Long-term test: Living with the Kia Sonet 1.5 EX

Being a motoring journalist is as lovely as you would imagine. Every week, a brand new car is delivered to your home with a full tank of fuel. In return, all you need to do is drive it and report back with an unbiased evaluation. 

As long as a week may be, you only really get to know a car after you’ve lived with it for an extended period of time. Once you’ve played with the touchscreen and the new car smell wanes, what is it like on a day-to-day basis?

I’ve thought about this a lot recently while driving the Kia Sonet 1.5 EX. The Korean brand was gracious enough to provide one over an extended test period over the December holidays. I’ve covered in excess of 2,000 km and put it through its paces in a number of settings and challenges.

Perceived build quality is best in class, with solid materials. EX model receives a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear lever.

Ordinarily, my family and friends couldn’t care less about whatever I’m driving, but the Sonet EX piqued their interest. No surprise since SUVs are de rigueur at the moment and this particular one is well-priced, economical and practical.

While we won’t admit it, looks are a crucial factor in the car buying process. The Sonet’s chunky styling and classy touches – the grille detailing and rear light bar, for example – appealed to plenty who saw it.

Perceived build quality is superb. The plastics may be of the harder variety, which is a common theme in this class but everything feels solid and well-screwed together. I must have traversed at least 400 km of gravel roads and there wasn’t even a murmur of protest from the Kia, the plastics and interior remained rattle-free after some jarring and bone-shaking surfaces. 

Kia Sonet
A cheaper LX model is also available. The six-speed manual retails for R285,995 while the CVT-equipped model is priced at R306,995.

Insulation is another plus point. I recall how dirty the interior of a similarly priced rival got after a couple of minutes on gravel. While the Kia also let dust in, it was minimal.

I seldom had passengers in the rear but a friend who measures over 1.8 m sat behind me with room to spare. The cloth-trimmed seats are comfortable and rear passengers also benefit from a useful armrest with two cup holders, their own air supply and a handy USB charger.

Up front, a handy eight-inch touchscreen offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. I found this handy but did have constant connectivity issues with my iPhone but Android Auto worked perfectly. Equipment-wise, there’s not much to complain about as everything you really need is there. 

All variants are powered by the same 1.5-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol engine. Peak power is 85 kW while torque is rated at 144 Nm.

The Sonet has plenty of safety features including the all-important stability control. For this, we applaud Kia. Many cars on the budget end of the segment tend to eschew this vital piece of technology. While two airbags are standard, we’d like to see side airbags. Perhaps this is a job for the facelift or yet-to-be-announced top-spec model.

A major draw card is its practicality. The 392-litre boot came in handy on trips to the grocery store, lugging Christmas gifts and when packed full of luggage for an impromptu weekend away. The rear bench does fold down but a split rear seat would be a lot more useful.

Other crucial aspects are fuel economy and servicing. Manufacturer’s are often optimistic with fuel consumption claims, often impossible to replicate in real life. It seems Kia has been rather conservative with its 7.0 L/100 km claimed figure. I averaged 5.8 L/100 km overall. The worst I saw was 6.9L/100 km in heavy traffic into the CBD. A four-year/60 000 km service plan and a five-year/unlimited mileage warranty should assuage any maintenance concerns.

Kia Sonet
On road, the Sonet rides like a far larger SUV. Equally competent on gravel, where the standard stability control comes in handy.

On-road comfort levels are outstanding. The Kia rides and deals with road undulations well. The 1.5-litre, four-cylinder powertrain certainly won’t win any performance awards, but it is refined, peppy and has enough power on tap for everyday driving. 

When I first drove the Sonet (the CVT-equipped derivative) last year, I was impressed with the perceived build quality, refinement and overall driving experience. In my opinion, it’s the one to have in this segment. The past month has only solidified my stance on this. I added over 2,000 km and the Sonet has not skipped a beat. 

Although Kia has experience in building budget cars and larger SUVs, this is the first time it has blended the two categories and it was worth the wait. The Sonet offers all the appealing elements you would associate with an SUV – practicality, raised ride height, chunky good looks – and melds them with the fuel economy, purchase price and daily usability of a budget hatchback. This, along with generous levels of standard kit, is why the Sonet remains the best compact crossover on the market.

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