The subcompact SUV segment is red hot. Always popular, now it has more players than ever. There are seven cars already, with at least two more coming within the next 6 months. The Kia Sonet is one of the very latest to join the party. And this wild subcompact SUV came prepared for combat. So I decided it was obviously time to see it square off against the major rivals it has to contend with. The cars are all formidable rivals because they have all been successful popular and are competent opponents. The segment's bestseller to date - Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza, the current market leader - Hyundai Venue, India's 'safest car' - the Mahindra XUV 300 and the pioneer in this segment - the Ford EcoSport.
I'd have also wanted the Tata Nexon and newly introduced Toyota Urban Cruiser too. Tata did not give us a Nexon despite our repeated attempts, and nor did Toyota have the new Urban Cruiser ready for us in time. But I am not complaining as the cars we do have are the ones that the Kia Sonet must actually fend off. It was February 2019 when the Mahindra XUV300 arrived and our subcompact shootout then saw it win. In May 2019 when the Hyundai Venue drove in, we had another. And the Venue managed to take the contest then. A lot has happened since then! The Ford EcoSport while the oldest of the lot, remains extremely competitive and relevant. The Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza ditched diesel and now has just the K-Series petrol engine - but unlike the past now gets an auto, not an AMT. The Tata Nexon is refreshed, was India's first 5-star car, and then XUV 300 overtook its crash test score. And then there are the Korean duo that share a platform and powertrains. The Toyota Urban Cruiser is essentially a Vitara Brezza in mechanical and performance terms. Like the Brezza, it does offer a mild hybrid on the automatic.
Also Read: Kia Sonet: Most Value For Money Variant
Styling and Design
On looks all cars are pretty attractive. The EcoSport has become edgier with the S and Thunder variants and its 2018 facelift. It is the only one with a wheel mounted on the tailgate, and has a side opening boot door - which isn't terribly convenient. The Vitara Brezza looks bigger now with its reworked face, and retains the most typical SUV proportion of the lot (the Urban Cruiser manages a smarter front grille for what it's worth). The Mahindra XUV 300 is over styled in its face, and looks truncated at the rear. But the lighting treatment is nice front and back.
Also Read: Kia Sonet: All You Need To Know
The Venue carries Hyundai's new modern design language and even gets a sport variant with a black grille. The Sonet is the one with drop dead gorgeous looks, superb stance and muscular proportion. It certainly looks the most modern, and has two trim lines. With us today is the GT line.
Kia Sonet vs Rivals: Petrol Specifications
|Specifications||Kia Sonet 1.0 Turbo GDi/1.2 Petrol||Hyundai Venue 1.0 Kappa Turbo Gdi/1.2 Kappa Petrol||Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza 1.5 Petrol||Mahindra XUV300 1.2 Turbo Petrol||Ford EcoSport 1.5 Petrol|
|Displacement||998 cc/1,197 cc||998 cc/1,197 cc||1,462 cc||1,197 cc||1,497 cc|
|Max Output||118 bhp @ 6,000 rpm/82 bhp @ 6,000 rpm||118 bhp @ 6,000 rpm/82 bhp @ 6,000 rpm||103 bhp @ 6,000 rpm||108 bhp @ 5000 rpm||120 bhp @ 6500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||172 Nm @ 1,500-4,000 rpm/115 Nm @ 4,500 rpm||172 Nm @ 1,500-4,000 rpm/115 Nm @ 4,500 rpm||138 Nm @ 4,400 rpm||200 Nm at 2000 - 3500 rpm||149 Nm @ 4500 rpm|
|Transmission||7-speed DCT/ 6-speed IMT/5-speed MT||7-speed DCT/ 6-speed IMT/6-speed MT/5-speed MT||6-speed MT/4-speed AT||6-Speed MT||5-Speed MT / 6-Speed AT|
|Claimed Mileage||18.3 kmpl/18.2 kmpl/18.4 kmpl||18 kmpl/NA/18.1 kmpl/17.3 kmpl||17.03 kmpl/18.76 kmpl||NA||15.9 kmpl / 14.7 kmpl|
Kia Sonet vs Rivals: Diesel Specifications
|Specifications||Kia Sonet 1.5 CRDi VGT/WGT||Hyundai Venue 1.5 CRDi||Mahindra XUV300 1.5 Diesel||Ford EcoSport 1.5 Diesel|
|Displacement||1,493 cc||1,493 cc||1,497 cc||1,498 cc|
|Max Output||113 bhp/99 bhp @ 4,000 rpm||99 bhp @ 4,000 rpm||115 bhp @ 3750 rpm||99 bhp @ 3750 rpm|
|Peak Torque||250 Nm/240 Nm @ 1,500-2,750 rpm||240 Nm @ 1,500-2,750 rpm||300 Nm @ 1500 - 2500 rpm||215 Nm @ 1750 - 2500 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed AT/6-speed MT||6-speed MT||6-Speed MT / AMT||5-Speed MT|
|Claimed Mileage||19 kmpl/24.1 kmpl||23.4 kmpl||NA||21.7 kmpl|
Most of the cars do get both fuel still - including the missing Nexon. But Maruti, Toyota (and upcoming Renault and Nissan models) have gone petrol-only in India. Anyhow, I will begin with the old champ - the Ford EcoSport. It has ditched some engine options too of course and now has just the 1.5 litre 3-cyl petrol and 4-cyl diesel. Now it's truly amazing that despite being the oldest car in this segment the EcoSport feels fairly contemporary. It feels really fun to drive and the irony here is that it was the car that started of the excitement around having a powerful, spunky turbocharged petrol option. Well, the ecoboost engine is gone just when everyone else seems to be offering a turbo. Now the ride quality and handling on the EcoSport were always its two big strengths. Luckily those strengths are intact. The EcoSport still remains a compelling buy then.
Now on to the mighty Vitara Brezza that now gets the 1.5 litre K15 B motor. The manual is a 5-Speed while the auto is a 4-Speed. The previous diesel Vitara Brezza always felt a little bit punchier, but I have to say the petrol still works because you've got a really refined engine. But all of that just gets completely killed by this 4-Speed automatic. A gearbox like that in this day and age, just feels antiquated. There is hardly any response from it, it certainly doesn't give you a sporty sensation and it kind of dulls out the car. So on the whole, while it's a very pleasant car to drive, it's nice in the city for sure - but just doesn't give you any feels. But the AT does claim a mileage of 18.76 kmpl, while on the manual it is 17.03. Maruti says that is on account of the mild hybrid that just the automatic gets.
The XUV 300 has the tag of India's safest car. That's pretty special. It's also been a previous winner here, remember. In our last comparison the reason why the XUV 300 had emerged on top is because of its sporty performance. The car handles really well, it's really nice in terms of it's steering, the ride quality is not too bad either and so it just kind of comes together as a nice driver's car in this space - especially since the diesel and petrol are punchy. It also feels like you are driving a bigger car, because it is a bigger car. It is based on the SsangYong Tivoli, that is a segment higher vehicle. So it is bigger on the inside, and the lighter palette certainly helps make it appear even larger. But with all the positive performance and dynamics - the big negative is the AMT - and that's also just on the diesel. I get at the time when Mahindra made this decision the AMT route seemed like a smart thing to do. But now you have got such modern gearboxes in this segment, that it feels odd and is just plain boring. The XUV 300 is screaming for a nice torque converter on the diesel side and dare I say a dual clutch on the petrol side?
Which is what you find in the Hyundai Venue. But only on the 1.0 turbo petrol, which gets a dual clutch box. The 1.2 petrol and 1.5 diesel get no auto. Of all the cars I have been driving today the Venue feels the most car-like. Not having a typical SUV feel is its big negative - because even though the dynamics are better, people buying an SUV want that feel. But overall, the Venue has ride and handling strengths, and it is genuinely sporty. Throw in the new optional IMT or clutch-less manual and things look good for this model, even on the manual side. It is sporty and fun, and then you just add in that 1-litre turbo GDI engine; marry it to the 7-Speed DCT - and you know it's a completely different world. At the higher end, the DCT also gives you paddle shifts - so what's not to like?
So the Venue seemed to cover it all; that is until the Sonet came along. This car has the maximum drivetrain options. On paper this car is an absolute a winner, it's got everything you can think of, its modern, its contemporary and it's got the most engine and gearbox options in this segment. Those gearboxes are also modern, new technology options - which makes it even better. On the whole, the Sonet comes across as extremely fun but has a chink in its armour. Since the car has this exaggerated height to give it the SUV feel (people will love that), its ride quality suffers. And its handling even more so. It's not nearly as sporty as the Venue and definitely not as sporty as the XUV 300. So the Sonet has a weakness, but one that most buyers wouldn't fuss about too much. From the end user perspective it does very well. It also gives you a diesel automatic with a torque converter gearbox that's credible and fun to drive.
Cabin Space and Features
Now let us duck inside. The cars are all similar sized, and offer reasonably similar cabin space. But one stands out. Amongst all these cars, the most comfortable second row is in the XUV 300. It may surprise many - but it goes back to it essentially being a larger platform car. You also get better thigh support here, better leg and knew room, and the headroom is also quite convincing. The only drawback for me here is the missing rear AC vents - most of the cars in this segment now get this. But the subcompact footprint is small enough that even the front vents will cool the entire cabin reasonably effectively. The XUV 300 also has a three-point seat belt for the rear middle passenger - all others get only a lap belt. But buyers in this segment seldom sit at the rear, and so what of the features?
Well, if it is the sheer numbers of features, then it is very difficult to beat the Sonet! It gets a long list of features and being the newest, gets updated with all the modern technology and gadgets. A lot of features are actually segment first, like the10.25-inch touchscreen, the Bose surround system, wireless phone charger (the Venue has it too - but the Sonet gives you a cooling function too), air purifier with virus protection, seat ventilation, steering mounted controls, a sunroof, and tyre pressure monitoring.
Most of these features are only in the top variants of course. It is a very similar story on the Venue but the Vitara Brezza seems spartan by comparison - and even the EcoSport outshines it. The Venue does get a 60:40 split rear seat bench and a cooled glove box at the top end, besides those paddle shifters on the DCT top spec.
Tech and Connectivity
Ford gives you a great touchscreen, decent comfort thought the rear is a tad cramped, a sunroof, and the colourful cabin accents on the S variant. A big highlight here is the steering wheel - the EcoSport is the only car here today that gets a tilt and telescopic adjustment. That's great! Yes the EcoSport comes from the brand that began the touchscreen and phone connectivity revolution in many ways. The car's Sync system is only available on the very top specs though. All that works through an 8" screen and it gives you Apple CarPlay etc. The mid trims get a 9" screen but it does not get those smartphone hook ups, just Bluetooth connectivity. That's a bit odd. Most cars now do offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto at the high end.
The Mahindra XUV 300 is surprisingly well loaded, and while the interface is a tad cheesy, it all works. There is a dual zone climate control besides the 7" touchscreen and smartphone connectivity options, tyre pressure monitoring and reverse camera. But again the Kia Sonet just beats the others by a mile on tech. The aforementioned large HD screen though is only on the very top variants. The mid variants get an 8" screen like the Venue's. Still, Kia also offers UVO connected car functionality at the high end too. And piece de resistance is the key! It allows you to hold down a button and start the car remotely from a distance of up to 30 metres. That way the AC can begin cooling the cabin before you step. In. Of course if you are further away you can do that over the UVO app too. We have a dedicated video on just the Sonet's tech, that you can watch here.
On tech, connectivity and embedded sim based internet telematics & remote functionality, the Venue and Sonet are very similar. Hyundai's blueLink works pretty much like UVO connect, after all. The Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza got its facelift just earlier this year. Still as far as technology goes, it comes up short if you compare the technology features to the others. There is a 7-inch touchscreen and Maruti's infotainment system is called Smartplay Studio. It gets Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and once you pair your phone to the system it will show you live traffic update as well.
On safety all cars do fairly well. They each have dual airbags, seat belt reminders and ABS as standard. The EcoSport, Sonet, and Venue each get 6 airbags at the top end, while the XUV impresses with 7 airbags - to match its safest car tag. The Vitara Brezza gets just the 2. I must mention that while we have good crash results for the XUV 300, Vitara Brezza, EcoSport (and even the Nexon of course), there are no tests carried out on the Indian made Venue or Sonet as yet.
Now a glance at the all important prices. The segment sees a ₹ 6.70 lakh to ₹ 13 lakh price band. The EcoSport maintains its value tag, but we cannot call its prices aggressive. And the number of variants have drastically reduced over the years. The Vitara Brezza looks well priced and is the reason why it remains a big seller for Maruti Suzuki. India's safest sure, roomiest too, but that is why the XUV300 is also not the cheapest by far. Its lack of auto options shows up here as well. The Hyundai Venue seems to walk the tightrope on value and offering by giving a fairly wide price spread yet topping off well below the Sonet - which starts the lowest but really defies gravity thereafter, with wide pricing gaps in between variants. That said the mid and up variants are well loaded. And while it is nice to have a diesel auto - the top spec automatics on both fuel types (loaded as they may be) are very pricey indeed.
So even though the base variant of Sonet starts the lowest, it does end up becoming a very pricey proposition as you start to go up the variant list. You can argue that it gives you more bang for your buck since the features variant for variant are more generous too. But the buyer in this segment is price sensitive. And that is the only real reason why the Sonet slips to second position. Choosing it is still a wise bet though, especially if good looks, loads of features and the novelty factor are important to you. So the car with a good balance of tech, comfort, features, safety equipment, and importantly for me - drivability, is still the Hyundai Venue, and it retains the crown in this segment.