After bowling the market over last year with its Telluride SUV and the excellent value it represented, Kia has pulled out a second act in the form of the new Seltos. Essentially a very slightly larger Kia Soul with AWD capability, this seems to be exactly what the market has been looking for, and with pricing starting at $21,990 (including AWD!), it represents a significant accomplishment in the value vs performance vs space triangle that frankly can easily bring the fight to such segment stalwarts as the Toyota RAV4 as well as the Subaru Forester while perhaps also undercutting Kia’s own Sportage and giving Soul owners another upgrade path.
Of course my tester didn’t represent the base model, however even loaded with every option but one (sunroof) and including destination, it still rang in at under $30,000. I found it so appealing that I will be recommending it to my own mother, who is starting to make gentle noises about looking to replace her aging Outback.
Obviously I liked it, and there is a lot to like here. Starting with the styling, it’s a fairly upright and practical shape with a few bits of flair, mainly in the front as well as the rear roofline/pillar that still allows for good all around vision. This particular one was finished in Starbright Yellow with a Black roof and mirrors, a combination that I personally found perky and fun, but which had my teen soon looking if it could also be had in more subtle colors (it can).
The de rigueur black plastic surround theme as for virtually anything deemed capable of traversing rough roads or inclement weather, to say nothing of any actual offroad pursuits is present here as well and love it or hate it, it balances the lower extremities of the car very well against the roof in this case. At its root, it’s fairly conservatively styled but thoroughly modern and will likely offend few people that don’t live to be offended by anything new.
Carrying that sensibility inside brings a large cabin with comfortable and upright seating for five, four of them very comfortably. Starting at the front, my tester had perforated black “Sofino” leatherette trim that did a passable imitation of leather and was quite comfortable. The driver’s seat (but not the passenger’s) features full electric adjustability including two way lumbar, I set it and left it all week.
Facing the driver is a Leather (not Sofino) -wrapped steering wheel with a multitude of switches and buttons on it to control the Infotainment as well as Cruise Control and the on-board computer. Behind the wheel are crisp and clear gauges to convey all the necessary information along with a configurable 7″ screen between the dials for trip computer, torque appropriation display, and various other notices and adjustments.
The center console is similarly no-nonsense, while the HVAC was automatic, in this car it is only a single zone so the passenger will have to acquiesce to the driver’s comfort settings (or vice versa) although each side does get its own seat heater and the driver also gets to heat the steering wheel. The radio is controlled via the 10.25″ touch screen that also contains a navigation system and the display for the backup camera and whole menu of other items to swipe through and select as needed along with a row of hard-coded buttons and knobs at its base for frequently accessed items.
Between the seats are the cupholders as well as the shifter with leather covered knob, the Drive mode knob (Sport, Normal or Smart) that in fact does change the character of the car somewhat with all of the settings having appropriate uses. There is also a lock button for the center differential to the right of the shifter; while the car has an intelligent torque-vectoring AWD system that moves the power around as needed when needed (and not just due to slippage) such as under acceleration, it is possible to lock the center differential to keep it in 50/50 AWD at any speed. While a RAV4 can do the same, its system shuts off at 25mph, which could leave one at a (at least perceived) disadvantage in seriously inclement weather.
Ahead of this and below the other controls is a handy storage bin along with one of my favorite implementations of the wireless charging pad; in this case it is contained on a second level of the storage cubby, so that the phone is out of the way but easily accessible and being charged while the space below it is completely usable for any other items.
While the price for all of this kit is very reasonable, and the dash is generally attractive, much of it however is clad in fairly hard plastic. There are some soft areas on the center dash as well as in the door areas where one is likely to make contact to help break it up a bit. It doesn’t look bad and it feels ok if you have the need to caress any of it for whatever reason, but what would help tremendously are some small rubber or felt mats for the bottoms of cubbies, door pockets, cupholder bin areas, and especially inside the glove box, where the hard plastic shell with the owner’s manuals would slide and slam against the sides of it all week long in turns.
Sure that packet can be relocated elsewhere but a small expenditure here would add tremendous incremental value. Of course this particular car at almost $30k made this more noticeable than the base model at $8,000 less where it’s much more forgivable. The flipside is that harder plastics are generally very durable and easy to keep clean, I could see a decent amount of dirt and debris being tracked into the car in poor weather months or if off the beaten path, and it is very user friendly from that perspective.
The rear seats are large and comfortable and while there is no fore and aft adjustment possibility, the seatbacks can recline in several increments and they also can fold down in a 60/40 manner. Facing them are hard coverings on the rear of the front seats for durability as well as air vents and a USB port at the rear of the center console.
I had plenty of room when I climbed back here and although this car didn’t have a sunroof (optional) and how I would take mine, I judged there to be plenty of headroom for one not to disturb me. For the record, I am 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam if you’d like to compare the legroom to yours, the front seat was adjusted for myself.
This uplevel car also benefits from having a 1.6liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generates 175hp @ 6,000 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm. The engine felt very strong, I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually put out a bit more power than that, curiously in the FWD-only Soul the essentially identical engine is rated at over 200hp. It pulled like a mighty little train and even at over 8,000 feet was willing to keep up the fight easily.
Dialing it into “Sport” mode appeared to keep it one gear higher than normal, as a result boost was available even quicker than normal and the rorty little engine would rev its heart out as often as desired. While no GTI, it’s much more characterful than the average CUV in the segment.
Helping the engine is a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that worked great to keep the engine in its powerband and banged off shifts that at part throttle were extremely smooth and when pressing more on the accelerator felt more like a skilled person driving a manual transmissioned car, which is essentially what is happening within.
When on the power you could feel the shifts and the slight surge between them, different than a conventional torque converter automatic transmission and much more direct than a CVT. If you’ve driven a manual transmissioned car, it will all feel very familiar and slightly eerie, if your only firsthand experience is with conventional automatics, then it’ll either feel just fine or perhaps a little different but not even remotely objectionably so.
Fuel economy this week rang in at just over 28mpg, the official ratings are 25City, 30Highway, with a 27Average. I drove it around 380 miles with the regular Denver and lower Wyoming loops totaling about 280 miles with the balance composed of mainly in-town driving. For a vehicle with more or less full-time AWD as well as a turbo, this seems acceptable, it also only requires regular gasoline.
The cargo area is large and deeper than the picture might indicate with some extra storage underfloor around the spare tire. I was able to place a few large Rubbermaid storage bins in here and the cover was able to close without pinching them. That rigid cover does a good job of concealing anything within and can be removed but it would be difficult to stow if underway and the need arose. Still, a rigid cover I generally find preferable to the rollup kind if only for noise reduction reasons.
As with many reasonably priced vehicles (and some expensive ones) there was a little more road noise than wished but not to the point of overt annoyance. The 18″ wheels with 235/45-18 Kumho Majesty-9 V-rated tires likely contributed to this as well but made the car handle curves and corners with aplomb if not outright aggression.
Driven like a relatively normal person, the handling was perfectly acceptable and better than many mass-market CUVs and the ride was similarly composed and supple without much harshness except on the most severe lateral transitions such as in one particular parking garage’s expansion joints when traversed perfectly perpendicularly. The wheels are an attractive contrasting color (but not black!) design with a whimsical red highlight in the middle on this trim level.
The automatic LED headlights did a good job of lighting the road at night and LEDs are also present for the fog lights as well as tail lights. As with many offerings originating in Korea, especially from Kia and Hyundai, the standard content list is extremely comprehensive, i.e. they’ve taken a definite page from Japan Inc.’s playbook from several decades ago, but now combined with interesting and attractive design and pricing on the value side of the equation make for an extremely compelling proposition across their range.
This car model is built in Gwangju, Korea, and was meticulously assembled and painted. I could not detect any manufacturing shortcomings and while a fairly new vehicle, it had accumulated around 6,500 hard journalist miles to date. Everything worked, nothing rattled or felt flimsy, and overall it felt like it would last far longer than its 10year, 100,000 mile powertrain and 5/50 bumper to bumper warranties and 5/50 roadside assistance programs.
The only additional options listed on the sticker were this particular paint color combination at a very reasonable $345 and a sturdy set of carpeted floor mats (including the cargo area) for $130. The destination charge was $1,120 and the bottom line total with everything was $29,485.
Besides what was mentioned already, this SX Turbo trim level also included Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all the safety software (Forward Collision Avoidance, Blind Spot Assist and Collision Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Warning and Avoidance, Lane Keep Assist and Lane Following Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Driver Attention Warning, and High Beam Assist as well as Smart Cruise Control with Stop and Go and Highway Driving Assist. Last but not least is Safe Exit Assist, handy if little kids are in the picture.)
There were several USB ports, Armrests front and rear, Remote Keyless Entry, BOSE premium audio (which was fine but I’m finding that the BOSE systems are my least favorite of the optional upmarket systems, generally a bit boomy while lacking sound definition), Electronic Parking Brake, Rear Passenger Air Vents, Autodimming rearview mirror and Remote Start.
Overall this was a very enjoyable car to drive, it seemed eager and energetic and had a fair amount of personality. While I can’t speak to the lower trim levels from personal experience, the other engine is a 2-liter naturally aspirated one with 147hp paired with a CVT. Interestingly while at the base price of 21,990 there is an LX version that includes the AWD, there is also an S version for the same price WITHOUT AWD but with some of the other goodies such as the LED headlights and some other things instead which likely makes for a better proposition in a fairer weather location.
Then there’s an EX trim level still without the turbo engine after which it goes to S Turbo and this one, the SX Turbo full boat. Check out the website, this is an impressive car for the money and should be cross shopped by anyone looking for a smaller but not tiny CUV. My main regret is that the coronavirus prevented me from demonstrating it to my mom in person, she’ll just have to read this review.
Kia has for sure arrived and the Seltos shows that the Telluride was no fluke, and is now busy filling out the last remaining niches while renewing the already existing lines. Japan, watch out, the water’s getting rougher, and with competition like this, Detroit also has a whole ‘nother front to guard against. Kia’s looking to get you coming and going and if they keep this up there is no reason to bet against that.
Thank you very much to Kia for the opportunity to drive this Seltos and also for providing it with a full tank of fuel.