Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
It’s no secret the small SUV segment is big business. It’s a section of the market that continues to grow leading many manufacturers to chase a piece of the action.
The popularity of small SUVs goes beyond the raised seating position contained in a city-friendly footprint, these things are now cool, taking the place of skinny jeans as a must-have accessory for those with a finger on the pulse of social trends.
Kia has taken its time to enter the fray with the new Seltos. Even the origins of the name date back to Greek mythology and the legend of Celtos, the son of Hercules. So yeah, it’s been a long time coming.
Taking so long to enter the contest means there’s an unavoidable air of expectation that the Seltos will be worth the wait. It needs to be good.
It opens strongly, the 2020 Kia Seltos range starts from $25,990 drive-away for the Seltos S. The sharp sticker and a generous spec sheet signal Kia’s intentions.
All Seltos variants get autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, cruise control, driver attention alert, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Our test car is the Sport+ AWD model which leaps to $36,490 drive-away. It gets a swag of extra kit including 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, electric folding and heated mirrors, solar windows, climate control air conditioning, automatic window defogger, smart key with push-button start, remote start and an electronic parking brake.
Stepping up to the Sport+ also boosts the safety tech with advanced smart cruise control, driver attention alert+, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, front parking sensors and rear disc brakes.
While the Seltos will drive new traffic to Kia showrooms, it has the potential to take sales away from the slightly larger and grossly underrated Sportage.
Arguably, the Seltos can lay claim to being Kia’s best-looking SUV. It might not hold the title for long, but its stocky masculine shape hits the right note.
Easily the best aspect of the new Seltos is its interior. The cabin of our tester was a lovely place to sit with a driver-orientated layout that’s straight from the BMW playbook.
The attention grabber is the excellent 10.25-inch infotainment unit that proudly rests at the summit of the dash. It’s intuitive with up-to-date graphics for the menus and satellite navigation. Speaking of the sat nav, it’s one of the best units in the segment when it comes to looks, functionality and accuracy. SUNA live traffic data is part of the deal, as is Kia’s 10-year MapCare updates.
Infotainment aside, the cabin quickly proves it isn’t a one-trick pony. The packaging is carefully considered meaning adults can fit comfortably in the back, though those in the rear pews miss out of proper air vents.
The seats are trimmed in a fabric and leather mix which not only looks great but makes perfect sense given our climate.
Now it’s not perfect, there’s plenty of hard scratchy plastics and annoyingly, there’s no button in the cabin to open the good-sized boot.
While Kia has put considerable effort into designing and styling the Seltos to meet the market, the driving experience left us wanting.
Higher grades of the Seltos use a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that offers 130kW and 265Nm. It’s a refined engine with plenty of low down punch that isn’t fully taken advantage of.
The peppy engine is let down by the dual-clutch automatic (DCT). It’s jerky and hesitant at lower speeds, refusing to shift with any precision. The lack of crisp shifts is especially noticeable off the line in city traffic which is where the Seltos is likely to spend the majority of its time.
The shifting problem doesn’t only afflict the Seltos when taking off, it’s also evident when a gap presents itself in slow-moving traffic. Attempting to complete a quick lane change will leave you at the mercy of a transmission struggling to determine what gear it should be in.
Apparently, over time, the transmission will familiarise itself with your driving style, hopefully when that is achieved things smooth out.
Things do improve greatly at speeds over 80km/h, there’s more urgency and accuracy in the transmission’s behaviour.
It boggles the mind that Kia has a brilliant eight-speed automatic and a competent six-speed unit available in the Sportage range, both of which deliver the smooth-shifting characteristics required of a daily driver.
What really stings is every other aspect of the driving experience is faultless. The suspension is lovely with a tune that beautifully judges the space between sport and comfort.
The same can be said for the steering, regardless of the speed, the weighting is impeccable.
Body control is well above average and there’s plenty of grip courtesy of the AWD system. The distribution of torque to each axle is indistinguishable to the driver, in the majority of situations the Seltos is front-wheel drive.
So the drive is a mixed bag, the effort to perfect the chassis, suspension and steering are lost on an uncooperative gearbox.
During our week with the Seltos, the combined consumption figure rested at 7.9L/100km after covering 542 kilometres. It’s very close to the official figure.
As with the rest of the Kia range, the Seltos comes with a seven-year warranty without a kilometre limit and a seven-year capped-price service program.
For the turbocharged engine, maintenance intervals are set at 12 months/10,000km whatever comes first which is a bit shorter than the new industry standard. The naturally-aspirated Seltos gets 15,000km intervals.
Along with tighter intervals, the capped-price servicing is on the expensive side. At the time of writing, the total cost of the first seven services is a hefty $3265, at an average of $466 a service.
We would encourage any potential Seltos buyers to thoroughly test drive both powertrain options before committing. The front-wheel-drive 2.0-litre entry models with the CVT may better suit the intended use.
For city slickers, the DCT is an unnecessary compromise that is neither smooth nor satisfying in a modern urban environment. In reality, the transmission detracts from what is an otherwise excellent SUV.
At this price point, we’d be inclined to spend our cash on a diesel-powered Sportage with an excellent eight-speed automatic. Yeah, it’s a generation older and not as pretty to look at, but it offers more space and it’s nicer to drive.
2020 Kia Seltos Sport+ AWD Specifications
Price from $36,490 drive-away Engine 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 130kW @ 6000rpm Torque 265Nm @ 1500-4500 rpm Transmission seven-speed dual-clutch automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 7.6L/100km Tank Capacity 50L Performance 0-100km 7.8 seconds Length 4370mm Width 1800mm Height 1615mm Wheelbase 2630mm Tare Weight 1470kg Ground Clearance 177mm Turning Circle 10.6m Service Intervals 12 months/10,000km Warranty seven-year/unlimited kilometre
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