Kia Seltos (2019) International Launch Review

KiaSeltos4

After the departure of the Soul, Kia Motors SA hasn’t offered a product in the bustling compact family car segment. But that's about to change with the arrival of the new Seltos. We travelled to Bangalore, India to watch it being built and get a quick feel for the newcomer, which will be released in Mzansi in the latter half of November 2019...

What is it?

The images of the Kia Seltos make it very difficult to judge the size of the eagerly-anticipated Korean compact family car, but the easiest way to pin it down is to say it’s ever-so-slightly bigger than a Hyundai Creta. It uses a development of the current Creta’s platform, which will, in actual fact, form the base for the next generation of Hyundai's small(ish) crossover, which is also produced in India. A few other rivals to the Seltos that are worth noting are the Ford EcoSport, Opel Mokka X, Mazda CX-3 and Renault Duster, although this segment is so broad that you can probably include about 30 fringe vehicles as competitors – the popular Ford Ecosport, Suzuki Vitara and Volkswagen T-Cross are models that jump to mind first.


Just when we thought all compact family cars were going to get curvey and cute, Kia has given the Seltos a square-jawed front end.

The design is less polarising than the Soul, which it effectively replaces in our market (to say the least!) and, overall, the Seltos appears quite modern and distinctive, especially the front end with its strong horizontal planes, integrated tiger-nose grille and bold headlight treatment.

The South African model will be built in a brand-new factory in India and it’s notable that the Republic will actually be the 2nd market globally to launch the Seltos when it goes on sale in the latter half of November 2019.


The rear end of the Seltos is delightfully simple, although the faux exhaust ends in the bumper are perhaps a little too stylised...

What’s under the bonnet?

Our market will receive a wide variety of engines (including petrol, turbopetrol and -diesel) and gearbox options. The entry point will be a 1.6-litre naturally aspirated unit with a 6-speed manual ‘box. It puts out 92 kW and 151 Nm of torque. Then there’s a 1.4-litre turbopetrol which makes 105 kW and 242 Nm. This engine is paired with a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch (automatic) ’box. The 1.5-litre turbodiesel, which develops 86 kW and 250 Nm of torque, will be a frugally-minded driver’s dream when it arrives in 2020. It will be available with a 6-speed manual or -automatic.


Following the recent introduction of a 1.4-litre turbopetrol in the Suzuki Vitara range, Kia will add another forced-induction 1.4 to our market.

Our short drive around the test facility in the 1.4-turbopetrol didn’t reveal glaring inadequacies. The engine offers linear acceleration and no discernable lag – but it's unlikely to knock your socks off when you floor it. For what it’s intended to do (shuffle a family and things around) it feels adequate. The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission feels improved from our previous experiences of this 'box... It’s more sedate with its shifts, not as clunky and doesn’t hunt around for the right gear very often. We'll need a bit more time (on local roads) to get a proper feel for the combination.

What’s it like inside?

The Seltos certainly has one of the more technologically advanced interiors in its segment – one that feels perfectly in step with a contender at the upper end of the compact family car segment, such as the Toyota CH-R (or its Lexus UX cousin). The infotainment system, with its sizeable touchscreen, offers virtually all the applications and functions that you could reasonably expect to find in models available in this market segment (Apple Carplay and Android Auto are supported and there are USB ports availed to front- as well as rear occupants). The Soul's mood lighting makes a return here too, so you can turn the interior into a disco with colourful flashing lights that move to the beat of the music – if that's your bag.


The large touchscreen infotainment system dominated the Seltos' fascia; Kia clearly knows its tech-crazy target market well...

You can skip ahead to our Kia Seltos (2019) Specs & Price article if you wish, but here's a basic explanation of the range's line-up. There are 3 spec grades (EX, EX+ and GT-Line) and even the entry-level version gets automatic headlights, 16-inch wheels, electric mirrors, cloth upholstery, steering wheel-mounted controls, electric windows, cruise control, and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system linked to half a dozen speakers. 

The top-of-range GT Line version is distinguishable from its more affordable siblings by satin chrome and red exterior detailing on the bumpers, gloss black and chrome-look detailing on the front grille, as well as 17-inch crystal-cut alloys complemented by red brake callipers. Inside, there are upgrades to the leather seats, a different steering wheel, stainless steel pedals, a drive mode selector and terrain mode (for very light off-roading).

Safety-wise, 6 airbags, ABS, EBD and rear PDC with a camera are standard; mid- and top-spec derivatives additionally feature stability control.

Rear seat occupants get a pretty good deal with separate vents and seats that recline to create extra luggage room or more comfortable seating. Aft legroom is excellent, in fact... According to the claimed figures, the Seltos offers more rear space for passengers than either a Creta or Duster.


The Seltos' interior exudes solid build quality, which is a boon in a very demanding, yet exceedingly price-sensitive, segment.

The Seltos' luggage bay continues the theme of spaciousness. Up to 433 litres of packing space available before the seats are folded down.

As for the interior fit and finish, the Koreans continue to set the standard for build quality. Joints fit flush and trim panels feel sturdily positioned, all of which gives the Seltos that aura of robustness that discerning buyers are looking for. It’s not perfect however, the upper dashboard materials feel quite hard and a bit scratchy compared with some of the soft, leather-like surfaces on the inner-door areas. It all seems like a mix of quite nice-to-touch bits with cost-effective harder pieces in areas that are unlikely to be touched often. We found a similar trait in our latest test of the T-Cross...


The Seltos might be the Sportage's little brother, but it is a solidly-made newcomer and impressively refined, given its price point.

What’s it like to drive?

A short burst around the Indian factory test oval was never likely to show up many faults, so an extended local drive may be in order, but our initial impressions of driving the Seltos are quite positive. It’s aimed at a clientele more interested in comfort and stability than something that’s exciting to hustle around town... The Kia feels well-damped when it traverses road imperfections; few thumps from the outside filter into the cabin. We got it up to 150 kph on the test track and there’s a notable hush/quietness to the cabin, which bodes well for NVH, solid body construction and build quality.

Summary

In the congested compact family-car segment, it’s difficult to deliver a product that stands out head and shoulders above the rest. On the strength what we saw of the Seltos in India, Kia's newcomer has risen somewhere near the very top of its class. Local versions will not be quite as lavishly equipped as their Indian counterparts, but key product strengths – impressive occupant- and loading space, build quality and refinement – remain.


Is Kia set to take a big bite out of the top end of the compact family car market? As a package, the Seltos has a lot going for it.

Interior tech and gadgetry hit all the marks in this segment – the Seltos offers such niceties as charging ports front and back, as well as comprehensive phone connectivity and integration. It’s also nice to see that safety hasn’t been skimped on either...

A wide variety of engines and gearboxes will be available at launch. The 1.6-litre (non-turbo) derivative may not be convincing at altitude although naturally aspirated variants should still prove popular on the sales charts, as they tend to be cheaper than their turbopetrol and -diesel counterparts.

Overall, there is a resounding sense of quality about the Seltos. It’s a well-thought-out product aimed at family buyers for whom Sportage derivatives might be just out of reach, price-wise. That's undoubtedly the reason Kia Motors SA has sought to introduce it to our market as soon as possible. 

Pricing & after-sales support

All Seltos derivatives come with a 5-year/unlimited km warranty (inclusive of roadside assistance), as well as a 5-year/90 000 km service plan.    

1.6 EX Manual  R353 995
1.6 EX Automatic  R371 995
1.6 EX+ Automatic R389 995
1.4 T-GDi GT-Line R444 995

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