Final Position: 2nd
5 0 5
Plus & Minus
Value; size; styling; power; economy; multimedia
Noisy; niggly ride; abrupt ESC on gravel
Though Kia was an early player on the fledgling small-SUV scene with the original Sportage of 1997, that was a crude, old (Mazda E-Series) van-based oddity that completely missed the mark. By the mid-2000s only the name carried through, onto a mid-sized SUV of much larger proportions. Thus, Kia was forced to idly sit by as small-SUV sales in Australia soared, unable to access suitable models offered elsewhere in the maker’s vast portfolio because no powertrain was large enough for Aussie tastes.
Until now. Welcome to the Seltos. Not an antacid or a men’s cheap cologne, but a big, boxy and imposing small SUV approaching Nissan’s Qashqai in size. Based on the compact Hyundai Kona, the Kia is bigger than its cousin and brings a longer wheelbase that affords occupants an abundance of room that’s magnified by the square styling and deep windows.
Even in base S trim, the Seltos’ dash must rank among Kia’s best yet, putting barely a foot wrong for ergonomics, instrumentation clarity, ventilation, storage, switchgear placement, touchscreen operation and material deployment. Lots of little details to appreciate, too, like the soft cloth fabrics, textured plastics and prominent speaker grilles. Seat comfort is up with the best, the rear backrests recline a little, vision out is commendable and there’s heaps of cargo room.
Performance wise, the Seltos piles on the power to the point where it can break the front wheels’ traction even in the heat. It blitzed the hard-charging Kona with the same Nu-series engine (but different auto), taking 8.7sec to 100km/h versus 9.3sec. The lively atmo 2.0-litre is certainly no wallflower.
Happily, the CVT might be the best we’ve experienced, behaving and sounding more like a smooth torque-converter auto in its stepped yet slick ratio delivery. That the Seltos also returned the lowest fuel consumption cemented our admiration for the transmission. 8.0L/100km? That’s excellent efficiency.
Keen drivers will to revel in steering that turns in crisply and for handling that feels confident and secure under most circumstances – though when pushed through tight corners, the Kia can seem a bit ponderous and top heavy.
Then there’s the suspension – struts up front and a torsion beam out back in the front-drive models – that’s a bit bumpy, bouncy and can even be crashy at times. Not as punishing as the Kona’s, but still adrift of the leaders. On gravel the ESC is a little loose and late reeling the car back in line, and will cut power abruptly once woken. And the big Kia is tiresomely loud, with the mouthy Kumho tyres keen to transmit all and sundry inside.
Perhaps stepping up to the Seltos Sport (from $29,490) might remedy that, since it introduces the parcel shelf absent in the S. The latter also lacks a secondary boot floor, sat-nav and alloys. Plus, while both include AEB, an extra $1000 is necessary for the full-fat version that brings pedestrian and cyclist detection. Adaptive cruise, driver attention alert, an electronic park brake, rear discs, auto folding mirrors and auto up/down driver’s window further justify the optional Safety Pack. Do it.
What we’re witnessing, then, is the Cerato-fication of the small-SUV segment. From nowhere, the Seltos shoots straight through to the upper ranks, casting all others aside for size, value, warranty, performance and efficiency.
However, while the Kia is the best buy, it isn’t the best, and that’s what we at Wheels always strive to ascertain. For that, we defer to the brand that’s enjoyed the greatest renaissance over the past decade…
Kia Seltos S specs
Engine: 1999cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v
Power: 110kW @ 6200rpm
Torque: 180Nm @ 4500rpm
Dimensions: (L/W/H/W-B) 4370/1800/1615/2630mm
Cargo capacity: 433L
Tyres: Kuhmo Ecsta 205/60R16
Economy: 8.0L/100km (tested)
0-100km/h: 8.7sec (tested)
80-120km/h: 6.1sec (tested)
100-0km/h: 38.0m (tested)
ANCAP rating: Not tested