Some would say Kia is a little late to the party with its compact SUV, the Seltos, but get behind the wheel and that thought dissipates. Regardless of timing, the not-so-compact Seltos appears to be worth the wait.
If you’re wondering, the Seltos name is really meant to be Celtus, the Greek name for the son of Heracles. But Kia SUV badges all start with S (Sportage, Sorento), so someone in the marketing department decided it'd be smart to misspell it.
It’s quite a unique design from the outside, especially up front where there's an intricate cluster of headlights and LED daytime running lights integrated nicely into the front bumper, with some nicely textured and chiselled lines.
The rear is more normal and has a Subaru-esque look to, it but no matter how you spin it the Seltos is a good looking car, and one in keeping with what Kia has become known for over the last decade: stylish, contemporary designs.
As a comparison it's 205mm longer and 50mm taller than the Kona, which means it delivers significantly better legroom in the second row (85mm), and 12mm and 14mm more headroom for first- and second-row passengers respectively.
Those little differences offer a lot more options for Seltos buyers. Unlike in the smaller Kona, you can easily fit four large adults in the car for extended drives without complaints.
This reviewer (measuring 180cm) was easily able to fit in the driver’s seat and the seat directly behind without changing seating positions, with plenty of leg room to spare.
Although the 433L boot capacity isn’t class leading, it's only 33L smaller than what the Sportage offers – and for most, that difference will go unnoticed.
The Kia Seltos is offered in five variants and two engine choices. The most affordable three variants are front-wheel drive, the two top-spec models push power to all four.
Kia says it expects about 80 per cent of buyers to pick the front-drivers, spread across the S ($25,990 drive-away), Sport ($29,490 drive-away) and Sport+ ($32,990 drive-away).
All three are powered by a four-cylinder 2.0-litre MPI Atkinson cycle engine pumping out a reasonable 110kW and 180Nm coupled to a continuously-variable transmission (CVT).
We aren't usually fond of CVTs – blame their rubbery feel and noisy characteristics – but the one in the Seltos behaves itself rather well, driving far more like a conventional automatic than CVTs offered by other manufacturers.
Fuel economy is rated at a claimed 6.8L/100km.
Moving up from there, the options are Sport+ in AWD ($36,490 drive-away) and GT Line AWD ($41,990 drive-away).
Both of those top-spec variants are offered with a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine coupled to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) producing 130kW and 265Nm. Claimed fuel economy is 7.6L/100km.
It’s unusual to have two powertrain variants without a conventional torque converter in such a mainstream car, but the DCT in the Hyundai and Kia family is reasonable, offering rapid gear shifts on the move and little-to-no jerkiness at low speed.
Jump inside and the Seltos's interior is pretty much what you’d expect from a mainstream compact SUV. It's modern and jam-packed with features, without feeling overly luxurious.
In saying that we found the fit and finish to be well done, and the general cabin ambience is more upmarket than the price would suggest.
For models above the absolute base spec, there is a giant 10.25-inch infotainment screen (biggest in class) with 1920x720 resolution, which would we go as far as to say is one of the clearest and best designed screens we’ve seen in any car, even compared to the latest stuff from Germany.
It works beautifully under direct sunlight (take note, Honda) and is super responsive and easy to use, plus it has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto so if you don’t like the default software, you don’t have to use it.
We especially liked the split-screen feature, so you're are not stuck with one giant screen full of navigation, for example.
The top-spec GT-Line also gets a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster and an 8.0-inch head-up display, both of which are rather nice, but you really don’t need them to add to the driving experience.
The seats feel well bolstered for long trips and given the vehicle's ride height, pretty comfortable to get in and out of. The top-spec model still hasn’t had to sacrifice real cows for the seats, opting to instead use artificial leather.
If Kia was smarter it would’ve made a song and dance about this being for the sake of the environment and sustainability – #vegan – but alas, it’s merely a cost saving feature.
Our main complaint for the interior packaging is the lack of rear air vents on any model except the GT-line, and the omission of a powered tailgate across the range, both of which we found surprising.
Like most Kia models of late, Kia Australia has taken the new Seltos and spent considerable time tuning it for local conditions. This means an Australia-specific suspension setup, along unique steering and other components that really determine how the Seltos rides and drives on Australia’s seemingly endless poor-quality roads.
The reason this is important is because most other parts of the civilised world don’t have to endure our pothole-infested road network, nor do many other nations trek as far onto dirt or unsealed roads as we do.
It’s evident then that the Seltos not only rides well but also drives exceptionally well on a multitude of roads and surfaces. Perhaps its only weakness is the three-base models make use of a torsion beam axle (CTBA) rear suspension instead of the multi-link of the turbocharged and more expensive models.
We found the more basic solution to lack refinement and perhaps deliver a slightly firmer, harsher ride when the roads really lose integrity. Both models use a MacPherson strut suspension up front.
In terms of handing, the Seltos’s power-steering system is tuned to progressively change its behaviour through the driving modes on offer (which to be fair, you will never use), but it doesn't just get heavier in sports mode. There's actually a behavioural change, which some buyers will likely appreciate.
The overall ride and handling package left us pretty impressed, and is certainly a step above the numerous other competitors in the market that simply bring an overseas tune and hope for the best.
Another impressive aspect of the Kia Seltos is the array of standard safety features. The S and Sport models get a slightly inferior version of Kia’s autonomous emergency braking system with forward collision warning.
In those two models, the Seltos doesn’t use a radar or LiDar, but the forward-facing camera to foresee a collision. That limits its detection to other cars and pedestrians – it will not pick up cyclists. It operates between 10-60km/h.
There is a $1000 safety pack that equips base models with what's on offer for the rest of the range. That’s a front radar extending its AEB capability to 85km/h, and bringing cyclist recognition.
We believe with the current ANCAP safety rules, only the variants capable of detecting cyclists will get a five-star rating. The Kia Seltos's ANCAP rating remains to be seen.
There's a plethora of other active safety features as well, including blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep and following assist, and our favourite, a system called safe exit which warns the driver if there's a vehicle approaching when they go to open their door. Unfortunately most of these features are only available in Sport+ and GT-Line variants.
Additionally, the GT-Line is exclusively available with Kia's 'Lane Following Assist' system, which offers Level 2 semi-autonomous drive capability on the highway by controlling the vehicle's acceleration, braking and steering.
Overall, we left our time with the Kia Seltos feeling impressed. The compact SUV segment is extremely competitive but the Seltos delivers a very well-rounded package that is packed with the latest technology, while also offering a superb interior package and best-in-class ride and handling.
With its seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, it should definitely be on the very top of any shopping list.