We are surrounded by cars that are small in their dimensions (due to the government norms or mandated otherwise because of the segment. Most of these cars though try and punch much above their weight (in a quest to offer the customer more or dole out USPs). The Kia Sonet is one such example. Check it out in person and the car seems much smaller than it should be. However, open the door and you’re greeted to a sea of creature comforts that are second only to its elder brother, the Kia Seltos. I guess we are now pretty updated on what to expect from Kia Motors in India. If a Hyundai car built on the same platform is launched before the Kia, the latter will have more features. And vice versa. I got to test the Kia Sonet in its iMT avatar and did it manage to impress me or not is what you will read in this review.
The 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine is a common affair, having started life last year in the Hyundai Aura and then the Grand i10 Nios. In the Sonet, you get it in a higher state of tune – 120hp/172Nm. Hyundai offers it with a 6-speed iMT or 7-speed DCT. The DCT everyone is aware of whereas the interest piqued by the iMT is on a different level. Here is a transmission that gives you the best of manual with a bit of automatic flavour. Allow me to explain. There is no clutch pedal in the iMT but you have to row your own gear.
The engine starts when the gear lever is in neutral. There is no need to press the brake while starting. Just like in a manual, push the lever to the first and you can move ahead in a smart fashion. Depending on the traffic conditions, you can shift up or down the gear lever. Considering if you forget to downshift, the car will not stall but it wouldn’t move ahead as well. A constant beep along with a warning on the instrument console will tell you to downshift. There is also no vehicle roll back on an incline because the Hill-Hold function has been dialled in. This eliminates the need to use the handbrake that you otherwise will be forced to in a clutch pedal-equipped manual car.
There is an upshift or downshift indicator in the multi-information display but in no way will the gearbox upshift or go down a gear on its own. In all, this leads to a less tiring experience compared to using the clutch pedal and at the same time gives you the pleasure of rowing your own gears. How much time does it take to get acclimatised to all this? Less than five minutes.
Now, on to the Kia Sonet’s engine as well as iMT experience. The turbo petrol engine is tractable enough and more often than not, I didn’t bother downshifting to first gear even in dense traffic. Second gear is all it needs for you to tackle speedbreakers, even with a full house. There is a bit of turbo lag under 2,000rpm but it only gets in the way if you want to make a quick getaway. Push beyond that and this small engine revs with urgency, making an ample amount of power for overtakes as well as cruising. At 100kmph in 6th gear, the revs are just near the 2,000rpm mark, making it a relaxed drive.
While it scores highly on the convenience factor, one thing I will have liked to be better is the fuel efficiency. With the COVID-19 uncertainty looming around, there were less vehicles than usual on the roads. The Kia Sonet delivered around 11kmpl in the city whereas the highway numbers increased to 16.4kmpl. In a busy city like Mumbai, you might end up getting lower numbers from this turbo petrol engine. Use the same car in a place like Kochi and you can see upwards of 13-14kmpl in the city. Depends on where you drive and how you do it.
Engine NVH is minimum and the best part is, in spite of being a three-cylinder, there are next to no vibrations in the cabin. Keep the engine on idle and open the door and you can feel vibrations on the door pad though. However, not many will do it and it is by chance that I also ended up spotting this.
There are enough to keep everyone happy. I had the HTX+ variant. This one brings in automatic climate control, UVO, air purifier, rear AC vents, 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a sunroof to the equation. Lest I miss out, there were also the ventilated front seats that my father truly appreciated. The controls are very easy to understand and seeing that this was my first Kia experience, it was thoroughly impressive. The infotainment system is in the line of sight of the driver and configuring it was also very easy. I though think the voice assistant could do with a better understanding and grasp of what is being told to it. Certain easy commands like asking it to call someone will lead to multiple attempts from the input side.
The Bose sound system is decent and again is better than what others offer in the segment.
The virtue of having shared parts with Hyundai means that the Sonet too gets a light steering wheel. Kia engineers though have dialed in good feedback which means there is proper communication between the front wheels to the driver. Good all-around visibility too is a part of the package with slim A-pillars. You also sit high up in an SUV-ish position. The ride quality though felt a bit bouncy, though it was due to overinflated tyres as was seen in the onboard tyre pressure monitoring system. Reduce the pressure to 32psi and the ride quality becomes acceptable. It becomes even better with a full complement of passengers.
As far as the handling goes, the Kia’s behaviour was neutral wherein the little body roll around corners tells you to take it easy. It isn’t the most enthusiastic sub-4m around corners. On highways, the car feels planted enough and the brakes too are decently good. However, were you to do repeated high speed runs, the brake fade will make you mash the pedal a bit harder than the previous time. ABS too is well-calibrated without it intruding too much.
In terms of space, the Kia Sonet could have offered a bit more for the rear passengers. Seating three healthy adults at the back will have them jostle for shoulder as well as leg space. However, if they are any slimmer then it shouldn’t be an issue.
To me, the Kia Sonet iMT is one car that will be useful for newbie drivers as well as small families and even bachelors. It has a very good road presence and for the first time, I liked driving around in the night with the useful LED headlamps on. There is immense value on offer with each and every variant. Priced between Rs 9.49 lakh – Rs 12 lakh, the customer has a lot of choices within the Sonet iMT fold. I think the iMT will be a revolutionary technology, changing the way we look at commuting for instance. Who in their sane minds will have thought that we will one day be driving a manual car without the clutch pedal.
There are very little vices associated with the Kia Sonet. I wonder what will Kia Motors add in the facelifted versions in the future, given that every possible herb has been mixed in this well-tuned concoction. The car makes you feel special and that is what attracts me to a vehicle. If you are on the lookout for a sub-4m SUV right now though, look away from the Sonet. It has got a massive waiting period. That is unless you’re ready to wait. And the wait will definitely be worth it!
Photos by Donald Dsouza
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