What’s compact, boxy, and can be found at your local Kia dealer? No, not the Soul – if you’ve even heard of Kia’s now departed, upright, space-maximising, SUV-aping hatch you’re doing well.
The 2020 Kia Seltos Sport you see here is all about urban. Like regular hatchbacks (Kia’s own Cerato, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30 and the rest), entry-level versions of the Seltos are front-wheel drive only.
That’s no real surprise when most of the small SUVs the Seltos Sport competes with offer a similar mechanical layout. If you want all-paw grip that’s reserved for more powerful and higher-spec versions.
In the case of the Seltos Sport, $29,490 drive-away pricing gets you into a variant one up from the entry-level Seltos S. Under the bonnet there’s a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and a CVT automatic transmission, with no manual option.
There’s 110kW of power and 180Nm of torque to delve into. Not segment leading, no, but absolutely up to the task (more on that in a moment).
There’s also a decent amount of size for a small SUV. On the outside, the Seltos measures 4370mm long, 1800mm wide and 1615mm tall. As a reference point, the evergreen Mitsubishi ASX is 5mm shorter, 10mm wider and 25mm taller. The Seltos does a better job on boot space, though, with 433L to use compared to the ASX’s 393L, and it manages to feel more spacious inside, even though it rides on a shorter wheelbase (2360mm, or 310mm less).
Interior space is key here, and is likely the reason you’re shopping for an SUV instead of a regular hatch in the first place. Alongside Kia’s own Cerato hatch, the Seltos boasts just five additional litres of luggage capacity, but feels more airy inside with its tall roof and upright stance, plus boasts a rear seat that can be reclined slightly to the benefit of passenger comfort.
Quality of the interior fit-out seems seems good, but buyer perceptions might be swayed by the wealth of hard plastics. Nothing’s low-grade, but there are solid unyielding surfaces covering the dash, upper door cards and armrests. Hardly a problem when it comes to robustness and longevity, but surely some padding under your elbow isn’t too much to ask?
There are also allusions to the Seltos being built to a price (the range starts from $25,990 drive-away) with a detent in the dash plastics ahead of the driver. It’s for the space allocated to the head-up display in the flagship GT-Line model, but all Seltos models come with the filler panel for it.
Comparatively, spec levels are far from spartan. Opting for the Seltos Sport means access to a whopping 10.25-inch widescreen infotainment display. One of the biggest in its class (the Seltos S uses an 8.0-inch display), it brings additional tech like embedded satellite navigation and digital radio to go along with Bluetooth, smartphone mirroring for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and six-speaker audio.
Snappy loading, three-window home screen displays, split-screen apps (of the inbuilt variety, not downloadable), easy to decipher menus and a polished user interface make the system thoroughly decent to use.
While the infotainment upgrade is the most noticeable change, Sport trim also brings 17-inch alloy wheels instead of 16-inch steel wheels, power-folding mirrors with inset indicators, solar-cut glass, an extra USB charge point up front, premium leather-look steering wheel wrap, and single-zone climate control.
Otherwise, you’re treated to cloth trim on the seats, manual adjustment for the front seats, tilt- and reach-adjustable steering, traditional gauges with a monochrome trip computer display, key-in start, and a covered console with armrest.
There’s plenty of interior storage, door bins with bottle holders front and rear, useful space in the centre console and glovebox, and Kia’s now commonplace two-level centre stack bin that lets you rest your phone up top and keep your wallet and keys down low.
There’s a good chance the Seltos will find its way into the driveways of SINKs, DINKs and empty-nesters, but if you are thinking of one as a family car, note the lack of face-level air vents in the rear of the centre console.
On the utility front, there are four tie-down points in the boot to clip an accessory luggage net to, but oddly no parcel shelf or cargo blind, meaning your odds and ends are always on display. There’s only one bag hook, too, limiting day-to-day versatility a little.
In better news, Kia has stuck with a full-sized alloy spare wheel in the boot. The look of the spare isn’t important, but for buyers outside of urbanised areas, a full-size spare is worth its weight in gold.
Take to the road and the Seltos impresses. It might not be the most powerful engine available in its class (110kW and 180Nm from a 2.0-litre engine are at the lower end), but the Seltos runs what’s known as an Atkinson cycle that favours efficiency over outputs.
The Seltos also features an Aussie first for the brand with a CVT automatic in place of a traditional auto. The upside is a seamless, shiftless transmission as you potter about town, and Kia has managed to tune out most of the CVT downsides like the droning soundtrack and ‘stretchy’ feel under acceleration.
It’ll imitate a regular auto with stepped gear changes when you drive with authority, and revert to smoother operations as you dial things back. It can exhibit minor rev flare or hunting at steady speeds where the road meets an incline, but nothing too out of place.
The engine itself feels punchy enough to hold its own in the merciless thrust of city traffic, is quiet and subtle at cruising speeds, and officially rated to use 6.8 litres of petrol per 100km, though on test – in 90 per cent urban driving – the fuel meter settled on 8.4L/100km.
As with all other models in Kia’s range, the Seltos has had ride and handling tuned to Australian conditions. The result is good body control over suburban roads – no jarring or bobbing over bigger hits without being too firm.
There’s positive steering feel, and a not too heavy, not too light balance that makes parking easy but freeway driving steady. As speeds rise, there’s no loss of composure or comfort either, and wind and tyre noise remain hushed.
Warranty coverage spans seven years with no distance limit for private buyers (or 160,000km for commercial-use cars). Capped-price servicing is available at 12-month/15,000km intervals for seven years at $261, $452, $324, $584, $293, $593 and $311 per visit – or $2818 in total.
With regard to safety systems, all Seltos models feature six airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, three top tether and two ISOFIX child seat mounts, traction and stability control, rear park sensors, reverse camera, lane-keep assist, driver-attention monitoring, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with car and pedestrian detection.
An optional safety pack (as fitted) is available for the Seltos S and Seltos Sport, which adds more advanced versions of AEB operating at higher speeds and with radar monitoring to allow cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, upscaled driver-attention alert, and an electric park brake.
Even higher up the range, there’s more on offer like lane-following assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, but nothing essential is missing from either the basic or safety-pack-equipped Seltos Sport.
Kia’s specifications do create something of a split. With a price just over $31K ($31,010 as tested with metallic paint and safety pack), some of the interior seems bare. It’s all impressive to look at, and the infotainment screen is absolutely the star, but the tactility is lacking – not unusual for the segment, but still a little jarring.
Utility is also a little short. There’s no innovative configurable cargo space or flexible seating, just a regular split-folding seat. That’s fine, but surely even a cargo cover wouldn’t be too much to ask at $20K, let alone $30K?
It can be forgiven, though, when you look at the safety spec sheet. There are a few more premium features higher up the range, sure, but a full suite of safety kit comes standard on the Sport, and just $1000 more lands the convenience of adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality along with some extra peace-of-mind system support.
Here’s the tricky part, though: if your budget can stretch just a little further, $31,990 drive-away would put you behind the wheel of a Cerato GT.
While a warmed-over hatch or sedan and an SUV aren’t quite an apples-for-apples comparison, it’s hard to ignore Kia’s internal competition. A more powerful engine, leather trim, powered driver's seat, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert are just some of the lures on team Cerato.
You have to reconcile a smaller infotainment screen and a lack of high-seated visibility, but in raw value terms, the Cerato puts up a fair fight.
The Seltos Sport is credible and comfortable, utterly orthodox in terms of the segment, but still surprising enough with how it looks. It acts as a much-needed gap-closer in the Kia range, and should only serve to continue the brand’s steady growth in Australia.