Enjoying Udaipur's architecture, in the Kia Sonet
Four hundred years. That’s how long it took to build the City Palace in Udaipur. Each crevice is thoughtfully constructed, each walkway meant to throw off enemies and everywhere you look there are stunning paintings. At first the Kia Sonet seems out of place here — a thoroughly modern machine built to make commuting easy, sitting pretty in a palace dating back to 1553. But look closely at the Sonet, and some similarities start to come alive. While it didn’t take four centuries to build the Sonet, there is a lot of intricacy and symmetry in its design, with details inspired from historic monuments just like the Udaipur City Palace, and it’s certainly got a lot more horsepower than the King’s horses did. But why did we go to the City Palace in the first place?
India is a country with rich heritage. So rich in fact, that Kia’s designers travelled the length and breadth of our country getting inspired before going to work on the Sonet. One thing that kept coming up in all our conversations though were the palaces and historic monuments in Rajasthan, the intricate and complex architecture of the numerous forts and palaces of the Land of Kings delivering inspiration in plenty. And one of the finest examples has to be the most lavish, perhaps even the biggest, palace of its kind — the City Palace in Udaipur. Centuries ago Udai Singh II chose this site for the Mewar kingdom because it was surrounded by lakes on one side and the Aravali Hills on the other. With multiple facades, sprawling courtyards and an illustrious history, it served as the perfect location to drive one of the best-looking cars in the country to. And it also made for an excellent 1000km road trip from our home base, perfect to test a car’s long distance cruising abilities. Heck, even James Bond came here!
Indian at heart
After almost a decade of manufacturers exploiting the sub four-metre rule with awkwardly shaped sedans and SUVs, the Sonet is perhaps the first one to actually fit that mould perfectly.
The designers found inspiration from the rich culture, countless historical buildings all around the country but they also wanted to blend that with the modernity of big Indian cities and the energy of the youth. Details like the new pattern for the Tiger Nose grille incorporates the stunning symmetry of the steps of the Chand Baori wells right here in Rajasthan. Flanking the grille are chrome elements designed specially for the Sonet, which are meant to represent the tusks of a baby elephant — a very important symbol in our culture. Yet the Sonet looks as global as Mumbai’s skyline — with a wraparound rear glass area, a touch of bling and all the latest technology. It really does represent our country’s unique diversity.
There isn’t a bad angle on the Sonet, even when viewed from the side (the most awkward angle for compact SUVs) it doesn’t seem to start or end abruptly. The 16-inch rims fill out the arches well and the sharp lines, neat roof-mounted spoiler, sculpted front bumper and the pronounced haunches come together nicely. This GT Line variant also gets red accents on the front bumper, side skirts, rear bumper and also on the rims and brake callipers. The red accents look especially cool with this black paint finish, adding a pop of colour to it. The attention to detail gone into designing it is really something! For instance, the heartbeat element on the taillight has a texture that mimics the knurled finish seen on the centre console. Most people wouldn’t ever notice it, but it’s there because that’s just how much thought goes into the design of Kia’s cars.
Kia has done wonders to the Sonet’s interior too, there aren’t 20 different materials or a clutter of surfaces. But whatever is in the cabin, is high quality. From the feel of the leather-wrapped steering wheel, the damping of every button and the quality of plastics all around, it really is a class above anything else in its… class. Having placed my derriere on the driver’s seat for over 1000km in the Sonet, I’m happy to report that it is great (not my derriere, the Sonet). The 10.25-inch screen is responsive and has enough real estate to make buttons and icons big, making it a breeze to operate. Perhaps the best feature of the cabin are the ventilated seats; I could fill in about half the pages of this magazine about just those. On long journeys, in our climate conditions, your back is going to get sweaty no matter how good your car’s AC is. The ventilated seats don’t send a chill down your spine, but blow just enough cool air to keep you sweat-free. The designers also knew how hot parts of our country can get, and added in large vents for the air-conditioning to cool the cabin faster and it does a great job. The ergonomics are sorted too, each button is exactly where you’d expect it to be and you don’t need to think twice when changing the volume or skipping to a track the passengers prefer, it’s all at your fingertips.
We’ve driven the Sonet on our favourite roads around Pune but this was the first time we were putting in some serious kilometres — from Pune to Udaipur and back. The first thing you need in a good road trip car is a kickass sound system, and the Sonet’s 7-speaker Bose unit was helping me keep Alameen’s (our videographer) complaints about my choice in music muted. Out on the highway, the Sonet feels quite planted, even at tripledigit speeds. It inspires confidence which allows you to stay on the road for hours on end. We were driving the 1.5-litre diesel automatic and its got great fuel economy, averaging 16kmpl with ease even when driving in a spirited manner. With 113bhp and 250Nm of torque on tap, the Sonet was having no trouble keeping up with the big boys we had with us on this #TrippinWithLemonTree journey to Udaipur.
The Sonet then seems like the perfect car for all. The greatest triumph Kia has managed is to make a compact-SUV feel like it isn’t a compromise over its big brother in any aspect other than size. The Sonet’s feature list is bigger than most palaces here, it delivers great fuel economy (if you have a lighter right foot than I do), has good highway manners and all of this is wrapped in a package that looks fit for a king. But the truth is that this is the 21st century and a large part of the City Palace has been converted into a museum, so I should probably leave before they kick me out.