Kia Seltos (2020) Launch Review

Kia Seltos 4

The Seltos arrived in South African showrooms towards the end of 2019, but this week we finally got our chance to sample Kia's stylish compact family car on local soil. Is this handsome newcomer that "smartly-positioned sub-Sportage model" many have been waiting for?

Our first taste of the Seltos came in India, where we also got to step inside the mighty Kia plant in Bangalore, which is assembling the SA-spec units. Kia South Africa is set to have a strong year in 2020 with a multitude of new product launches in the pipeline. One of those new models will be the Kia Sonet, which is positioned just below the Seltos. 

Underpinned by the same platform as the Indian-built Hyundai Creta, the Kia Seltos looks impressive and imposing in pictures. And, in the metal... it's much the same. First impressions suggest it's physically larger than most offerings in the compact family car segment, which is growing so densely populated that we may need to create another subdivision just to classify the comparatively larger Creta, Seltos, Haval H2 and the upcoming Volkswagen T-Roc (no name just a few of the more obvious examples). 

So how would one describe the Seltos' ideal buyer? Well, imagine you have a 6-year old premium SUV out of warranty. The cost of ownership and servicing of said vehicle is high and the cost of the replacing it is prohibitive. Between R300 000 and R450 000, there are exceptional SUV-styled vehicles on offer and the Seltos will be taking on the likes of the Mahindra XUV300, Volkswagen T-Cross, Renault Duster, Honda HR-V and Suzuki Vitara. In fact, you could name another half dozen vehicles that sit in this category. 

What's on offer?

The GT-Line derivative of the Seltos is a very good looking SUV.

Kia believes its Seltos is aimed at younger, tech-savvy consumers. There are 4 derivatives, with a 5th set to join the ranks later on. The first wave of Seltos offerings consists of petrol-driven derivatives, with a turbodiesel version coming later. The 2 petrol engines are the 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder with 90 kW and 151 Nm and the 1.4-litre turbopetrol (exclusive to the flagship GT Line, which punches out 103 kW and 242 Nm). Both manual gearboxes and automatic transmissions are available across the range.

The newcomer is 4 315 mm long, 1 800 mm wide and 1 620mm high; numbers that eclipse those of the majority of its rivals. Load capacity is rated at a respectable 433 litres.

The list of standard features looks generous, irrespective of which grade you pick. All derivatives offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and feature USB ports for front and rear passengers. Every Seltos comes with 6 airbags, ABS, EBD, rear PDC and a reverse-view camera. The EX+ and GT Line derivatives also have stability control.

The EX derivative kicks off the range and comes with air-conditioning, automatic headlights, electric mirrors, cloth upholstery, steering wheel-mounted controls, electric windows, cruise control, and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system linked to a 6-speaker audio system.

The EX+ version additionally features leather trim, auto-folding mirrors, a centre-console armrest with an integrated storage box, as well as 17-inch alloy wheels.

The Kia Seltos cabin is well finished and irrespective of model, specification is generous.

Finally, the GT Line flagship comes equipped with bonus visual addenda in the form of red detailing on the bumpers, bigger alloy wheels, chrome edging and (what Kia claims is) a Terrain Mode. This mode controls the ESC and is said to help with traction on non-sealed road surfaces. It's not all-wheel drive at all and, having had past experience with comparable systems, we find it more of a sales gimmick than anything else. This top-rung offering also has a sportier steering wheel, driving modes and stainless steel pedals.

Interestingly, Kia South Africa claims the top-spec GT Line derivative has proven the most popular so far in terms of sales, so much so there's now a considerable waiting list...

What is it like to drive? 

During the media launch of the Seltos, we had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the stylish GT Line and the 1.6 EX+. First up was the GT Line. Before we'd even opened the door, we stopped to admire the Kia's fresh, modern looks... this really is a striking vehicle and the design is unlike anything we've experienced from the Korean brand. When you climb inside you immediately get a sophisticated vibe from the cabin. There's extensive use of high-quality materials – you can see Kia has worked hard to eradicate that made-to-a-cost feeling that often pervades vehicles in this segment. Kia is a repeat winner for quality in the JD Power survey and it's easy to see why. 

Once we'd left the morning traffic behind, the Seltos hit its stride on the freeway. The 1.4-litre turbopetrol's sweet spot starts at around the 1500 rpm mark and the 7-speed dual-clutch 'box shifts cogs promptly and efficiently. The motor performs in a linear, smooth way and acceleration is seamless. Kia claims a 0-to-100 kph sprint time of 9.7 seconds, which feels more than adequate for driving in various traffic conditions, but we look forward to putting a test unit through a more thorough evaluation when we review it.

Refinement and low noise levels are the order of the day on the open road.

After lunch, we climbed aboard the naturally-aspirated 1.6 EX+. Having been spoilt with the early torque delivery of the GT Line derivative, we weren't looking forward to the comparatively lethargic naturally-aspirated motor, but we were pleasantly surprised by its performance. How wrong we were: this 1.6-litre (non-turbo) engine delivers credible acceleration and was only somewhat sluggish when climbing hills of the steepest variety. It was well aided by the automatic transmission, which quietly goes about its business to make the most of the engine's performance characteristics. Better yet, our unit's consumption was sitting at an indicated 7.6 L/100 km, which is good for a vehicle of this size.

There's a lot to like about the Seltos' build quality and the fit-and-finish of its interior. NVH levels are good, with minimal wind noise at the national speed limit. The suspension is firm but composed, and the GT Line's ride does not suffer unduly because of its larger alloy wheels. The steering feel is reassuringly heavy and instils a "premium SUV feel".


We think the Kia Seltos is a striking and strong entry into the hotly-contested compact SUV segment. Roll on the group test!

The arrival of the Seltos had been eagerly-anticipated. Hyundai recently expanded its small crossover/compact SUV line-up and its sister brand Kia seemed to be playing catch-up, but the wait is over! Not only is the new Seltos a solid, well-finished product, there is no skimping on standard features. The newcomer is one of the roomier vehicles in its class and, let's not forget about that stellar Kia warranty, which covers Seltos owners for 5-years/unlimited km (with roadside assistance) and a 5-year/90 000 km service plan.

Should you buy one? Based on our first impressions, Kia is on to a winner here, especially when it comes to packaging and space utilisation. We can't wait to conduct a group review in which we pit this newcomer against many of its established rivals, including the #CarsAwards – powered by WesBank – category winner, the Volkswagen T-Cross.

Kia Seltos (2020) Price in South Africa

1.6 EX                      R353 995
1.6 EX auto              R371 995
1.6 EX+                    R389 995
1.4T-GDI GT Line     R444 995

Further reading:

Kia Seltos X-Line Concept Showcased

Kia Seltos (2019) Specs & Price

Kia Seltos (2019) International Launch Review

New Kia Seltos for SA [w/video]

Kia Sonet Concept Revealed at Auto Expo

Kia Sonet on cards for SA?