Starting from $25,990 drive-away, the 2020 Kia Seltos S is the entry point into a segment that was a long time coming for Kia Australia. The Seltos has also been immediately popular from the get-go, illustrating just how vital this vehicle is for Kia locally.
It’s not like Kia is a newcomer to SUVs either – the South Korean manufacturer knows its way around a high-rider – think the excellent Sportage and Sorento. They're two of our favourites in crowded and competitive segments. The Seltos, though, takes the fight into the compact-SUV segment, one that didn’t even exist the blink of an eye ago.
We now expect Kia to deliver on two fronts before we even start driving the vehicle – sharp pricing and plenty of standard equipment. With a price that comes in under 25 grand before on-road costs (officially $24,990 +ORCs) and even sharper drive-away pricing, the Seltos has that angle nailed.
And, of course, there are the usual Kia standard inclusions, which seem to feel extensive regardless of the price point. Highlights include: a rear-view camera, manual AC, six-speaker audio system, remote central locking, rear sensors, cruise control, automatic headlights, cloth trim, electric windows, 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, and a space-saver spare tyre.
In terms of what it doesn’t have, the base S Seltos doesn’t get proprietary satellite navigation, which isn’t really an issue because the smartphone connection works as well as it does, and it doesn’t get alloy wheels. Plus, the optional colour palette (any colour except this one) costs $520 on top of the purchase price.
Our Seltos tester does get the $1000 optional ‘Safety Pack’, which is a box you must tick in my opinion at purchase time. It brings with it: upgraded AEB with cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, Driver Attention Alert+, an electric handbrake, folding exterior mirrors, and larger rear disc brakes.
Across the range, the Seltos gets a decent raft of safety gear including six airbags, ABS, stability control, traction control, forward-collision warning, camera-based AEB with pedestrian detection, driver-attention alert, the aforementioned rear-view camera, and lane-keep assist.
However, the upgrades that come with the Safety Pack make the $1000 outlay look inconsequential. Prior to launch, Kia was cautiously optimistic about the Seltos’s safety rating, but it’s a five-star ANCAP vehicle across the full range. That's good news for families and young buyers there, then.
As I like to remind people at this point in any review, styling is subjective, but I think the Seltos looks great. When you see one rolling through traffic, it stands out, and it’s different without being weird. It makes a statement on the road, and doesn’t have some of the crazy, funky angles the compact-SUV segment can be beset by.
Exterior styling is important, but so is the cabin, and in a segment that is hardly spacious, the Seltos does very well indeed. It feels large and airy. On the one hand, we sometimes say that a space-saver spare tyre isn’t the best solution for Australia, but a city-focused SUV can get by with one quite easily. The payoff is the huge luggage area – 433L with the second-row seats in use. Fold that 60/40 split row down and it moves out to 1393L. The entry into the boot floor is almost flat, too, with a broad opening that will come in handy with larger boxes.
Second-row space is also exceptional. There’s enough knee and foot room for adults, and there’s enough head room for taller adults, too – something compact SUVs can’t always boast.
Each door has a bottle holder, and there are two cupholders up front for driver and passengers, a decent centre console, and some smaller storage for odds and ends. There’s a USB input under the centre console, which also houses large smartphones – handy for the target market in 2020.
For mine, the only gripe is the steering wheel, which feels cheap compared to everything else. Still, it’s hardly a deal-breaker when pricing is as sharp as it is for the Seltos S. The cabin otherwise feels well executed to me. I asked 4WD Editor Sam Purcell to spend some time in it, and here are his thoughts on the cabin.
“I like the interior, especially for the pricepoint. It feels well made to the touch, there are hard plastics everywhere, but it doesn’t feel cheap. It has a clean look, too, with an electric park brake in base specification that helps clean up the centre console area.
“The centre console bin is decent, and a decent amount of space in front of the shifter. I liked the two shelves in there for storage. Door pockets are a decent size, too. The AC controls are mechanical, basic, but once again they have a solid feel to them, kind of like a base HiLux. Only three buttons and two dials to control it. Simple and effective.
“You might think there is a subwoofer on top of the dash, but it’s not. The basic sound system is decent, however. The seats are comfortable, with good thigh support and supportive through the back, and I like the digital speedo readout, as well.”
Under the bonnet, the 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder punches well above its weight despite generating only 110kW and 180Nm, with a CVT then sending drive to the front wheels. It’s funny, but we need to remind ourselves that while it’s easy to get hooked on numbers, what might seem like a low power figure actually translates to enjoyable driving dynamics in the real world.
The drive experience is another area where the Seltos S shines, despite its competitive and unapologetically entry-point positioning. The ADR fuel claim is just 6.8L/100km on the combined cycle, and I saw an indicated 7.3L/100km during my week of city running. A solid return for a compact SUV in the city, but again I asked Sam Purcell to head off down the highway to see just how frugal the Seltos was capable of being.
Like me, Purcell didn’t love the rubber steering wheel, but he was impressed by just about everything else to do with the Seltos driving experience.
“The steering wheel does feel rubbery, but the steering feel is meaty and responsive at higher speeds. Not vague at all, and doesn’t wander on the freeway.
“The ride is well dialled in, no major weaknesses in terms of bump or body roll to report. It feels resolved. A bit of wind noise at highway speeds, and tyre hum on coarser-chip bitumen is noticeable.
“The fuel use was impressive, too. I got 8.3L/100km over 270km average, 6.3L/100km on my commute specifically, which is mostly highway, and as low as 5L/100km on those highway sections.”
I found that the engine performance was more than solid enough for this segment, and while CVTs hardly inspire those of us who enjoy driving, this one is a good unit. It doesn’t have that tendency to drone or feel like a slipping clutch, and in many ways it behaves pretty closely to a standard torque converter automatic. Even around town, when you are faced with that stop/start give-and-take driving in traffic, the CVT is remarkably well behaved.
Stepping up in price to an AWD model will obviously deliver a more dynamic drive with extra grip and surety, but I didn’t find instances where I felt like the Seltos was prone to doing any silly FWD things like FWD SUVs of old might – quite the contrary actually. It feels sure-footed all the time in the real world, and if you’re on a budget, the S as tested here makes a lot of sense.
The ride deserves mention, too – yes, the hubcaps aren’t great, and we’d probably all prefer alloy wheels, but that aside, the chubby tyres deliver a properly comfortable ride. No matter how poor the road surface, the Seltos remains comfortable and unruffled. Given this SUV will spend most of its time on pockmarked city streets, the quality of the ride (thanks to the local suspension tune) is very much noteworthy.
Kia’s seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty continues to set the standard for the industry locally, and it’s a brilliant extra sales feature. The engine needs a service every 15,000km or 12 months, and servicing rounds out to approximately $380 per year.
There’s absolutely no surprise that the Seltos already has a waiting list for some specification grades. The entry-level S as tested here is vastly superior to what many entry-level variants would be like, and it’s right at the head of the compact-SUV class.