is paired with the 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. Depending on the engine, the other transmission choices include a 5-speed manual, 6-speed iMT (intelligent manual) and a 7-speed DCT (dual-clutch auto). My test mule was the top-spec GT Line diesel engine variant with the 6-speed torque converter automatic gearbox delivering 115PS of power and 250Nm of torque. Getting a comfortable driving position is easy with three-way manual adjustments for the driver seat and a height-adjustable steering wheel. I quickly set it up and headed into Bengaluru’s legendary city traffic. The engine offers enough torque right from above the idling level. Peak torque is available from a low 1,500rpm and makes it easy to use in slow-moving traffic, with quick sprints in between when the road opens up. The cabin is quiet and seems well-insulated, though past the 3,000rpm mark it is evident that it is a diesel inside the bonnet.

Gear shifts are fairly quick, though certainly didn’t feel as good as the DCT. There are three drive modes to try out, with the Sport mode being the most usable and one in which the change in powertrain character is perceptible. The other two - Normal and Eco feel very similar. There are also three traction modes on offer - snow, mud and Sand - none of which I could try on suitable terrain and so can’t say how they perform. The Sonet is only offered in a two-wheel drive set up; so these modes must only be a play on the electronics. Kia’s claimed rated mileage for the 1.5L CRDi 6AT-VGT is 19kmpl; my test mule delivered about 9.5kmpl largely due to the slow-moving traffic conditions during much of the drive.

Ride quality

The Sonet’s ride quality is also a highlight, with a generic ability to iron out bad roads. I could still feel its compact size from the way it rolls over speed breakers and potholes, but the impact at the seat level is contained. There is also a certain sense of assuredness in its ability to keep noise levels also low.

Bottom Line

The new Kia Sonet feels like another potential winner for Kia. For a vehicle in this highly competitive sub-compact SUV segment, there are very few pain points in comparison to its competitors. Hopefully, when it is launched later this month, Kia will price the Sonet as aggressively as it did the Seltos.

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Published on September 11, 2020
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