Kia has plugged the last remaining gap in its crossover portfolio with the diminutive Sonet … and it looks to be a winner.

Over the past year or so, there has been a flurry of activity in an intriguing sub-segment in South Africa: the so-called baby crossover class. Yes, the market is suddenly bursting at the seams with stubby, fresh-faced competitors jostling for the attention of buyers keen to transition to crossover ownership without breaking the bank (or occupying every inch of available garage space). 

Hyundai’s Venue and Mahindra’s XUV300 were some of the first of these new-age micro-SUVs to hit the local market, with equally compact contenders such as the Honda WR-V, Suzuki Vitara Brezza, Toyota Urban Cruiser and Nissan Magnite following soon thereafter (there’s a Renault Kiger on the way, too). For the record, every single one of the aforementioned models measures less than four metres in length and is shipped over from India.

Latest interpretation of Kia’s signature grille.

The latest addition to this fast-growing sector is the new Kia Sonet. Except, technically, it isn’t. You see, despite also originating from the world’s second-most populous country – where sub-four-metre vehicles enjoy appreciable tax benefits – the SA-spec Sonet actually measures 4 120 mm from nose to tail. But since that extra length comes courtesy of chunkier bumpers fore and aft, it most certainly still does battle with the above-mentioned models, plus the likewise longer (and rather long-in-the-tooth) Ford EcoSport. 

The SA-spec Sonet actually measures 4 120 mm from nose to tail

For context, the newcomer slots in at the foot of the South Korean firm’s crossover range, plugging the final gap below the popular Seltos. Its arrival means Kia finally has all of its high-riding bases covered, effectively offering something for everyone. The Sonet’s exterior design should enjoy broad appeal as well, thanks to elements such as the latest interpretation of the company’s signature tiger-nose grille, silver-painted faux skidplates (front and rear), a stylish C-pillar flourish and the in-vogue option of two-tone paintwork.

The wheelbase comes in at 2 500 mm.

At launch, the Sonet range comprises four derivatives, each powered by a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. The front wheels are driven via either a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission, while two trim levels – base LX and mid-spec EX – are on offer. Those craving a little more oomph should note a turbocharged 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (as used across the closely related Venue range) is scheduled to make local landfall towards the end of the year.

The free-breathing four-pot is a fairly fresh yet somewhat familiar powerplant, seeing as we’ve already experienced in the latest Hyundai Creta. While its peak outputs of 85 kW and 144 Nm are similar to those of its cousin, the smaller Sonet is a good degree lighter than the Creta, which helps make the atmospheric unit feel a mite peppier (at the coast, at least). In short, there’s sufficient under-bonnet verve for the typical daily commute.

Surprisingly upmarket cabin (manual model pictured).

So, what about that transmission? Well, the often-maligned CVT is becoming less and less offensive (we’re likely also simply getting used it), with this latest iteration from Kia doing a fine job of keeping the dreaded drone at bay under all but the most boorish of throttle inputs. While Kia SA doesn’t list a claimed fuel consumption figure, we noted an indicated 6.5 L/100 km after a trip comprising a mix of open-road cruising, a mountain pass or two and a spot of urban meandering.

Claimed luggage capacity is pegged at a class-leading 392 litres

Thanks to some clever packaging, the Sonet makes the most of its compact 2 500 mm wheelbase (which is shared with the shorter Indian-spec model), serving up a cabin not nearly as cramped as one might expect. Indeed, scalp clearance is perfectly fine even for tall occupants, while room on the rear bench is adequate for passengers of average height and ample for children. Perhaps most noteworthy, though, is the claimed luggage capacity, which is pegged at a class-leading 392 litres.

Seats are rather comfy on long trips.

Ground clearance comes in at a useful 190 mm – a rutted gravel road that punctuated the launch route was handled with aplomb – while the ride on tarmac is just on the firm side of neutral (thanks in part to the short distance between the axles but mitigated somewhat by the 215/60 tyres wrapped around this variant’s 16-inch alloys). An upshot of the suspension arrangement’s slight stiffness is commendable body control through fast corners.

Perceived quality is top notch for this segment

The driving position is suitably lofty, even with this EX variant’s height-adjustable pew set to its deepest position, but the steering column disappointingly offers tilt adjustment only. Standard specification, though, is generous across the range and includes big-car items such as an 8.0-inch touchscreen (complete with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality), a reversing camera, a neat digital instrument cluster and automatic headlights. 
We had an extended poke around the interior and were left largely impressed by the materials employed, particularly considering the Sonet plays at the lower end of the market. Perceived quality is top notch for this segment, with the level of fit and finish putting this mid-spec model’s cabin a clear step above those of its direct rivals.

Neat digital instrument cluster.

What about safety? Well, though the Sonet 1.5 EX CVT ships standard with just two airbags (the upcoming high-spec 1.0 models will surely feature a full complement), it does boast electronic stability control, ABS with EBD, hill-start assist control and Isofix child-seat anchors. 
The Sonet’s smartly positioned, too. Pricing starts at a rather competitive R264 995 and runs through to R305 995 – until the more expensive turbopetrol derivatives arrive, that is. Kia’s lengthy five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and four-year/60 000 km service plan, meanwhile, add a further boost to the value proposition.

Sonet displays commendable road manners.

When the larger Seltos touched down in South Africa late in 2019, its almost overnight sales success proved the local market was crying out for well-sorted sub-Sportage crossover. The new Sonet looks poised to pull off a similar trick, filling the bottom-most hole in Kia’s range of high-riding models without sacrificing on quality or practicality. Based on first impressions, this polished little contender may just nose ahead of its many sub-four-metre rivals.

At a Glance

Kia Sonet 1.5 EX CVT

A welcome addition to a burgeoning segment, the Sonet combines classy exterior styling with an upmarket cabin and a fuss-free powertrain. There’s plenty of standard kit, too. A small crossover that offers big value.

Price: R305 995
Engine: 1.5 L, 4-cyl, petrol
Transmission: CVT
Driven wheels: F
Power: 85 kW @ 6 300 r/min
Torque: 144 Nm @ 4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 11.8 seconds
Top speed: 170 km/h
Fuel consumption: 7.2 L/100 km
CO2: 163 g/km