The hatchback as we know is dead! Don’t believe me? Well, Renault recently unveiled their new Mégane concept that has now morphed into a crossover of some sort. Ford only sells SUVs and pick up trucks in the USA while on the local front the only version of the Golf 8 that we’ll be getting is the GTI, because the garden varieties won’t sell. Additionally, Ford no longer offers the Focus to our market, while Toyota’s striking new Corolla Hatch finds itself at the wrong end of the sales charts.
Now, it would be foolish of me to write-off the hatchback as a whole – the likes of the Suzuki S-Presso and Renault Kwid will always find buyers in an economically-strapped country. Even VW’s perennial Polo and the Kia Rio will still litter our roads in their numbers. In other words, the hatchback will live on its cheapest form and not as the staple for family transportation we once knew it as. However, their reign might become short-lived thanks to budget-orientated crossovers, and in particular, the new Kia Sonet.
To help you to understand how I’ve arrived at this conclusion, let’s first examine the competition from within. If you’re walking into a Kia dealership with a budget ranging between R250 000 – R350 000, you’re main options would be either a Rio or a Sonet.
In terms of pricing, the former has the highest starting and end price retailing for R280 995 and topping out at R361 995. Alternatively, you can get into a Sonet for just R264 995 with range-topper costing you just R305 995.
The Sonet uses Kia/Hyundai’s new platform and architecture which you will also find in the suitably accomplished Venue. On the other hand, the Rio utilizes a much older platform with outdated engines to match. The main power unit on offer in the Rio is a 1.4-litre naturally aspirated unit that churns out 73kW and 135Nm. The Sonet on the other hand gains more power though its additional cubic capacity with power rated at 85kW and torque at 144Nm from the 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine. Another win for the Sonet then.
What else? Well, the Sonet is a larger car than the Rio, has a greater ground clearance at 190mm in comparison to 140mm, it has a larger boot capacity at 392l as opposed to the Rio’s 325l, and to top it off, it looks a lot better than its hatchback brother.
I’m in no way bashing the Rio, I think it’s a great car and competes very well within its segment, all I’m saying is that it just doesn’t make sense to buy it when you get more for less in the Sonet.
So now that we’ve established that the Sonet is the right Kia for you, is it the right budget crossover for you? Let’s look at the players: there’s of course the siamese twins of the Suzuki Vitara Brezza and Toyota Urban Cruiser, Ford’s Ecosport and the newly launched Nissan Magnite. You could even consider the less popular Mahindra XUV300 or the steeply priced Honda WR-V.
In the face of such stiff competition, the Sonet seems to excel. Our test unit was the EX model fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox and mated to the 1.5-litre 4 cylinder engine we mentioned earlier. Up at the reef, the engine does struggle slightly – I’ve read reports from our coastal-dwelling colleagues that the Sonet performs comfortable when supplied with additional oxygen. In saying that, it had no problem keeping up with traffic and maintaining the national speed limit. This was also helped by a slick and efficient gearbox with a light clutch action and easy gear change. Competitors like the Suzuki and Toyota only use a 5-speed manual and the addition of a 6th gear in the Sonet makes highway cruising a much more pleasant experience.
It also worth noting that 1.0-litre turbo engine will be offered later on in the year, in top-spec GT Line.
On the inside, the Sonet is sensibly laid out and nicely finished off with piano black inserts and some interesting triangles scattered about the place mirroring the exterior aesthetic.
Fit and finish is acceptable in this segment and although you’ll struggle to find any soft touch materials (except on the door arm rest and centre arm rest). The plastics are inoffensive and they don’t look as cheap as they may feel. Interior tech is also well catered for with an 8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. I know Kia would probably expect majority of customers to just plug their phones in to use one of those apps mentioned above, I just wish they would put a bit more effort into the look and feel of the system. It feels 5 years old already.
The driver cluster has a unique arrangement that reminds me slightly of the one found in the Renault Kwid, but it’s still a great addition to have which incorporates a small TFT screen to display crucial driving information.
On the whole, the new Sonet ticks many boxes – it’s spacious, drives very well, has decent amenities and is priced very competitively. While I have yet to pilot the new Nissan Magnite (Launch article by a colleague here), the Sonet certainly finds itself hovering very close to the top of list of recommendations in this segment.
The new Kia Sonet is here to take over!