The Kia Seltos could be the car that had the longest launch ever. From the time it was showcased first at the Auto Expo to its factory visit and then its media launch day to this drive day, they’re still not done!
The official launch with pricing is on August 22 but we did manage to get a good feel of both the diesel and turbo petrol variants of the Seltos to bring you this report. Onwards captain… There’s no other way to put this, the Seltos is a stunner of an SUV. Blending the current design language like high-set DRLs, multi-beam LED headlights and fog lights full of ice-cube like character with accepted SUV design traits like squared-off wheel arches, high nose and a muscular tail, it hits the spot. The tiger-nosed grille greets you in person with a tasteful knurled chrome garnish that isn’t offensive at all and if it’s in your rear-view mirror, the brilliant strips of DRL that almost run till the centre of the car make for an unmistakable look.
It sets the tone for a high-quality, well-designed modern SUV that hasn’t forsaken proportions for ostentation.
Spoilt for choice
Based on the next-gen Hyundai Creta, Kia has been careful to not mingle with its sister brand by keeping a distinct identity and sales/service network. Might as well since the Seltos will be available in a total of 16 different variants across its three available engines and various transmission options that will include a 6-speed manual as standard on all, optional CVT on the 1.5L petrol engine, optional torque converter AT on the 1.5L diesel and the optional 7-speed dual-clutch DCT on the 1.4L turbo-petrol. Phew! Be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time at the Kia dealership just to identify your pick of the lot…
Goa was drenched during our drive days but even then, work had to be done so I first ventured out in the 1.5L diesel that churns out an adequate 115bhp with a strong 250Nm of torque and instantly, the ease of drivability comes into focus. There is just a hint of lag but all the torque is spread well across the range for a linear power delivery that makes overtaking easy and even fun, thanks to its superbly balanced chassis. Every touch point from the flat-bottomed steering wheel to the leather-wrapped gear selector and the seats themselves, make you feel as if you’re sitting in something a lot more expensive.
The suspension set-up and the high-quality insulation drives the point home though…over broken roads and potholes, there is none of the harshness or thuds that filter into the cabin of the Seltos. What is totally impressive though is the ride-handling balance. Flat around corners with minimal roll and yet supple over broken patches of road, the Seltos wins hands down against every other car in this segment when it comes to being the ideal everyday commuter for mixed road conditions. It's flat around corners where it needs to be and glides over rough patches like it was a mini Rover. The smoothness of the automatic transmission is commendable too, never letting you feel the shifts and just going about its job keeping the car in the right gear always. Niceties like cooled front seats and a small sunroof (we would’ve like a panoramic option) make the Seltos cabin a liveable space for extended periods of time.
Regardless of the 115bhp diesel with the torque converter AT or the 140bhp turbo petrol with the 7-speed DCT transmission, the fun-factor remains high, thanks to the wonderfully set-up suspension and direct steering. The seating position is just right with great visibility all around and the way the power comes on with both engines is well-judged for everyday city driving.
None of the sudden turbo surge that you experience with more powerful and expensive cars, the power comes in an even flow and as long as you drive sanely, both the engines are extremely refined and smooth. Some variants also get a Drive mode selector that lets you choose engine response between Eco, Sport and Normal or remaps the traction control with modes like Snow, Mud and Sand. The transmission has a Sport shift selector as well which will hold the revs higher so you can work out a blend that works best for you between Sport engine mode and normal transmission or vice versa.
Switching between the Normal and Sport modes does change the steering weight immediately and while it is nice on a fast, open stretch of road, the overzealous self-centring robs it of feel on the twisties. I found myself having more fun driving the 1.4 GDI DCT in a fast but smooth fashion instead of hustling it around. Paddle shifters would’ve added more involvement for enthusiastic drivers but none of the variants have that option yet. Hopefully, Kia is listening to feedback.
Total tech domination
Move your attention to the infotainment system and that’s where my eyes lit up. Literally! Three screens vying for your attention, starting with the massive 10.25in central touchscreen that can be split in three parts for displaying various functions, a 7in MID set between the dials in the instrument cluster and an optional 8in head-up display which is a segment first.
While the main screen and the MID provide useful info, I found the HUD to be a novelty that will wear off quickly because it shows similar information that you would get in the 7in MID anyway, without the added distraction of having a screen in your line-of-sight while driving. Especially in Indian conditions where you will encounter more animals sprawled in the middle of the road than sprinkles on a doughnut. The main screen itself though is a well-designed unit, made by LG and partnered by Map My India for the sat/nav bits and Vodafone for the built-in eSIM. The maps with real-time traffic are so accurate and well-rendered that you may not even need to use Google Maps via CarPlay or Android Auto anymore!
There is almost no lag in calling up different functions and the touch sensitivity itself is as good as any modern smartphone, making it easier to make quick changes on the move. What isn’t so convenient is the digital volume control which just isn’t as tactile or immediate as a knob or rotary controller. Pressing buttons for quick volume changes isn’t the best way to turn down an angry Ozzy Osbourne in a hurry.
For smartphones, you get both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, wireless charging pad and a couple of USB ports (one for charging only, one for CarPlay). A nice addition is the all-around camera view that also uses cameras on the OVRM to send a video signal to the 7in MID if you’ve engaged either the left/right indicator and there is a car in your blind spot…thoughtful and so needed!
Then there is the UVO connected car system by Kia, similar to Hyundai’s Venue and it does mostly similar things but the app looks slicker and there is more functionality. For starters, it shows you all your trips in a historical calendar view, which is great to monitor your chauffeur’s midnight trips. You can also geofence or time-fence the usage of the car via the app, which is a big step towards ensuring the safety of your loved ones being ferried around by a driver.
The more common features like remote door locking/unlocking, climate control, engine start/stop all find a place too. There’s also the Kia concierge service that can send you a route map to the car’s eSIM, stolen vehicle tracking and immobilisation and AI-based voice commands that are said to improve over time as you use them more. More on that in 2020!
One of the bigger highlights is the inclusion of the Bose 8-speaker, 400W audio system on some of the variants and it does sound fantastic. Well balanced, loud without distortion and punchy, it sets the benchmark for stock audio systems in this segment. It doesn’t use any trick DSP or surround modes but you do get a centre speaker and a subwoofer besides the two-way speakers on the front doors and the full-range units on the rear doors. The centre imaging could’ve been more anchored but that’s a minor complaint in an otherwise great presentation.
There is gimmicky mood lighting that can be set to change colour according to the beats of the music, but really…do you want a mobile dance bar or a classy compact SUV? On variants that don’t get the Bose system, the Arkamys gets the job done and while it doesn’t go loud for some reason, it still manages to sound tonally correct without resorting to overblown treble or bass.
A lot of India-specific and world-first features have made it to the Seltos too and one of the particularly noteworthy ones is the onboard air purifier with an AQI readout above the rear AC vents. Using the UVO connect app, you can even turn it on before you get into the car if you’re hyper-allergic to pollutants. Makes us wish it would also have a road-rage suppressor. But you do get a choice of perfumes that you can buy from Kia dealers that should help calm you down.
If that doesn’t work, an India-specific horn could come to the rescue! Even things like AC cooling time and a lighter clutch pedal have been taken into consideration to ensure the Seltos being offered in India has more features than global versions too! All engines are BSVI compliant, which was part of the reason the Seltos entry was delayed but you will get a car that is ready for future norms should you wish to plonk the cash down. Regardless of which variant you go for, you are assured of a high-quality car that feels well-thought-out with details, features and a drivetrain that is worthy of a car in 2019. There’s a sense of modernity to its exterior design, cabin and the way it drives that makes for an irresistible combination.