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Look at me

Kia took its time launching the Seltos, an SUV sized below Sportage, but the delay only means it will be a more complete and earnest competitor in the fiercely contested, and growing, small SUV segment. 

Launching here on October 25, Kia has high expectations for the handsome new Seltos. With plenty of justification.

Taking on the Hyundai Kona (with which it shares a platform), the Seltos is also gunning for popular offerings from players from just about every brand — including the Mitsubishi ASX, Toyota’s C-HR, Mazda’s CX-3, Subaru XV, Suzuki Vitara, Nissan Qashqai and the Honda HR-V.

The new Kia will have undeniable appeal to budget-conscious townies of all ages and sexes.

Showcasing the new design language and eschewing unnecessary exaggerated edges and angles, it has avoided that nauseating cloying cuteness that sends many blokes running in the opposite direction. 

Kia’s grown-up styling is firming into a serious selling point.

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First impressions

Hey, great first impression of space and visual appeal. Lots of headroom and shoulder room.

The well-insulated cabin is presented in a choice of urban greys and blacks, with modern, geometric patterns stitched into the cloth upholstery.

On the pricier models, that huge screen gives the impression you’re back at a drive-in movie.

The new customisable 10.25-inch AVN (audio-visual navigation) touchscreen is user friendly with clever advanced split-screen functionality. 

The driver can keep an eye on many features simultaneously or just concentrate on sat nav.

The seating is comfortable and well positioned and the wheel feels right.

Despite some obvious hard plastic surfaces, there’s a sense that Seltos is shooting for a premium look and feel.

Surprisingly in this segment, the rear bench will accept three adults without bringing on claustrophobia.

Moreover, there is no suggestion of second-class citizenry here, especially in the GT-Line where with back-seat occupants get aircon vents, cupholders in a pulldown armrest, USB charger and even heated outer seats.

Those rear seats also recline.

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How big is it?

Seltos is a compact but genuine five-seater. 

Because size is important, let’s check out the key dimensions.

It’s 4370mm long, 1800mm wide and 1615mm high riding on a generous 2630mm wheelbase. 

This makes it longer and wider than its segment rivals including the HR-V, C-HR and CX-3. It’s longer than the Kona with which it shares the same platform.

If we are to believe the Kia boast, it also has the most accommodating rear cabin space in the class. Wheelbase is just 40mm less than the bigger Sportage which resides one segment up.

That said, numbers tell just part of the yarn. You need to get your family to climb aboard to see if the accommodation’s right for your mob.

Impressively, the entry model with space-saver spare has a cavernous 498 litres VDA of space with its rear seat in place. Be warned though, boot space reduces to 433L as you move up and away from the base model — as these variants get a (bigger, more invasive) full-size spare.

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What’s it go like?

On road, there’s a feeling of strength and quality about Seltos.  

Even the base S riding on steel wheels with 205/60 R16 rubber, works nicely with a mix of enthusiasm and refinement.  

The 2.0-litre powerplant is honest and smooth, combining with the new CVT to launch to 100km/h in a claimed 9.6 seconds.

Cruising on the highway at 100km/h, the cabin is a pleasantly serene environment. In the city and ‘burbs, it is no less impressive, moving around quietly and responsively on light throttle.

The punchier turbo AWD models are quicker and do the dash in a reasonable 8.0 seconds, though it’s all quite tame until you punch the throttle with enthusiasm. There are no paddle shifters to put some immediacy into the process, while the dual clutch ‘box is a little hesitant at low speeds..

Still, there are a few hints at sportiness in the model equipped with Drive Mode Select that lets drivers choose from Normal, Eco and Sport modes (which influence throttle, transmission and steering).

Sport mode increases turn-in responses from the electronic steering to sharpen the dynamic feel. A new TRW system from the US helps effort and feel in active return mode (when the driver returns to straight ahead after steering inputs). It’s a step closer to the natural feel of an old hydraulic system where the highway and parking feel is quite different.  

There are differences in behaviour between the front-drive and all-wheel-drive variants, mainly because the 1.6 Turbo of the AWD choices sits higher in the engine bay and rides a little higher on their suspensions..

Kia’s local team fiddled with the calibration of springs, dampers, roll bars and bushes to produce dynamics that better suit our crap roads. The ride is firm, but not uncomfortably so, and this local tune helps keep body roll and front-end dive under control when pushing on.

The Australian-tailored suspension, tuned to the Kumho and Hankook rubber, is typically firm and sporty.   

For a jigger weighing around 1400kg, fuel consumption isn’t too bad –  6.8L/100km for the slightly lighter front drivers and 7.6L/100km for the AWDs. 

In the GT-Line, we managed 5.8L/100km during a swift drive from Noosa to Brisbane.

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What do you get for your money?

Beyond its pleasing look, anchored by that tiger nose signature grille and blessed with quality visual touches, there are many practical aspects to like about Seltos.

Check off the strong value, space and clever packaging, welter of active and passive safety, advanced driving assistance systems, easy-to-use infotainment, the icing on the torte being Kia’s reassuring, pace-setting seven-year warranty, seven-year capped price servicing and seven-year roadside assistance program.

The newbie gets so much desirable safety stuff, with a suite of electronic safety systems starting with AEB (with pedestrian detection) which is standard from the base model on up, along with six airbags. The higher you go, the better the protection.

Pricing – all drive away — starts at a competitive $25,990 for a range of front-drive and all-wheel-drive variants and a choice of two petrol-drinking  power plants including a small-capacity turbo, and two transmissions. Unlike the Kona there is no electric offering.

There are four well-spec’d grades. The circa-$26K entry model S is powered by an Atkinson Cycle 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine that puts out 110kW and 180Nm to the front wheels via a CVT transmission.  Atkinson Cycle tech plus CVT mean fuel saving benefits.

The kit is generous with the S getting automatic headlights, halogen DRLs, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, automated emergency braking (AEB) with front collision warning, lane keeping assist, driver attention alert, cruise control, fabric seats, and an infotainment system that accepts both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — so you can hook up your smart phone to the multimedia 8.0-inch touchscreen.

The optional $1000 safety pack brings full AEB (car, pedestrian, cyclist), advanced smart cruise control, electronic parking brake, electric folding mirrors, auto up and down driver’s window and 15-inch rear disc brakes.

The next tier above is the $29,490 Sport, powered by the same driveline. Extra features include 17-inch alloys, a whopping 10.25-inch infotainment screen, fog lights, faux leather steering wheel, climate control, automatic demisting, satellite navigation with SUNA traffic and 10-year MapCare updates, electric folding mirrors, auto up and down driver’s window, solar windows and a full size spare. 

Up another level are two Sport+ grades, one with FWD and the other AWD.

The  $32,990 Sport + FWD continues with the 2.0-litre atmo engine while another $3500 outlay gets the buyer the similarly equipped AWD with the livelier 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo four mated to an in-house 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Both Sport + variants additionally get folding and heated side mirrors, cloth and pretend leather seat trim, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, advanced smart cruise control, driver attention alert+, smart cruise control, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic collision avoidance, smart key with push button start; electronic parking brake, heated side mirrors, LED interior lights, front parking sensors, luggage screen and 15-inch rear disc brakes. They also get a more advanced AEB system.

Now to, voila, the GT-Line, priced at $41,990 and powered exclusively by the turbo 1.6-litre four and blessed with so many more desirable features.

There are 18-inch alloys wearing 235/45 R18 treads, LED headlights, DRLs and fog lights, imitation leather power-adjusting seats, wireless charging, 7.0-inch driver’s screen with fancy heads-up display, eight-speaker BOSE premium sound, rain-sensing wipers, ventilated and heated power front seats,  lane-following assist, safe exit alert, and for those nobs who relish the chance of sunburn, a sunroof. Mood lighting too if you hanker for a vehicle with a discotheque ambience. 

The AWD versions also include a rear suspension change from torsion beam to multi-link design (as with the Kona). In AWD guise, with ground clearance ranging up to 188mm and with a centre diff lock and hill descent control, Seltos might even satisfy as a limited off-road explorer. Think more a sandy coastal track than the Tanami Desert or Cape York. 

Seltos is available in Cherry Black, Snow White Pearl, Steel Grey, Gravity Grey, Mars Orange, Neptune Blue and Starbright Yellow. There will also be a pair of two-tone treatments Clear White with Cherry Black roof and Starbright Yellow with Cherry Black roof as a no-cost option for GT-Line.

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Is that a Yes or a No?

There’s so much to like about Seltos.  

Compared to many rivals, it has a composed stance and sporty bearing. Stylish inside and out, with a premium look and feel, it’s an economical, high-value package. 

Though pitched at a younger demographic with features like mood lighting and snazzy infotainment, it also has clear appeal to older motorists who will appreciate the excellent comfort levels, proliferation of safety gear, and easy access and exit thanks to the high hip line.

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Drive-away prices

S FWD $25,990
Sport FWD $29,490
Sport+ FWD $32,990
Sport+ AWD $36,490
GT-Line AWD $41,990

Safety Pack (available on S and Sport) $1000
Premium Paint $520

seltos - Kia Seltos 07 - Grown-up Seltos firms as late favourite

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McKay

Peter McKay started in journalism writing about rock music, then motor sport, before easing into general motoring at a Holden Sunbird launch in 1976. Not a great start. But went on to edit Motor magazine ever-so-briefly before starting an unbroken freelance career in 1981, around the time of his first of seven Bathurst 1000 starts. Byline has lobbed in Wheels, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Sun-Herald, Sunday Telegraph, The Australian, Top Gear, Australian Penthouse, Motor Trend, F1 Racing, Men’s Health, Inside Sport. Still admits he prefers driving cars to dissecting them.