It’s no secret that the Kia Sonet is the trendier, hipper and more eager to please version of the Hyundai Venue. Heck, even its name is an acronym for Social-Network …SO-NET…get it!
With Kia dropping so many hints, of course, it was time to drive it and test the tech! If the Seltos is anything to go by, Kia will be offering the Sonet in a myriad of variants across engine/gearbox options and trim lines like Tech Line or GT Line.
For this drive, I had both the diesel AT and the petrol iMT at my disposal, both in GT Line trim so the features were almost identical. Seeing the Sonet in the flesh instantly reminds you of the concept that Kia showed off at the Auto Expo in a pre-lockdown world. It keeps almost all of the styling cues intact except the exaggerated wheels and that’s a good thing since this is handsome looking sub-4mt that doesn’t make a wrong move in terms of proportions or stance. From the wide, tiger-nose signature Kia grille that wears a knurled finish to the LED headlamps and DRLs to the red inserts on the grille and splitter, the front-end screams sporty and trendy.
On the insides too, the funky carpet design is a refreshing break from the boring black. Kia is a master at disguising the actual value of the car. Quality of the all the primary touchpoint is great, with a leather-wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel, padded armrests and the knurled pattern being carried forward on the AC vents and the centre console.
There are hard plastics up top but overall fit and finish is as good as the best in class, if not better. Of course, what dominates the compact cabin is the huge 10.25in touchscreen and forms one long binnacle along with the instrument cluster. The instrument cluster is part digital too, with an integrated 4.2in MID that toggles between tire pressure data, navigation and trip data. A huge digital readout instead of a standard speedometer always keeps you in check and if that doesn’t work, you are mildly beeped by the customary warning at 80km/hr. Thankfully, it’s not too intrusive and isn’t continuous like on some other recent cars. Also, most importantly, it doesn’t dictate your media volume. Small mercies.
With steering and seat adjustable for height, it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position and with the centre and the door armrest ergonomically placed at the correct distances, it’s clear that the Sonet is designed to make city commuting light and easy. The 115hp diesel engine is torquey enough from the get-go, even though you might find yourself mashing your foot to the floor, but it builds power linearly and is adequate enough for the city. Use the Sport drive mode and the steering weighs up a bit and throttle response is a tad bit sharper too. The 6-speed AT is smooth and complements the engine well, staying in the right gear most of the time. While overtaking, you might want to take manual control and while there are no paddle shifters, you can flick the gear lever to the right and up or downshift manually. I hardly bothered with manual mode though, the AT responds well to kick downs and unless your last name is Karthikeyan, you won’t mind the unhurried nature. It does get coarse when pushed though and a bit of noise filters in the cabin but it’s not enough to keep you away from the diesel. In fact, this 4-pot is great for long drives too with its healthy torque that’ll turn around some great fuel economy figures too. You also get Traction modes like Sand, Snow and Mud, in case you find yourself on challenging surfaces, the Sonet will modulate the throttle response and power set to the front wheels to reduce spin.
The turbo-petrol GDi is a 3-pot motor with the iMT clutchless manual transmission as standard and a 7-speed dual-clutch auto as an option. With the iMT, build-up of speed is a bit slower than the diesel but once it gets going, it keeps up and even adds a bit of throatiness to the sound. It takes all of three minutes to get used to shifting gears through the gates without having a clutch pedal to press down on. It’s unique and fun but the novelty does wear off once you start forgetting to change gears due to the napping left-foot. It can also slow you down if you’re used to aggressive gearshifts or are an enthusiastic driver and you’ll have to lift off the throttle for the gear change if you don’t want to be jerked around. Having said that, it is a whole lot cheaper than the DCT and if the price is a consideration, the iMT is a brilliant solution to saving yourself the drudgery of stop-go traffic fatigue. In first gear, it’ll just creep forward slowly like a typical auto box so all you have to do is feather the brakes in city traffic.
But of course, you’re at the Stuff HQ to check out the tech and that’s what the Sonet impresses with the most. So here’s a breakdown of the what’s and how’s.
10.25in infotainment screen - Kia claims this is the biggest screen in the segment and we can’t argue with that. It’s plucked right out of the Seltos and the capacitive screen is sharp and responsive. Operation is clear enough and logical, mostly, once you get used to all the menus and where all the features sit. The screen can also be split so that the sat/nav screen can be shared with media controls. Maps are powered by Here and show a lot of 3D data and are generally quite accurate, it’s just that we have been trained to trust Google Maps more than our mothers now. But, the built-in navigation is a great aid when your cell network is poor and Kia also provides 3-years of free subscription to all maps and UVO services via the embedded eSIM. Over-the-air updates will also be pushed to the Sonet as and when map updates are available and that really comes in handy since our urban landscapes are changing faster than the climate, thanks to Metro construction! The screen can also be used to activate the Driving Rear View Monitor that allows you to keep an eye out for potential blind spots. Mind you though, the screen sizes will differ, depending on which variant you choose. The base variant gets a rather lowly 3.8in 2-DIN system, moving on to a larger 8in unit for mid-level variants and topping out with the 10.25 fully connected system.
Bose premium audio - Again a segment-first, the Bose audio system isn’t just a badge pull by Kia and is, in fact, one of the best-tuned systems out there. The 7-speaker system includes a pair of midrange/tweeter drivers on each front door and a full-range driver on each of the rear doors, aided by a boot-mounted 6.5in 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 too, like it can get on many other Bose systems, making the Sonet quite an impressive platform for this system. From rock to dance and R&B, the Bose audio really uplifted the mood during the drive and will easily conceal hundreds of miles of journeys with happy passengers and driver! Of the two cars I drove, one of them had a slight rattle from the door panels, but only at high volumes and with extreme bass-heavy music but the other car proved to be rock solid in terms of its damping and construction, allowing me to push the system to its limits and yet never running into distortion. In terms of settings, you get the usual tone, balance and fader controls but with a more precise ‘sound focus’ display to let you select where you want the centre point of the sound to be around the cabin. There’s mood lighting as well that can be kept static or pulsate to the beats of the music you’re playing. Although I couldn’t test this out in the Sonet since it was a daytime drive on a bright and sunny day in Mumbai, I’m sure it’ll find takers.
Phone connectivity - Interestingly, a feature that no one begged for but will be glad is available on the Sonet is the multipoint Bluetooth connection. It lets you connect two phones to the car simultaneously so that one can be used for handsfree calling and the other as a music player or in CarPlay/Android Auto mode. It works well and can prove to be a great counsellor, letting both passenger and driver have their way! The wireless charging mat on the centre console is also cooled and easily accommodated our Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra, the biggest phone you can get your hands on at the moment. Even in more premium cars, having a big enough wireless charging mat is sometimes an issue, so Kia has got its ear to the ground in terms of practicality. A 12V socket, two USB ports up front and a single USB port at the back sum up the wired connectivity, which is more than adequate for a car in this class.
Air filter - It’s Kia versus COVID in the case of the Sonet. Taming not just bad air quality via the air filter, the Sonet also claims rights to the worlds first virus protection filter in a car! Using an N29-grade HEPA filter along with UV-C LED sterilisation, the user-replaceable filter ensures optimum AQI inside the cabin at all times and it displays real-time information on the main 10.25in touchscreen and the rear-facing screen on top of the rear AC vents too. Only time will tell how effective this system is but it’s great to see manufacturers being mindful of passive safety down to the air-quality level, which seems to be as important as active safety measures in these times.
UVO Connect - Like on Hyundai’s Blue Link system, Kia has gone all-out with its UVO app that also receives some updates with the Sonet. What makes an appearance here is the AI-based voice assistant that can be used for an assortment of commands. The ones that worked for me were AC temperature controls and the driver’s side window up/down but there are more which can be explored. The system responds to the wake word ‘Hello Kia’ and you have to be reasonably loud and firm to bring up the AI. While it understands Indian diction well, it’s repertoire of instructions isn’t very clear and something that will be enhanced over time via updates. The partnering app on your smartphone shows up a wealth of data, including in-cabin AQI, geo-fence, valet-fence, time-fence, idle and speed limit alerts, engine and door status, fuel level and plenty more. It’s nice to have smartwatch support too, so even if you’re not around your phone, your watch alerts you with a notification that the doors on your Sonet are unlocked! As a first, even the engine on the iMT version of the Sonet can be remotely started via the UVO app, provided the car is in N with the handbrake engaged. While the said 57 features might not all be put into action by anyone user, there are enough features to appeal to a wide cross-section of its customer base and it’s one of the better-executed apps with fast response and connectivity times.
With a lot of this extensive tech being offered for the first time in this segment, it’s going to give Kia a massive slingshot out of the showrooms in the initial days. The competition will eventually catch up, but for now, the Sonet remains one of the biggest bargains of the Indian auto-industry in the compact SUV segment based on its estimated price range of Rs. 7-14lacs. Drive modes, sunroof, big touchscreen, premium Bose audio, AI voice assistant, ventilated seats, wireless charging, LED lights all around, air purifier with virus protection, tire pressure monitor, rear parking camera, connected app control...its list of reasons to buy is simply staggering. Judging by the success of the Seltos, it’s no secret that Kia is keen to repeat that with the Sonet and has even made specific improvements citing Indian driving conditions. Everyday things like fuel efficiency, AC performance, a louder horn, reduced brake judder, clutch durability and easier action for the reduced clutch force...everything has been considered to ensure the Sonet hits the mark. And it has. The launch maybe a week away but the order books will soon start filling up for this one. It’s another home run for the Korean then!