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Kia Seltos review: all-new small SUV

By Alex Rae, 26 Jul 2019 Reviews

kia seltos

We get the world’s first taste of Kia’s new small SUV and signs are that it should make a solid impact into the popular crossover segment

Overall Rating

5 0 5

Plus & Minus

  1. Plus Interior packaging; NVH; infotainment and safety technology

  2. Minus Boot space in question; dual-clutch a bit lazy; no web-connected infotainment for Australia

  3. kia seltos

WHAT IS THE KIA SELTOS?

Kia’s finally revealed its compact SUV equivalent to the Hyundai Kona that shares the same platform and it’s called the Seltos. A small SUV, it will appeal to urbanites and first-time buyers with price conscious offerings at the base grade and fully-loaded, premium-ish offerings at close to $40k. Kia tells us it is aimed at young females, though its appeal will be wider than that.

Read: Kia Seltos to be compact SUV segment leader

 kia seltos

WHY WE'RE DRIVING IT

Aussies, like the rest of the world, are SUV mad, but is there one size too many? Not according to sales, and though it’s a late entrant, we’re driving Kia’s all-new small SUV to see how it stacks up against the swathe of competent foes already on offer.

 kia seltos

THE WHEELS REVIEW

Weird name, isn’t it? Not that the badge on the back really matters all that much (not according to Kia Australia’s focus group, anyway), but when you’re tardy launching an all-new model into a hotly contested segment you want to tick all the boxes with aplomb, and Kia is more than fashionably late to the small SUV sector. There’s plenty of potential for the Seltos to do some damage, though, with no manufacturer yet to really deliver a goldilocks small SUV. And Kia is proving it might just have that, even if it isn’t named as such.

Read: Compact SUVs get set to take over Australia

This all-new model is based on the same platform as Hyundai’s competing Kona and looks good in the metal; not over the top urbanite chic, but with appealing cues Kia honed in its recent flourishing design years. Signature DRLs aren’t limited to just the flanks and run a thin lip across the width of the car around the South Korean maker’s tiger nose grille, where some textured details have been added to the mesh surround instead of running flat, plain trim bits. It’s all the small details that add up providing the impression that this isn’t a cheap car - even though it probably will be.

kia seltos

No pricing has been announced yet - the car doesn’t launch in Australia until late-2019 - but Kia is talking $25,000 driveaway for the entry model S, powered by a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine that makes 110kW and 180Nm through a CVT transmission. S trim comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, automated emergency braking with front collision warning, lane keeping assist, cruise control, fabric seats, 8-inch infotainment system and can be cost-optioned with AEB with cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control and electronic park brake. That’s quite the value offering at this end of town in the small SUV space.

kia seltos

The second-tier Sport is also powered by the atmo engine but it gets larger 17-inch alloys, fog lights, steering wheel and gear shifter in faux leather, a big 10.25-inch infotainment system, climate control, automatic demisting and full size spare.

Where does the Kia Seltos fit into the SUV mix?

Sport+ brings an optional 1.6-litre turbo petrol four that develops a meatier 130kW and 265Nm of torque through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It also adds the previously optional safety features and gets electric folding and heated side mirrors, cloth and artificial leather seat trim, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, electrochromatic rear-view mirror, advanced smart cruise control, blind spot detection, front parking sensors, tinted windows, and keyless entry with push button ignition. That’s a lot of kit for an expected $35k driveaway price, but there’s one further model.

kia seltos

GT-Line is the top-specification, powered exclusively by the 1.6-litre turbo and adding all the fruit: 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, DRLs and fog lights, artificial leather seats, mood lighting, wireless charging, 7-inch driver’s screen with head up display, automatic wipers, ventilated and heated front seats, LED interior lights, and a sunroof.

Dimensionally, Seltos measures 4370mm long and 1615mm high with a 2630mm wheelbase. The latter gives the Seltos what Kia claims as “the most accommodating [rear cabin] in the class,” measuring 30mm longer than even the Kona on which it shares the same platform. It also has a huge boot compared to the class norm at 498-litres. Compare that to the sales-leading Mitsubishi ASX (393L), Mazda CX-3 (264L), or even its Korean sibling the Kona (361L), and it looks giant. But the boot will shrink on anything other than base variant, as upgraded trims get a full-size spare (we don’t know by how much yet).

kia seltos

With no cars in Australia our test is limited to driving the top-spec GT-Line in South Korea. While there might be some small spec difference, it’s mostly the car we’ll get and expected to be priced at under $40,000 driveaway. That’s pretty sharp. Kia tells us that it’s being careful not to cannibalise sales of the Cerato sedan and Sportage mid-size SUV and you can see why when sitting inside the roomy cabin, where design and technology are ahead of anything those two have.

The front of house has great shoulder width and headspace under the sunroof, and the layout is practical with a good seating position for driver. Quibs are the cheap plastics over the top of the dash and around door cards, but most elements are nicely finished with solid feel on touch points. The steering wheel has a good shape and feel in hand too, and buttons used on the wheel and underneath the expansive infotainment system are finished in a metallic silver finish which echoes styling Europeans moved to. And what about that infotainment screen? It’s the biggest you can get in this class at 10.25-inches wide and will appeal to many shoppers. Beyond Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, it can split screen the prior with built-in sat nav or show tile cards listing radio stations and live weather updates. The latter is in question though as Australia is not ready for Kia’s live-data UVO connect technology, but you don’t need it to enjoy everything else the infotainment can do. The head-up display is another winner, with bright, crisp colourful graphics. We also listened to the optional eight-speaker Bose system that synchronises with an eight-colour mood lighting system, though neither impressed much.

kia seltos

The rear of the cabin is equally well-presented, with three adults comfortably seated in the back and yours truly in the middle attesting to its fineness. It’s no limo but the legroom, shoulder space and reclining seatback help things feel airy. Climate control vents, heated outer pews and a USB charger in back are further boons. It might convince aspirational, budget-conscious SUV shoppers with a kid to opt over the bigger Sportage.

We had a good steer of it, too, but like all models in Australia, Kia will change the South Korean tuning to suit our roads. So we drove the maker’s homeland spec on their roads and it felt a little wooly in compliance and steering input, but all the fundamentals of a car to breathe across our roads are there. It echoes the Kona’s suspension foundations in that front-wheel-drive variants get a simple torsion beam setup in the rear and all-wheel-drive gets the sophisticated multi-link arrangement; the best compliance came out of Hyundai’s efforts with AWD versions. The AWD Seltos we’re in feels like it will be much the same, though it’s higher stance and 179mm ground clearance are top heavy. NVH was well dampened with only some muffled roar coming from the 18-inch wheels’ wider footprint and the brakes a touch wooden to stomp on, but the test cars had hardly been run in.

kia seltos

Vision out of the upright glasshouse is good too, except for the rear, which is slightly narrow through the tailgate. It’s also somewhat positioned as an adventure part-timer, with an ambitious diff-lock and hill descent control button underneath the Sport, Comfort and Eco drive mode dial.

Up front the 1.6-litre turbo is perky enough for a claimed 0-100km/h sprint in 8.0 seconds, which feels about right, though it needs a good prod on the accelerator to kick into gear and get going. The dual-clutch isn’t completely convincing either when pushing on, with some delay to get the right gear and a lack of paddle shifters to easily control what’s going on.

But, really, do those negatives tarnish what is one of the best packaged cars in its segment? Not likely for the target market Kia has in mind, and then some, which will doubtless be attracted to the segment-beating features the Seltos nails.

kia seltos

Kia Seltos

Engine: 1591cc 4-cyl dohc turbo petrol
Max power: 130kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 265Nm @ 1500-4500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
0-100km/h: 8.0s
Price: From $25,000 driveaway [est]
On sale: Q4 2019