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Reports of 10 children simultaneously born to an SA woman may have proven to be fake, but there is no doubting the proliferation of a different kind of baby on local soil: compact SUVs.
Marking Kia’s entry into the fast-growing B-SUV league in SA, the Sonet (pronounced “sonnet” in the Shakespearean way) is one of the newest players in the popular segment for budget-focused crossovers that are about 4m long and cost (mostly) less than R300,000.
It is a bustling playpen indeed, and just this year it has been populated by new arrivals including the Nissan Magnite, Toyota Urban Cruiser and Suzuki Vitara Brezza.
Built in India, Kia’s effort is a pleasant little charmer that will appeal to first-time buyers and empty-nesters, with slick styling, keen pricing and a generous list of features as its main attractions.
It is backed by the Korean brand’s solid reputation, forged by popular sellers such as the Picanto and Sportage, and comes with one of the market’s best warranties: a five-year/unlimited kilometre deal inclusive of roadside assistance, as well as a four-year/60,000km service plan.
The Sonet’s eye-catching styling is full of youthful swagger, and the top model is adorned with roof rails, silver skid plates and black wheel arch mouldings to give it more SUV-like flair. With a range of solid colours, the car is available with four two-tone exterior colour options for added styling verve.
Being front-wheel driven it doesn’t provide any off-roading ability, but it certainly looks the part, which is what most buyers in this segment seem to be after.
The cabin lays on the charm with a modern design and all the latest mod cons. The interior plastics aren’t the richer-feeling soft-touch type but Kia’s made a good effort at raising the interior appeal above bargain-basement status. There are interesting textures and design details to save the cabin from monochromatic drudgery, and it all seems solidly put together.
Touchscreen infotainment and a digital instrument panel add to the car’s modern appeal, and it is neatly laid out and easy to operate. The touchscreen system has large, thumb-friendly icons while there are air vents for both front and rear passengers.
The infotainment screen incorporates a reversing camera, and a full gamut of smartphone connectivity is provided via Bluetooth, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and front and rear USB ports.
These items come standard even in the baseline Sonet LX priced at R264,995, which also has features such as electric windows, automatically activating headlamps, and a combination artificial leather and cloth seat trim.
The higher-specced EX model adds more showy plumage in the form of alloy wheels (the LX has steel wheels) and the above-mentioned roof rails and skidplates, with a leather-clad steering wheel and gear knob.
One ergonomic quirk is that the steering column adjusts only for height, not reach.
For a small car the Sonet has impressive space, and four adults can fit comfortably inside. The 392l boot (containing a full-size spare wheel) is one of the largest in the segment and the rear seats flip down to cater for bigger shopping sprees.
All versions of the Sonet are powered by a capable 1.5l petrol unit which does not confine the little car to the slow lane. It is a perky runabout through the urban grind, and holds its own on open roads where it is able to contentedly cruise at the speed limit or more. Averaging 6.5l/100km, the Sonet makes for unthirsty performance too.
The model on test is the EX five speed manual priced at R284,995. The gearbox is no chore to operate and slots smoothly, but for a R21,000 premium there are CVT automatic versions of the Sonet available for those seeking two-pedal convenience.
Small cars can sometimes sound buzzy but the Sonet hums along in reasonable silence, adding to the car’s general big-car-in-a-small-body vibe.
At 190mm the Sonet sits higher off the ground than several of its rivals, which with its high-profile 215/60 R16 tyres makes it well suited to driving on rough gravel. It rides smoothly and the suspension does not become flustered on bumpy roads, while the elevated stance does not negatively affect its cornering agility; it is a light car that nips through turns neatly.
The Kia Sonet lays on many charms but faces a slew of talented contenders in a bustling market segment. It stands out for being one of the better priced players in the baby-SUV sector, while its warranty — the only one in the game with unlimited mileage — is also a draw card.
Type: four cylinder petrol
Type: Five-speed manual
Type: Front-wheel drive
Top speed: 170km/h
0-100km/h: 11.3 seconds (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 7.0l /100km (claimed); 6.5l/100km (as tested)
ABS brakes, stability control, two airbags, infotainment system, electric mirrors, electric windows, parking camera, trip computers, automatic headlights, infotainment with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, six-speaker audio system, front and rear USB charging ports, alloy wheels, front fog lights
Warranty: Five years/unlimited km
Service plan: Four years/60,000km
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
Kia Sonet 1.5 EX manual
Styling, price, warranty, Kia’s reputation.
Steering isn’t reach-adjustable.
An appealing and surprisingly roomy small SUV.
****Value For Money
Mahindra XUV300 1.2T W6, 81kW/200Nm — R261,999
Nissan Magnite 1.0 Turbo Acenta Plus, 74kW/160Nm — R282,600
Suzuki Vitara Brezza 1.5 GLX, 77kW/138Nm — R289,900
Honda WR-V 1.2 Comfort, 66kW/110Nm — R289,900
Toyota Urban Cruiser 1.5 XR, 77kW/138Nm — R294,500
Ford EcoSport 1.5 Ambiente, 91kW/150Nm — R303,400
Hyundai Venue 1.0T Motion, 88kW/172Nm — R311,900
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.