LINING THESE TWO UP SIDE BY SIDE WAS DOWNRIGHT ridiculous. They couldn’t be more at odds with each other — the Mahindra Thar with decades of legacy and heritage, elbowing its way in to the 21st century. Meanwhile, the Kia Sonet is at the bleeding edge of India’s obsession with ‘more for less,’ cramming everything from Bose speakers to a sunroof and ventilated seats into its tiny footprint. At first glance, there seems to be little in common with them save for the fact that they both roll down the road on four wheels. But look closer, and you will start drawing parallels. They’re both under four metres in length. They sit in a similar price bracket. They have got massive waiting periods. That last bit is crucial — both the Thar and the Sonet have managed to command attention from the market like few other cars have in the last year. Spec to spec, there’s no comparing them but plenty of people walking into Kia showrooms have the modernised Thar on their shortlist. And the other way around. It’s a head or heart decision on the face of it, but being the dedicated journalists that we are, we brought them both together to investigate.
The Sonet has been built on a formula that I am a little too familiar with. There’s been an onslaught of compact SUVs of late, and every time a new one is launched, we dutifully drive the whole lot together to see if the goal posts have been moved forward. The last one to make any real headway was the Sonet, inching ahead of its cousin, the Hyundai Venue. So it stands here today, repping the compact SUV segment against a challenger that is unperturbed by the obsessions of said segment. Fancy features? The Thar just shrugs and engages 4WD. Nevertheless, the Thar is doing enough to break into the mainstream — a factory-fitted hard top, a modern turbo-petrol, automatic transmissions, forward-facing rear seats, CarPlay — it’s almost like it wants to compete with this lot. Now is a good time to mention that in the company of the Thar, you might want to take the Sonet’s ‘SUV’ tag with a pinch of salt.
You have to break it down to the absolute fundamentals with these two. Take something as simple as getting in. With the Sonet, it is muscle memory. Open door, one leg in, plonk butt, other leg in, close door. The seat isn’t too high or too low — it’s just right. Sure, the guys at the back have to deal with a small door aperture — one of the many casualties of the short wheelbase — but one look at the Thar and they’ll be thankful they’re getting doors at all. Speaking of the Thar, you don’t get into it as much as you climb in. The first time may involve some uncomfortable calisthenics as you hoist yourself into the cabin, but you should figure out a semi-graceful manoeuvre soon enough. The same can’t be said about getting into the back — every attempt is a reminder of why you should’ve signed up for that yoga class. But once there, space is actually generous and you may not even mind the fact that the windows don’t roll down. This new Thar covers massive ground from where it used to be — it is way more convenient than it has ever been in the past, and yet the Sonet remains easier to live with.
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