2023 Kia Seltos first drive review

A whole new arsenal of features combined with a 1.5 turbo-petrol engine. Is this enough to make the Kia Seltos the mid-size SUV benchmark?
The prices of the Kia Seltos range from Rs 10.89 lakhs to Rs 19.99 lakhs
The prices of the Kia Seltos range from Rs 10.89 lakhs to Rs 19.99 lakhsShot by Rohit S Mane for evo India

When I say the word facelift, what comes to mind? A nip here, a tuck there, a couple of updates to the features… and that’s about it. The Kia Seltos, at first glance, feels that way. You’ve got updated styling, interiors and a fatter features list. But there’s a lot more to this update than meets the eye. There’s a whole new engine option in the 1.5 turbo-petrol, there’s updates to the suspension and the wheels have gone a size up. And these are important changes, because since the Seltos came out in 2019, the game has moved on. New SUVs have been launched to take it on, and mighty competitive ones at that. The Skoda Kushaq and Volkswagen Virtus have established themselves as the enthusiast’s choice, the Mahindra XUV700 has proved to be an incredible all-rounder and the Tata Harrier has gotten an update fixing some big chinks in its armour. Meanwhile, the Hyundai Creta continues to bring in big volumes and the MG Astor soldiers on. And now, the Honda Elevate and Citroen C3 wait in the wings. The Seltos needs to get its game face on.

2023 Kia Seltos facelift styling

Right from the get go you can tell that the Seltos’ game face, is most certainly on. The Seltos’ styling has always been one of its biggest draws, and that remains so with this update. In the press briefing, the night before the drive, the Kia team spoke about how one of the biggest challenges was redesigning the Seltos because it was so well accepted and meddling with the design could ruin it. Well, I think its a job well done. The changes are subtle — tweaks to the headlamps, bumpers, taillamps, and other small elements here and there give it a fresh look. It is still recognisably a Seltos, the overall face hasn’t been completely revamped, but it looks more modern. I see hints of the Carens’ taillamps in the rear, though the rest of it stays true to the Seltos. The dynamic turn indicators are a neat touch, as are the new DRL signatures. The design still looks strong, muscular and appeals across the board unlike the Creta which tends to polarise opinions.

In the Kia Seltos, an LED light bar connects the inverted L-shaped taillights at the rear. Additionally, the reverse light has been relocated to the redesigned bumper
In the Kia Seltos, an LED light bar connects the inverted L-shaped taillights at the rear. Additionally, the reverse light has been relocated to the redesigned bumperShot by Rohit S Mane for evo India

Worth talking about is the upsizing of the wheels on this GTX+ variant we were driving — from 17s to 18s. They do have an effect on the driving dynamics but we’ll get to that in a bit. This GT Line also has some variant specific styling features like the aggressive-looking bumpers, black interiors, metal pedals and black roof rails. The X Line is also available right from launch and gets exclusive paint options, a slightly different grille and also a head-up display. Here’s a factoid for the nerds: Only the 1.5 turbo gets twin tailpipes at the rear.

2023 Kia Seltos interior and features

Much like the outsides, the insides have been given an update and the strength of the Seltos’ features list shines through. The Seltos, when it launched in 2019 was pretty sorted when it came to its arsenal of features. However, the gaps have been plugged. Panoramic sunroof, digital cluster, or the lack of them, both fixed with this update. Plenty more has been added including dual zone climate control up front and an electronic parking brake. Not to mention the stuff that was already there — an air purifier, 360-degree camera and head-up display.

From the insides, the Seltos feels expensive. The big slab of digital real estate is rivalled only by what the top variants of the XUV700 has, and the Kia’s unit feels slicker and easier to use. Quality on the inside feels good, the seats are plush and the there’s a hint of familiarity too with bits like the gear selector, and Drive/ Traction mode selector staying exactly as it was before. Bose speakers are always welcome. On the inside too, the GT Line is defined by its blacked out interior, with white inserts while the X Line gets a neat looking sage green upholstery.

The centre console has also been updated and now features slimmer AC vents and a redesigned touch panel for HVAC and audio controls
The centre console has also been updated and now features slimmer AC vents and a redesigned touch panel for HVAC and audio controlsShot by Rohit S Mane for evo India

The space at the rear remains the same, and is good. I’m 5 foot 10 and I find that I have enough knee room and headroom, but I did find the rear bench lacking a bit of thigh support. However, its a nice place to be with sun blinds, a reclinable bench and USB C-Type ports.

2023 Kia Seltos engine and performance

The big news is the new 1.5 turbo petrol engine that is now available in the Seltos. Slightly larger in capacity than before, but it makes a fair bit more power and more importantly, it is localised. In terms of sheer numbers, it makes 158bhp and 253Nm of torque, an increase of 20bhp and 11Nm. The turbo-petrol gets two transmission options — the iMT and the DCT. If you want a proper manual, you’re only going to find one on the 1.5 nat-asp petrol engine. The big question is, can this infusion of power and performance make the Seltos the Thrill of Driving benchmark in the segment?

Performance is certainly brisk. The Seltos feels quicker than before, without a doubt and spend a little time with the engine and it proved to be a gem. Get past the initial lag, which the DCT does a good job of, and you’re in to boost — from where the revs fly off to the redline very readily. Boost comes on fairly linearly, so the tyres aren’t left scrabbling for traction at any point and it makes the engine easy to deal with in city traffic and the likes. Props to the DCT here as well, its smooth, snappy and isn’t as jerky as the Volkswagen DSG in stop go traffic. This is an engine-gearbox combo that enjoys being driven hard though. Take control with the manual paddles, rev it out hard and you’re flying at serious triple digit speeds without realising it. The engine has certainly proved itself — beating the Slavia 1.5 in a drag race (go check out our YouTube channel) and it should make the Seltos one of the quicker cars in its class, alongside the Creta.

The Seltos facelift will retain the 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine producing 113bhp and 144Nm of torque, as well as the 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engine generating 113bhp and 250Nm of torque. Also introduced is a 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine that delivers 158bhp and 253Nm of torque
The Seltos facelift will retain the 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine producing 113bhp and 144Nm of torque, as well as the 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engine generating 113bhp and 250Nm of torque. Also introduced is a 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine that delivers 158bhp and 253Nm of torqueShot by Rohit S Mane for evo India

We also spent some time with the diesel engine. Interestingly, diesels are still going strong and continue to command good chunk of sales of the Seltos. Not as much as the Creta, but that’s because Hyundai has a much larger network that spans smaller towns and much of the Hindi heartland, where diesel still runs strong. Now updated to the BS6.2 norms, the diesel engine hasn’t really changed in terms of its outputs. It does have strong performance as well, that 250Nm of torque being felt when you step on the throttle, and remains a refined mill by diesel standards. It doesn’t rev as freely, have as wide a powerband and doesn’t have the light flywheel effect that the turbo petrol has, but it does pull you up to highway speeds and stay there very easily. Should you want to hustle it, it will certainly comply. But like the turbo, the diesel too can’t be had with a manual. It is only the iMT and the torque convertor auto on offer. Compared to the turbo-petrol, the diesel doesn’t feel as snappy and sporty, but there’s no denying the draw of the diesel with its efficiency and long range. I was seeing numbers like 16-18kmpl on the highway, and the distance to empty was something ridiculous, in the region of 850km. Its a fair trade off — a little bit of punch for genuine efficiency and cost savings.

2023 Kia Seltos ride and handling

One of the big criticisms of the older Seltos was that it was a bit too firm for its own good. In the product presentation, Kia made sure they highlighted the fact that the suspension has been worked on in a bid to make it ride better. However, once we got behind the wheel, it became apparent that the ride remains as stiff, if not stiffer than before. Part of this must certainly be down to the 18-inch wheels, making the ride a lot firmer. On the highway, you could feel the constant pitter patter of the smallest imperfections in the road. The big wheels also meant you had to slow down more for bumps and potholes, as hitting them hard could be felt equally hard in the cabin. Funnily, I noticed a judder down the steering column as well I fit a few tiny breakers at speed, which didn’t feel very comforting. It got thrown by a few expansion joints as well. That said, on perfectly flat surfaces, the Seltos felt planted and stable even at properly high speeds. Handling should have improved with the bigger wheels as well, but we didn’t really have a proper set of corners to push it through on our drive route. That said, on first impressions, it does feel like an enthusiastic handler. I suspect that the variants with the 17-inch wheels will be a lot more comfortable, and you will be able to feel the improvements to the suspension more there.

lso included as standard equipment of the Kia Seltos is a tyre pressure monitoring system, Hill Assist Control, electronic stability control (ESC), and six airbags
lso included as standard equipment of the Kia Seltos is a tyre pressure monitoring system, Hill Assist Control, electronic stability control (ESC), and six airbagsShot by Rohit S Mane for evo India

Since the Seltos came out in 2019, the Kushaq and Taigun have really upped the game when it comes to the ride and handling balance. They manage to ride well, remain absorptive of undulations in the road and still handle with incredible composure. Its a combination of many things — torsional and bending rigidity, well tuned spring and dampers, and the right suspension geometry. The Seltos may have been updated, but it cannot match the composure that these Europeans manage to deliver on Indian roads. So while it Seltos does have improved performance, it can’t be called the Thrill of Driving benchmark in the segment just yet.

2023 Kia Seltos ADAS features

I’d usually just gloss over these bits but its really worth talking about the level of ADAS features that the Seltos gets, especially at the price it is being offered at. It gets one front radar, and two radar to give it Level 2 ADAS features on par with cars like the Kia EV6 and Ionia 5. You’ve got the usual front collision warning, lane keep assist and auto headlamps. But you also have adaptive cruise control, which I used a fair bit and worked really well. The clincher is the rear radar which no other car at this price offers, and gives you features like cross traffic alert and a blind spot monitor. Drive the Seltos enough and you realise that the system has been tuned for Indian conditions, and isn’t hyperactive like the systems on many luxury cars. The best part? Once you turn the systems off, they stay off even when you turn the car on and off. Indian cities have such terrible road discipline that keeping these systems on in the city is actually more dangerous than turning them off. Having to turn them on every time you step in the car and its great that Kia allows them to stay off until you want them on again.

The Kia Seltos gets 17 ADAS features including forward collision warning assist, blind-spot collision warning, and lane-keep assist
The Kia Seltos gets 17 ADAS features including forward collision warning assist, blind-spot collision warning, and lane-keep assistShot by Rohit S Mane for evo India

2023 Kia Seltos pricing and verdict

The updates to the Seltos were critical to keeping it fresh for the wave after wave of onslaught it faces in this segment. They bring with them updated styling, along with more features and tech — bits that buyers in this segment appreciate. The updated 1.5 engine injects even more enthusiasm to the range, but there are still chinks in its armour particularly around ride quality. But then we come to the pricing, and you realise that the Seltos stays incredibly competitive despite the update. At the entry level, the Rs 10.89 lakh price for the base variant undercuts the likes of the Hyundai Creta by a fair bit. At the top end, petrol and diesel variants of the Seltos are priced on par with each other, and at Rs 19.99 lakh, it commands a premium of less than a lakh of rupees more over the top end Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara, Skoda Kushaq, Volkswagen Taigun and Hyundai Creta. And that price includes that vast suite of ADAS features. Can’t argue with the value proposition there, can you?

the Kia Seltos competes with the likes of the Hyundai Creta, Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara, Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder, MG Astor, Volkswagen Taigun, Skoda Kushaq, as well as the Honda Elevate and Citroen C3
the Kia Seltos competes with the likes of the Hyundai Creta, Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara, Toyota Urban Cruiser Hyryder, MG Astor, Volkswagen Taigun, Skoda Kushaq, as well as the Honda Elevate and Citroen C3Shot by Rohit S Mane for evo India

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