The Kia Seltos might be the new and fashionably late-arriving kid to the small-SUV party, but with almost every available variant shuffling through the Sydney and Melbourne CarAdvice garages, it’s become a very familiar fixture in a very short time.
That’s quite a fortuitous situation when assessing the 2020 Kia Seltos GT-Line. That’s because it's too easy and convenient to gush about the wants-for-little flagship version of a range that’s quickly asserted itself as a segment sharp-ender... Without a lower-grade version on hand to keep the range-topper honest in terms of value.
At $41,990 drive-away, the GT-Line doesn’t ask for peanuts. It’s at the thick end of the mainstream-branded small-SUV set, and a short fiscal hop into compact crossovers wearing premium Euro badges. And while obviously spec and equipment become more diluted the further you drop down the five Seltos range grades, 42-large is a helluva leap up from the most basic S version’s $25,990 drive-away tip-in.
Of course, the GT-Line boasts an exhaustive list of features covered off in detail here, the nutshell being that not much mainstream small-SUV fare has been omitted. Items of note include the lack of genuine leather trim – it’s synthetic stuff here – and no 360-degree camera system or semi-self-parking smarts. Sure, our test car lacks a panoramic glass roof, though it’s only removed from the menu in the two available two-toned paint schemes and standard fitment on single-colour body paint options.
Speaking of which, Kia’s conspicuous choice of halo colour for the Seltos is called Starbright Yellow, which together with two-tone combinations of Starbright Yellow/Cherry Black roof or Clear White/Cherry Black roof are, interestingly, standard no-cost finishes. There are six other less-vibrant colour options, all costing an extra $520.
You’ll make your own mind up about exterior styling, but the quick office poll rates this ‘New Kia’ styling a certifiable winner. The techy front fascia, with extended LED strip lighting through the grille, is ornate and upmarket, and the designers have gone to decent lengths to make the Seltos look distinctive and contemporary without excessive funkiness. No prizes for imagining where the next-generation Sportage and Sorento styling are headed.
At 4.37m of length and 1.8m of width, it’s on the larger side of ‘small SUV’ – almost Sportage size – and its clever packaging has maintained decent, segment-middling 433L boot space while maximising cabin length and roominess in the second row, which had quite generous head, shoulder and knee clearances.
Compared with a Sportage GT-Line we happened to have on hand during testing, the Seltos GT-Line's cabin is moderately cleaner, fresher, and seems a generation newer. Some of that effect is the wonderful, floating 10.25-inch high-definition touchscreen rather than the old-look system countersunk into the dash fascia of its larger stablemate.
Equally, there’s a neater and more minimalist approach to the centre-stack controls, plus nifty details such as metal-feel door handles, bright LED reading lights, and that handy head-up display that includes speed sign and blind-spot content inside.
There are some areas of cost-consciousness. Some of the surface plastics, particularly on the door trims, are fairly low-rent. A bit of rubber matting or soft flocking might give the storage compartments a lift and stop oddments from noisily knocking about. But, admittedly, we’re nit-picking here.
The fake leather trim, though, is a bit of a letdown for this car’s pricepoint. It’s decent, if more hardy than supple. And as we discovered, it gets quite hot very quickly when the Seltos is left sitting around on a moderately warm day. In summer, you’ll have the seat cooling (there's heating, too) working overtime.
Despite the oh-so safe, oh-so Kia almost blackout cabin styling, there’s an airy ambience and excellent outward visibility in both seating rows. And whether you're talking the degree of seat and wheel adjustment or how nicely all the controls are placed, it’s really a fault-free result that’ll cause no dramas for drivers and passengers of any size and shape.
To quote brekkie cereal marketing, there's something 'not too heavy, not too light, just right' about the Seltos's size, roominess and packaging. It’s at once substantial and lightweight, both in areas where you want it to be.
This neat balance extends to the driving experience. Despite being a little on the larger side of the small-SUV landscape, it’s got a crispness and lightness in on-road character, much like you expect from a more compact offering. And that’s down to a number of well-executed attributes.
The GT-Line fits a 1.6-litre turbo four paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch auto and all-wheel drive, rather than the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre/CVT/front-drive combination in lower-grade variants. While 130kW and 265Nm aren't powerhouse numbers, they're decent by small-SUV measures and impressive in Seltos form, if mainly because the powertrain is well polished and nicely calibrated by the seat of the pants.
Sure, there are always going to be some ripples in DCT transmission performance – Kia supplies literature in the glovebox explaining that occasional gearbox noise is normal – but the Seltos manages a level of refinement and co-operation that’s a rarity with these sorts of small-turbo-four/dual-clutch combinations. I’ll go as far to say that for all-round drivability, the Kia is nicer than the 1.4-litre combination favoured by anything in the Volkswagen Audi Group.
Around-town performance is polite and well rounded in default D for drive, with little hesitation and quite effortless motivation off the mark or on the move. Then you tap the transmission controller to the right, activating the Sport powertrain mode, and there’s a conspicuous lift in response and gusto without feeling too highly strung or hanging onto lofty engine RPM for dear life (like the VAG stuff does). While it’s not the most frugal small SUV out there, at 7.6L/100km combined, it will happily run on base-grade 91RON fuel.
Its assertive, unflustered acceleration is paired with a chassis that remains keen to get a move on and grip from its 235mm rubber that’s downright assertive. Engineers have done a fine job with the Australianised tune of the strut front, multi-link rear suspension system that's slightly ‘sporty firm’ without spoiling genuine ride compliance. No doubt the decision to fit 18-inch rubber, rather than lower-profile 19s favoured by some rivals, pays some dividends in striking the GT-Line’s likeable ride and handling balance.
Good visibility, a tight 10.6m turning circle, and great high-definition-guide reversing camera make the Kia an easy device to park. That's particularly handy for urbanites negotiating those increasingly tight parking spaces around Australia's big smokes.
The steering does get a little weighty, not so much at low speeds and around town, but more at highway speed. However, the only real bugbear about the Seltos GT-Line on-road is its active lane-keeping smarts.
A good many systems out there only have active lane-keeping at speeds above the 60km/h mark, which is generally on well-line-marked roads to stop you meandering about at cruising speed. The Kia’s system feels it's necessary to remain active as low as 30km/h, typically along the hostile and inconsistent back roads and side streets that send such systems into a frenzy.
Further, the Seltos is fully loaded with active safety and too much of it is too conservatively calibrated, constantly and distractingly firing off too many unwarranted warning signals. The frequency of annoyance depends on where you tend to drive: the Seltos's systems will be much less intrusive if you’re a regional owner than if you live and drive regularly in the inner city.
Kia’s excellent seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty applies, while servicing intervals for the turbo version of the Seltos are every 10,000km (or 12 months) rather than the 15,000km terms for the lower-grade 2.0-litre variants. Capped-price servicing averages out to $405 per basic service when averaging costs over the first five years or 50,000km.
While it was a long time coming, the Seltos is definitely worth the wait. This flagship GT-Line version certainly measures up against the best of the small-SUV segment, and most of what it offers, fundamentally or in detail, is at the sharp end of its class. A game-changer? Not really. But it’s a mighty impressive amalgamation of things drawn by small SUVs that have come before it.
However, it asks for a pretty penny or three, and we’re not entirely convinced the GT-Line is the sweetest variant in the Seltos range.
We wouldn’t recommend committing 42-large for the range-topper without having a good look at the Sport+ AWD, which is priced at a friendlier $36,490 drive-away. You miss out on some of the GT-Line’s window dressing and ear candy, yet it retains pretty much most of the depth in quality that makes Kia’s newcomer such a likeable machine, including that fine turbo powertrain.