DRIVEN: Facelifted Kia Sonet remains a solid contender in a crowded segment

Published Jun 17, 2024


The Kia Sonet hit the local market three years ago and in that time it has garnered a loyal following in the increasingly crowded compact SUV space.

It’s certainly not the cheapest contender in its segment. Yet while you might accuse some of its rivals of feeling a bit tinny or underpowered, the Sonet has a solid, almost “big car” feel to it and the facelifted version, which recently landed in South Africa, keeps this formula going with a more modern look.

It’s debatable whether the Sonet really ever needed a facelift, but for what it’s worth the latest upgrades bring it into line with Kia’s “Opposites United” design philosophy.

Upfront the completely redesigned headlights as well as the “tiger’s nose” grille and bumper bear a closer resemblance to the company’s latest batch of electric cars. The rear end gets a fresh look too with vertical taillights replacing the previous horizontal units, and they’re connected just below the rear windscreen by a horizontal strip.

The wheels on the base model have also been upgraded. The previous Sonet LX came with 15-inch steel wheels with conventional hubcaps that gave off strong rental car vibes, but now it gets 16-inch steelies with styled wheel covers that look just like alloys. These also replace the alloys on the mid-spec EX model, but unless you give them a gentle kick you won’t know they’re actually hub caps.

The Kia Sonet retains the same dimensions as before. Its 4,110mm length makes it slightly longer than many of its sub-four-metre rivals and its 385 litre boot is up there with the biggest in its class. It’s a practical vehicle that doesn’t really feel too big or too small.

Design changes inside are minimal. Picture: Supplied.

The cabin carries over mostly as before, except the EX Plus model gains a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, matching the identically sized, upgraded infotainment system. The LX and EX variants continue with an 8.0-inch screen.

Kia has added a new SX flagship grade to the range, which brings additional convenience and safety features to the party, such as Lane Keep Assist, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, push-button start and a wireless charging pad.

Click here to see the full specs and pricing

In an ideal world Kia could have given the cockpit a bit of a facelift as the somewhat fussy dash design is not necessarily easy on the eye and the all-dark colour scheme is a bit sombre. But on the upside, Kia did at least get all the important stuff right. The solid build quality is hard to fault and ergonomically it remains simple to operate, with most of the controls being analogue rather than digital.

On the road, the Sonet feels solid, comfortable and refined. It is easily among the better-engineered vehicles in its class, which could explain the price premium to an extent.

The engine line-up continues as before, with Kia offering two petrol-powered options: a normally aspirated 1.5 unit that produces 85kW and 144Nm, and a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo that pushes 88kW and 172Nm.

Most models are powered by a 1.5-litre normally aspirated engine. Picture: Supplied.

Interestingly the 1.0-litre turbo option is now only offered on a single midrange EX model. It might seem odd that the range-topping models revert back to the 1.5 atmospheric engine but given that around 80% of Sonet customers opted for this engine in the previous range, its balance between cost and performance clearly hits a sweet spot.

The 1.5 is paired with either a six-speed manual or CVT gearbox, and it was the latter that we spent most of our time with on the launch route north of Durban. It provided reasonably good performance at the coast, and the CVT drone was not too apparent in normal driving situations. We have experienced the previous model at Joburg altitudes and its performance was adequate in our view.

Of course, the 1.0-litre turbo engine, which pairs with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox as standard, will feel a bit more effortless at altitude, and its extra torque will make overtaking manoeuvres easier. But at the coast it doesn't feel discernably faster than the 1.5.


With prices ranging from R366,995 to R484,995, the new Kia Sonet isn't the cheapest contender in the compact SUV class, and possibly a little hard to justify at the upper end of the range. The lower end is where you'll find the best value here.

All in all, it remains a high quality offering that can confidently go head-to-head with the best that the segment has to offer, and well worth a test drive in our opinion.

Facelifted Kia Sonet Pricing (June 2024)

  • 1.5 LX manual - R366,995
  • 1.5 LX CVT - R391,995
  • 1.5 EX CVT - R411,995
  • 1.0T EX DCT - R436,995
  • 1.5 EX Plus CVT - R454,995
  • 1.5 SX CVT - R484,995

IOL Motoring

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