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Kia Sonet Turbo review – Luxury in the crossover class

A Kia crossover may not be the most traditional image of luxury, but the Sonet stands out for being just that, more luxurious than the rest of its class.

Over the past week, we sampled the top-of-the-line Sonet EX+ with its newly-added 1.0-litre turbocharged mill and were pleasantly taken aback at just how premium the mini-SUV looked, felt, and drove.

This Kia has been a popular choice since it first hit dealers early in 2021 in 1.5-litre spec only, and these latest changes to the line-up should serve to bolster its popularity if not push it up a few notches on the country’s sales charts.

Turbo to the rescue

The biggest complaint with the Sonet before was its hesitation to move the needle, leading to the introduction of this turbocharged engine option around a year later.

At 88kW and 172Nm the new power source improves upon the old one with a meagre 3kW and 28Nm, but the turbocharger now provides an urgency out of the blocks that wasn’t there before.

Put foot and the signature three-cylinder drone ushers in a speedy sprint that doesn’t make you check the mirror to see if you need to move out of the way of anything going quicker, as is the case with many 1.0-litre cars on the market.

The dual-clutch automatic gearbox supplied smooth and quick shifts, whether in manual or automatic mode, and as a result the engine was pleasingly reactive once you’re on the move.

It’s also steady on the road not floating about between lanes, and in this EX+ spec, you get a drive mode selector offering six settings for different scenarios – Eco, Standard, Sport, Mud, Sand, and Snow – with a perceptible difference in behaviour between them, especially those focused on on-road use.

I did find, however, that the pedals can be a bit touchy and not as smooth as the naturally-aspirated model when it comes to low-speed manoeuvres.

The turbocharged engine doesn’t seem to notice the first few millimetres of the throttle and only then does it hastily pick up revs, making for jerky reactions when you’re slowly trying to crawl forwards or backwards.

In stark contrast, the brakes register the instant you touch them, and this combination led to frequent and abrupt stops and starts in many a parking lot.

I can also say it’s not the most fuel-efficient 1.0-litre I’ve ever encountered.

After zeroing the odometer when the Kia first arrived the average fuel consumption quickly shot up to around 8.0l/100km for the first few days. In its defense, the engine has barely been broken in and my week was busier than usual.

Practicing more restraint did see it come down and eventually the ticker read 7.1l/100km, which is as frugal as I could get it after 550km of mixed driving.

Interior excellence

Continuing the upmarket affair, the cabin sports new artificial leather upholstery paired with red sewing which is exclusive to the EX+, as well as patterned gloss-black plastics matching the finishes on the exterior.

The Sonet’s seats were definitely the star of the show as they’re impressively supportive and comfortable and won’t look or feel out of place in something much pricier.

Moreover, the cabin has a solid build quality that crossovers aren’t particularly known for – comparable to how its bigger brother, the Sorento, punches above its weight at R800,000.

Standard amenities are also plentiful in the Sonet including an 8.0-inch infotainment system with wireless smartphone mirroring, a reverse camera, climate control, cruise control, and automatic headlights.

Thoughtful attention to detail is equally abundant.

The Sonet gives its driver two customisable buttons – one on the steering wheel and one on the infotainment centre – to map to a variety of in-car features for which there are no immediate shortcuts. I found this quite useful to get to the Apple CarPlay screen in an instant.

Passengers in the back aren’t forgotten, either, as these occupants are treated with rear-seat aircon vents, something not often fitted to a car in this segment.

It’s also the first time that I’ve ever seen a dedicated umbrella holder in any other vehicle besides a Rolls-Royce, although in this Kia, unfortunately, you don’t get the option to fit a R12,000 umbrella like you’d have on something like a Phantom or Cullinan.

This brings us to the not-so-great parts about the Sonet’s interior, but luckily there are few.

The Sonet doesn’t get any one-press automatic windows, not even for the driver. Multiple times I found myself pressing the window button expecting it to slide open all the way, only to be met by a sliver of air rushing through a narrow opening.

Also, the cabin is on the tighter side in terms of space, though I suspect this has something to do with the thickly-padded seats that take up more room than those on the average crossover, as the Sonet’s exterior dimensions are nothing out of the ordinary for the category.


There aren’t many things to complain about with the R390,000 Kia Sonet EX+, and it does a lot of things well.

While not everyone will agree, I also think it’s one of the more attractive crossovers that have come onto the market in the past few years.

It looks both brawny and elegant, and in this pretty pearl white paint paired with a contrasting roof, the Kia’s fashionable aesthetic was likened to many vehicles twice to thrice its price by those who didn’t already know what it was.

The turbocharged engine is a breath of fresh air that the Sonet didn’t really need, but definitely benefits from.

If the 1.5 didn’t do it for you but this Kia is on your maybe list, this 1.0-litre just might do the trick.

Kia Sonet EX+


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