2021 Kia Sonet Review: Rhyme and Reason

[This article was first published on carbuyer.com.sg]

Spot-on styling, plenty of utility and features, and a good drive make Kia’s new compact SUV an excellent compact car choice in Singapore

SINGAPORE – Is an affordable, stylish, useful, feature-packed car not an oxymoron in the age of higher COE prices? Kia’s new compact SUV, the Sonet, has a name that conjures airy flights of fancy, but in truth it’s a solid, reasonable car that offers great bang for the buck. 

What is the Sonet, though? It’s a compact SUV that Kia launched in late December 2021 – our news has a round-up of the what, where, how, and how much.

The SUV-ification of the motoring world is in full swing – along with electrification –  and  every mainstream brand packs at least one SUV in its lineup. Kia now has a whopping five of them: big seven-seat Sorento, hybrid small SUV Niro, petrol small SUV Seltos, compact SUV/crossover Stonic, and now the Sonet.

By now you’re thoroughly confused and seeing double – doesn’t Kia already have a compact, affordable SUV in the Stonic? 

Design and Appearance

At CarBuyer we use the terms ‘crossover’ and ‘SUV’ interchangeably, but elsewhere the terms can also be interpreted to mean that the former is less boxy or ruggedly-styled car than a ‘proper’ SUV. For instance, a Suzuki Vitara is a crossover, but a Suzuki Jimny is definitely an SUV. 

Sonet on the left, Stonic on the right

That’s the line Kia takes at least, and the styling and shape of the Sonet is a big contrast to the Stonic especially in person. The Sonet is significantly taller than its brother, at 1,643mm versus 1,485mm, and the not-a-crossover-chunky styling sets it apart immediately. 

The easiest way to sum up to Sonet is to call it a mini-Seltos. It goes big on the rough-n-tough tropes: It’s taller and boxier, has a huge grille and bash plate, all of which give an impression of size. 

It’s not just about quantity though, as the Sonet does have some sophisticated touches when it comes to styling: prominent LED lights mounted high, emphasised by muscular styling-lines on the bonnet. This might be in the budget segment, but perhaps most important of all for an SUV, it doesn’t look it. 

Interior and Features

The mini-Seltos analogy continues here:  The first thing that greets you is a nice, leather-covered steering wheel with full remote controls, and a speedo/infotainment screen section in black gloss plastic. Even the seats have a sporty touch with red stitching and bolstered cushion segments. 

The 8.0-inch infotainment system is a stand-out because it feels like a large car’s system wrought small, and not just a ‘we bunged it in here cos there was budget left over’ type deal. The screen is clear and easy to operate, and most impressively it has wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a rare find in the compact car segment. 

There’s only one trim level here, SX, which in Kia terminology (like the Cerato and Seltos) means you get all the trimmings including a wireless device charger, aircon front seats, a sunroof, keyless entry/start and more, all of which are a boon in the day-to-day. 

But there’s always a price to pay – which is why bean counters exist. If you do look closely, there are signs of cost cutting: The rear bench doesn’t split fold, and when you do fold it a ‘step’ remains between the seats and boot floor so it’s not completely flat. There are also lots of hard plastics in the cabin, though these are mostly patterned cleverly to hide their scratchy-feeling nature. 

But on the whole, these are minor issues, and don’t detract majorly from the living experience. Kia wisely chose to spend money where you interact with the car most and that pays off with an outsized experience for the compact segment. 

Space and Practicality 

Unlike some compact cars where you run out knick-knack space, the Sonet’s cockpit has lots of room including an armrest compartment, two drink holders, and a small stowage area under the smartphone charger.

While both the Stonic and Sonet are cars in the compact class, measuring just over four-metres long (Sonet 4,120mm, Stonic 4,140mm), the Sonet actually has a shorter wheelbase than the Stonic, 2,580mm versus 2,500mm. There isn’t much legroom in the back, and it’s a compact car so three adults is a squeeze. But the headroom is much better than the Stonic’s, and tall people should have no trouble with  the Sonet. 

The boot is a good size for a compact car: 392-litres, compared to 340-ish for the Stonic, and sub-300-litres for most compact hatchbacks. As mentioned, the seats don’t fold in line with the boot floor, which is a minor irritation. 

Kia Connect
Another thing the Sonet will have, which other compacts don’t, is Kia’s connectivity suite, Kia Connect Lite. It’s only up and running in Q2 2022, so we didn’t have the chance to test it in person, but it boasts plenty of features you can control with an app, including the ability to remotely start your car’s engine to pre-cool the cabin, in addition to the usual info, stats, and monitoring. It includes a 4G sim card onboard, and a three-year subscription will cost S$295 for Kia Care Plan members. For more info, visit Kia Singapore’s official page for it.



Driving Experience

Getting seated emphasises how different the Sonet is from the Stonic : It’s a very-SUV seating position, high even in its lowest setting, and delivers a good view of the road, while the extra-large speedometer is useful too. The Stonic, in contrast, feels like a slightly high-riding hatchback. 

Powering the Sonet is a new-to-Singapore 1.5-litre non-turbo Gamma engine with a decent 115hp and 144Nm of torque, mated to a CVT gearbox – no start-stop, no mild hybrid system in sight.

The drivetrain delivers power very smoothly, and if you drive the car for what it is, without rushing, it delivers excellent fuel economy as well. In our 200km+ test drive, we were able to consistently hit 6.5L/100km with 70/30 highway/city driving, in Normal drive mode (there’s Eco, and Sport too). Yes the Electric Age is dawning, but until there’s widespread charging, an efficient, affordable compact like this is the next best thing.

There’s a little of the SUV Jiggle in the Sonet’s ride, but without most of the harshness so common with many SUVs. It also handles neatly and predictably. A little more steering feel would have been nice, but it’s not essential in this segment.

Pair that with the fact that the Sonet is refined at low speeds – thanks to the smooth drivetrain – and you have a car that’s really good at city life. The compact footprint makes it a cinch to park, as does the sub-6.0-metre turning circle.  

The Sonet drives very competently, and like the styling, it doesn’t feel like a compact/entry-level car

At highway speeds there is noticeable wind and tyre noise, which is to be expected from compact cars that aren’t designed to rip across the highways at 150km/h. 

Where we dock points from the Sonet is a lack of advanced safety features – there’s no forward collision assistant nor lane keeping or any of those things that we find not just useful, but potential life-savers now.

Competition and Pricing

The compact SUV segment, which sits one step below small SUVs like the Honda HR-V and Toyota Yaris Cross, isn’t as highly-populated/competitive just yet, but it’s hotting up for sure. 

Key competition is the Hyundai Venue, which has a regular version at the same price as the Sonet, and one with active safety features for S$6k more. An outlier is the Suzuki Ignis, which is probably Singapore’s smallest SUV at well under four-metres long, but it’s tiny and not exactly cheap. 

But prime competition comes from the Stonic – same brand, same segment after all. As of early Jan, the Stonic Mild Hybrid SX is cheaper at S$106,999 with COE, compared to S$113,999 with COE, but the Sonet has the advantage in space and possibly styling, if you’re so inclined.

Conclusion

Breaking the S$110k with COE mark for a compact car is usually not a good sign for sales, but consider that COE prices have also spiked and even a Mitsubishi Attrage (one of the least expensive cars here) costs S$90k, puts that into perspective, while SUVs one size up from the Sonet cost from S$120k up.

For the price, the Sonet is an excellent car that punches above its category. The long list of features, efficient drivetrain and great urban driving manners and last but not least the tough SUV styling. It’s a convincing rhyme, because it’s based strongly on reason. 

Experience Now

[Source article: carbuyer.com.sg/2021-kia-sonet-review-singapore]

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