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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist


Kia composes facelift Sonet’s next chapter with significant intrigue

New design and range streamlining has seen a clear focus being placed on the normally aspirated 1.5-litre engine and improved specification.


By its own admission, Kia might have on the optimistic side when it projected the monthly sales figures of the Sonet.

Anything but a let-down

Its smallest and most affordable SUV, the Indian-made Sonet, at the time of its launch three years ago, was seen as the biggest threat to the now discontinued Ford EcoSport in the burgeoning A-segment with projected monthly sales of more than 1 000 units.

While this never materialised as the EcoSport only let go of its crown months before its market withdrawal, the Sonet has been anything but a tragic few lines in Kia South Africa’s history books with sales often still breaching 500 units a month at a time when new vehicle sales continue to tank.

ALSO READ: Updated chapter written as Kia debuts feistier, revised Sonet

Effectively the indirect replacement for the Rio, whose already revealed successor won’t be offered with right-hand-drive, the Sonet joined Kia’s current range of models at the end of last year as the latest to receive its Opposites United styling language.

First shown on the Sportage before being passed down, the facelift Sonet made its market debut last week as part of the media launch in Durban which involved spells behind the wheel of not the flagship variants, but rather the entry-level models expected to make-up the bulk of local sales.

Feistier outside

Assembled alongside the Seltos – launched in facelift guise two months ago – at the Anantapur Plant in the state of Andra Pradesh, the Opposites United aesthetic goes further than the exterior as Kia has also revised the interior, while adding more equipment.

Facelift Kia Sonet debuts in South Africa
Revisions at the rear sees the Sonet now resembling the Picanto.

Appearing more aggressive and sharper than before, the external revisions consist of a new Tiger Nose grille, a restyled front bumper and lower air intake, new LED headlights and daytime running diodes that extend to the flanks of the bumper, a restyled bonnet and new front wings.

Easier to the spot are the changes at the rear. Derived from the facelift Picanto, the squared-off appearance involves a new bumper and skidplate, and the most prominent, new taillight clusters connected by a full-width LED light bar on the new tailgate.

Colourful and practical

Dimensionally unchanged, and still with 385-litres of boot space, the final revision involves the addition of the Pewter Olive Metallic paint option as on the Seltos.

In total, six other hues are offered; Glacier White Pearl, Aurora Black Pearl, Gravity Grey Metallic, Sparkling Silver Metallic, Imperial Blue Metallic and Intense Red Metallic.

As a further option, a dual-tone hue can be specified in which a black roof contrasts the red and white body colours.

Still petrol only but…

On the model front, a line-up realigning has seen the LX returning as the base model ahead of the EX, which, however, loses the six-speed manual gearboc by becoming a CVT only model.

In addition, the forced-assisted 1.0 T-GDI has been reduced to EX grade only as a result of sales being 30% versus 70% of the normally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol that now powers the bulk of the range.

Also returning is EX Plus, now exclusively 1.5-litre powered, positioned below the SX that becomes the new range-topper.

Outputs for both engine options are unchanged with the 1.5 producing 85kW/144Nm and the three-cylinder T-GDI 88kW/172Nm.

Facelift Kia Sonet debuts in South Africa
Depicted EX now the sole variant to offer the 1.0 T-GDI engine as an option.

Besides the CVT, the former still offers the manual in LX guise only, while the T-GDI once again makes do with a seven-speed dual-clutch.

While also motivated by a turbodiesel engine in India, the Sonet remains petrol-powered for now in a capacity that makes its Kia’s only SUV without an oil-burning option.

Kia South Africa’s Sales and Marketing Director, Stephen Crosse, has, however, indicated that it is “pushing” for the diesel’s inclusion and that an announcement could potentially happen before year-end if granted approval.

Upgraded to India’s BS6.2 emissions regulations, the diesel displaces the same 1.5-litres as in the Seltos with outputs of 85 kW, but with 240 Nm of torque when connected to the six-speed manual gearbox and 250 Nm when paired to a six-speed automatic.

Spec

Inside, Kia has fitted new materials and black cloth seats to all models, but not the dual 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and infotainment system reserved solely for the EX Plus and SX.

Although lacking a few of the Indian model’s nice-to-haves, the Sonet’s specification sheet is anything but bare as the LX comes equipped with a six-speaker sound system, an eight-inch infotainment system, LED daytime running lights, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 4.2-inch TFT instrument cluster and brand-new 16-inch alloy-styled wheels.

Kia revises Sonet in South Africa
Interior has been revised with new materials and on higher-end models, a dual 10.25-inch instrument cluster and infotainment system.

Also included is a reverse camera, voice recognition, auto on/off headlights, Hill Start Assist, height adjustable driver’s seat and a rake-and-reach steering column.

Building on the LX, the EX gains LED headlights and fog lamps, a front armrest, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, rear parking sensors, folding electric mirrors and cruise control.

Kia revises Sonet in South Africa
Infotainment system still measures eight-inches on the LX and EX.

Besides its tech upgrades, the EX Plus swaps the 15-inch wheels for 16-inch diamond-cut alloys and the manual air-conditioning for automatic climate control. Imitation leather and four additional airbags for a total of six rounds it off.

For the newly added SX, Kia has made push-button start and keyless entry standard, along with a wireless smartphone charger, a drive mode selector with four settings – Eco, Comfort, Smart and Sport – Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Monitoring and Lane Follow Assist.

The drive

Centring around the highways and byways near Balito and Umhlanga, the first leg took of the drive took place in the LX CVT Kia expects will remain the volume selling model instead of the manual, whose asking price has stayed put at R366 995.

Dearer by R25 000, but only by R4 000 compared to the pre-facelift derivative, the CVT remains one of the better options available, despite exhibiting the usual and annoying drone under hard accelerating.

Facelift Kia Sonet debuts in South Africa
Standard on the LX and EX are alloy-styled 16-inch wheels.

Smooth and much more palpable when not hurried, the ‘box does, however, still compliment the Sonet as the relative low weight of just over 1.1-tonnes makes it feel quicker than it really is.

Paired to an engine that revs freely and with sufficient poke, which will likely exhibit the opposite at altitude, the Sonet still impresses on the ride front with a suspension that irons out bumps and imperfections with ease and aplomb.

A somewhat shorter drive in the 1.0 T-GDI had a more mixed response. While quality, refinement and fit-and-finish inside hasn’t changed from our initial experience two years ago, the change in powerplant didn’t show any significant improvements on the 1.5.

Kia revises Sonet in South Africa
A new cloth upholstery for the seats feature across the Sonet range

In fact, despite the added low-down punch, progress wasn’t as a big a leap as expected in contrast to the pre-facelift T-GDI EX Plus.

What’s more, the T-GDI’s 180 km/h top speed versus the 1.5’s 175 km/h is offset by a slower 0-100 km/h time of 11.6 seconds compared to manual’s 10.5 seconds and the CVT’s 10.3 seconds.

This is largely attributed to the drivetrain having been tuned for efficiency as evident by the dual-clutch ‘box shifting quickly to reach seventh gear in order to as frugal as possible when cruising.

Conclusion

While no longer the bargain it once was in spite of an unchanged starting price, the Kia Sonet keeps its reputation in check as arguably one of the most complete and striking small SUVs in South Africa to date.

Although the thought of paying premium pricing for a Kia will continue to be questioned by some, the Sonet’s justification is still warranted and as such, will continue to pen a success story without a bad ending anytime soon.

Price

Standard across the entire Sonet range is a five-year/unlimited km warranty and a four-year/60 000 km service plan.

  • Sonet 1.5 LX – R366 995
  • Sonet 1.5 LX CVT – R391 995
  • Sonet 1.5 EX CVT – R411 995
  • Sonet 1.0 T-GDI EX DCT – R436 995
  • Sonet 1.5 EX Plus CVT – R454 995
  • Sonet 1.5 SX CVT – R484 995

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