By now, you’d think the last thing the automotive world needs more of is small crossover SUVs. In order to garner any kind of notice in this crowded field of vehicles that include theFord EcoSport,Nissan Kicks, Honda’s HR-V,Toyota’s C-HRand a smorgasbord of others, the Seltos had better be compelling on some level.
First off, it looks higher-end, with plenty of chrome and complex headlights at the front end. The Seltos design borrows a now-common glass treatment with an upkick at the rear sides. Kia also employs the well-established—perhaps even clichéd—rear end jewelry of a chrome spear across the tail that protrudes into the tail light assemblies. Net-net: the Seltos front end is much more original-looking than the rear and sides.
The Seltos is based on a shared platform with theHyundai Konabut perched atop a higher ride height, having more advanced technology and slightly more interior space. Kia ranks the Seltos as something of an off-roader, too. While it’s no Land Rover, it does offer decent ground clearance of 7.3 inches (185mm) and good, if not exactly rock-crawling, approach and departure angles of 28 degrees. The all-wheel-drive system of the SX turbo version uses a locking center differential and torque vectoring, making the most of available traction that doesn’t require massive Jeep abilities.
While the Seltos is a subcompact crossover SUV like its Hyundai Kona cousin and the Honda HR-V, going by the exterior dimensions, it’s also larger, making it a segment splitter more akin to theSubaru Crosstrek,Nissan Rogue, and Honda’s CR-V. Kia also needed to offer something entirely different from itsboxy, quirky Soul. And the Seltos appears larger than its dimensions imply.
In S turbo ($25,490) and SX ($27,890) trim, the Seltos’ 1.6L turbocharged engine is worth 175 horsepower (130 kW). It’s paired to a dual-clutch 7-speed transmission and all-wheel-drive, but the Seltos sheds any hint of that off-roading scent for its true main purpose of suburban transport. Performance is very brisk when pressed, reaching 60mph in about 7 seconds, though when set in the laziest of its three drive modes, it feels sedate, bordering on lethargic. It also lacks some expected smoothness when ambling around town, partially due to the very large gap in ratio between first and second gears. We simply got into the habit of selecting Sport mode over Smart after starting up the car for any drive. We did not test the 2.0L, 146-horsepower (109 kW) engine that comes standard in the LX, S and EX base ($21,990-$25,290).
Fuel economy figures for our test SX turbo model logged in at 25/30/27 mpg city/highway/combined (9.4/7.8/8.7L/100km), though we saw an average of 26 mpg (9L/100km) over our test.
Forget going fast, it’s all about this interior
On the plus side—and far more significant to the Seltos’ mission in life than acceleration—Kia continues to execute interior design and layout like no other companies in the price segment. Sure, BMW and Mercedes informed multiple generations decades ago on how interiors can be rational and ergonomic yet exude elegance and panache. But never has that mix existed in the lower ranks of the price strata. Switches, buttons, controls, even the motion and resolution of the infotainment graphics all exude a high-end feel.
One slightly odd trait of the Seltos is that the instrument panel seems to be perched slightly lower and further away than one expects today, which is refreshing. It adds to a feeling of spaciousness inside that some small entry crossovers have a hard time achieving. That roominess extends to the rear seat, where full-sized adults have plenty of room, even for longer drives.
The Seltos also has the most cargo space of all the entry crossovers: 26.6 cubic feet (753L). The notion that our test SX turbo Seltos—with every conceivable option fitted and still carrying a price tag under $30,000—can outgun the interior of many SUVs costing $40,000 or more shows that Kia is playing killer ball.
Driver assistance features standard with the S trim include automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and driver attention warning. Seltos EX models add blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. An optional Leading Vehicle Departure Alert also informs the driver when the car ahead of you moves away from rest; useful in traffic. SX turbo models add adaptive cruise control, highway driving assist, safe exit assist that warns exiting passengers of encroaching traffic from the rear and adaptive cruise control.
Infotainment gear is up-to-date with a large 10.25-inch (26cm) configurable touchscreen display. All the other trims come with an 8-inch (20.3 cm) display, and all versions have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The SX model also comes standard with a “premium” eight-speaker Bose audio system, though sound quality didn’t exactly bowl us over. The bowling was reserved for the SX’s interior ambient lighting, which can be set to pulse in sync with the music. Mirrored disco ball sold separately.
Especially in SX trim, the Seltos imparts a premium look and feel in an entry-level segment where no others even attempt such a thing, let alone succeed at it.
Listing image by Kia