2020 Kia Sonet first drive review

We finally jump into the drivers seat of the Kia Sonet to find out if all the hype is for nothing. Or will it take the compact SUV segment by a storm?

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Kia Sonet - Topgear Magazine India
2020 Kia Sonet. (Image: BBC TopGear India)

‘Never judge a book by its cover’. ‘Looks are deceptive’. ‘Looks are subjective’. None of these lines made a difference when Kia took the wraps off the Sonet concept at the Indian Auto Expo early this year. The looks were such a hit that I wondered how much of that would make it to the production model, and thankfully, Kia did not disappoint.

Kia Sonet Exterior Look - Topgear Magazine Online
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

The Sonet broke cover last month, and I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw that it looked a lot like the concept. It isn’t surprising, though. The two models that Kia has launched before have been easy on the eyes, so this was a given. And of course, like the bigger Seltos, there are a plethora of variants on offer. Seriously though, we could only review Sonets for the next couple of months and manage to fill the magazine. God help those poor sales representatives.

Kia Sonet Exterior Look - Topgear Magazine Online
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

The name Sonet is an amalgamation of ‘Social Network’, and that makes it quite clear that Kia is aiming it at a younger audience. Not that your dad would mind driving it. It’s funky and modern, especially at the front with its bold and busy design. You have the ‘crown jewel’ LED headlamps with a fairly intricate cluster and that unique ‘heartbeat’ design for the DRLs. Then is the Kia signature ‘Tiger nose’ grille that also gets red accents, because we drove the GT Line spec.

Kia Sonet Headlights- Topgear Magazine Online
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

Further down, you have the air intake with a GT Line exclusive faux metal scuff plate and of course red inserts, and overall, it is a prominent front end and something you would recognise from a distance. The profile is where things simmer down slightly. That typical SUV box design is evident, and even though it is modern, and cool looking with 16-inch alloys and red brake calipers (GT Line only), it is not as wacky as the front is. The rear too is a lot more subtle, but you do get a nice big reflector strip that joins the LED taillamps with heartbeat DRLs. The GT Line also gets a gloss black diffuser and dual exhausts, and before you raise your eyebrows, they are only aesthetic additions and aren’t functional.

Kia Sonet Backlights- Topgear Magazine Online
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

Inside, the design is typical Kia with the massive 10.25-inch touchscreen dominating the dashboard. The touchscreen also merges with the instrument cluster which on the Sonet is semi-digital. The steering too is nice and sporty with red stitching and a flat-bottom design. The centre console is where things seem to get busy. The buttons and switches are all crammed here, but its all easy to access and everything is where you’d want it to be. Now, this all-black interior with the red stitching is, of course, a GT Line exclusive, the Tech Line will get a dual-tone theme with beige and black for dashboard and upholstery. The seats are nice and comfy; you have good cushioning, they offer a good amount of support and also get ventilation, which is a huge plus.

Kia Sonet Sit Area - Topgear Magazine Online
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

The backseat is where you realise the Sonet is, in fact, the Hyundai Venue’s cousin. Legroom is just not good enough for taller adults, especially if you are over 6ft, but decent headroom and the cabin is wide enough as well despite the rising window line. Fitting three of your friends, though, will be a squeeze.

Kia Sonet Display - Topgear Magazine
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

Equipment-wise, the Sonet is very impressive. Apart from the design, the long list of features is one of its key USPs. I mentioned the sunroof and ventilated seats, but you also get wireless charging, dual USB ports, a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors, six airbags and ABS with EBD and ESC. There is also an air purifier with ‘Virus Protection’. Great addition, but don’t count on it and start violating COVID guidelines. Of course, there also is the connected tech as well with the UVO connect app. On automatic versions, you can start the car, check the status of the doors and even access the climate control. These, of course, are just a handful of them that are worth mentioning. There’s a lot more on offer. But ill let that poor sales rep tell you the rest.

Kia Sonet Features - Topgear Magazine
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

Now the above two paragraphs are what you’ve seen for long and some you might also know more than I do when it comes to the features etc. But what is the Sonet like to drive and handle? Is it good enough to evoke a grin on your face? It is aimed at the youth, and we do grin a lot. As we discussed, there are enough versions of the Sonet to last me my entire career, but today we have only two variants to review, and both are in the GT Line trim. So if you want to see the Tech Line, that low sales rep is always available.

Kia Sonet Exterior Look- Topgear Magazine
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

The first is the turbo-petrol with the new 6-speed iMT gearbox. You’d think we had enough gearbox options. But, this is unlike anything out there. It is a manual gearbox, but like an AMT, it has an actuator that engages the clutch for you. All you have to do is slot the gears, and while that may sound tricky at first, you soon get the hang of it. It is what the AMT should have been. Nevermind the occasional gear slotting, with this, and you at least have a lot better control over the gearbox. So if you are a keen driver but you can only enjoy a couple of fly-overs on your way back home, this gearbox is something you’d appreciate. Then is the engine which we sampled on the Venue just last month. The 1.0-litre turbo-petrol engine making 118bhp is the most powerful and fun option in the Sonet line-up. There is a strong grunt in the mid-range, and it also loves to rev high. Overtaking is a breeze as well, the smooth and responsive gearbox along with the punchy engine is an impressive combo.

Kia Sonet Car Look- Topgear Magazine
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

What is also impressive on the Sonet, and something I did not expect is the ride. I expected it to have the slight firmness at low speeds like the Venue, given how closely related they are, but to my surprise, the Sonet is just a bit more supple and is comfier. Handling though is similar. You will appreciate the light steering while getting out of the maze that is a shopping mall parking lot, and the body roll is well contained. You also get a 7-speed DCT gearbox with this engine, but if you want an involving drive, this iMT is the right choice.

Kia Sonet Roof - Topgear Magazine
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

Next, we also sampled the diesel. How could we not? Even though diesel is almost on its way out, it makes up for a significant sales chunk when it comes to SUVs. The poor sales rep will tell you that. The Sonet gets two diesel options, and we had the more powerful 113bp 1.5-litre engine with a 6-speed automatic. Now, this is the good ol’ torque converter that we all know very well. But, about the engine first. Refinement is what diesel engines lack, but with this, apart from a slight drone at idle, you have a smooth and clatter-free motor. Once you get going, the strong bottom-end grunt helps you lunge ahead, and the gearbox is smooth to shift too. It is the more relaxed and cruiser-friendly version of the lot. Engage cruise control, put on some AC/DC on those Bose speakers and you can cover a couple of states with ease. What this diesel also gets are drive and traction modes. No, don’t scoff. They make a difference. Slot the drive mode from Eco to Sport, and you realise the engine is more responsive and the steering gains some heft as well; to add to the handling dynamics. Then are the traction modes that vary between Snow, Sand and Mud. On a front-wheel drive, think of them as a helping hand when it is pouring.

Kia Sonet Speedometer  - Topgear Magazine India
(Image: BBC TopGear India)

To sum it up then, the Sonet has arrived all guns blazing. GT Line or Tech Line- it looks the part, is packed to the gills and with a broad spectrum of variants, there is a Sonet for everyone. The lack of rear-seat space and a fully manual gearbox (with a clutch) for the turbo-petrol engine are minor blemishes in what is an otherwise complete package. So if you had already liked how the Sonet looks and were waiting for the driving impressions, let me tell you this is a compact SUV that is ready for the number one spot. Time to bother that poor sales rep.