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Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?
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Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

It’s finally here and we splash around Goa for our first test drive of the Kia Seltos

By Sirish Chandran

Published on :

We’ve been waiting ages for the Kia Seltos so I’ll break with the norm and go straight to the verdict — the Seltos is excellent! If you’ve held back on buying your next car in anticipation of the Kia Seltos, you’ve done A Very Smart Thing. Of course we don’t know the pricing, that will be revealed on August 22, but Kia are unlikely to make any wrong calls considering the Seltos will not just herald the arrival of the Kia brand in India, but they have to be mindful of the dark clouds are hovering over the Indian automotive market right now. And in any case, the Kia Seltos is entering a hotly contested mid-size SUV segment dominated by the Hyundai Creta, not to forget the MG Hector that has drawn phenomenal response, and the Tata Harrier. The bottom line though, after driving the Seltos in monsoon-drenched Goa, is that Kia are on the money. The Seltos looks stunning, is loaded with features, has lovely interiors, is excellent to drive, the turbo-petrol mated to the twin-clutch DCT gearbox will appeal to driving enthusiasts, and the dynamics are excellent. Only the absence of pricing means we cannot give it the five stars it deserves.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

Kia Seltos is stunning to look at

Kia is all about great design, that’s the key differentiator for the brand, and the Seltos is a brilliant way to make that statement. In the metal, even in dreary weather under pregnant monsoon clouds, the Seltos is stunning to behold with the right blend of style and bling. Of course the LED lighting elements in the nose, especially the slim strips that carry on into the top of the tiger-nose grille can be a bit fussy, but overall it works very well. The variant pictured here is the GTX trim of the GT Line, characterised by the (faux) skid plate under the bumpers, different design for the 17-inch alloys and liberal application of red striping. This is the sporty variant of the line-up and it not only looks sporty but the 1.4 turbo-petrol motor can only be had in this trim line so it has the go to match the show.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

The dual tone is an option and the black roof with the black roof rails contrasts very well on our white test car. The overall proportions are spot-on, particularly the wheelarch gaps that are filled out nicely by the 17-inch rubber on the top-spec variants. The Seltos will only be offered with front-wheel drive but it does have a nice and beefy SUV-vibe to its styling. To emphasise the SUV positioning there is black plastic cladding on the wheel arches which extends into the rear bumper lending visual relief and drawing the eye to the distinctive LED graphic of the taillamp and the bold Kia badge standing proud of the chrome strip across the tail gate. What I don’t like though are the twin, and fake, exhaust tips.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

Do you get a sunroof?

I don’t get the obsession that Indian buyers have for a sunroof but it is so much in demand that manufacturers have to cut up their roof and throw in a sunroof no matter how hard the ride and handling engineers protest against it. The GTX trim we are driving does not have a sunroof but you can have it on the GTX+ which in addition to letting in more sunlight also gets powered and ventilated front seats, an 8-speaker 400W Bose sound system that includes an 8-inch subwoofer in the boot and a 360-degree camera with front parking sensors.

Excellent cabin of the Kia Seltos

The GT Line trim gets all-black interiors and our film maker Alameen couldn’t stop raving about it. He is a bonafide enthusiast, drives a Polo GT TSI and rides a Triumph Daytona, and here’s finally the upgrade he has been looking for. Cabin quality is so good it brings to mind European cars, down to the way the doors shut and the indicators click-clack. The GTX gets a meaty flat-bottom steering wheel and red trimming to contrast with the black. The seats are comfortable, well bolstered and get GT Line inscriptions. The black of the dash looks premium and fit-finish is excellent.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

You don’t get digital dials on the Seltos and I think that’s a good thing — I much rather have nice analogue dials over fussy digital stuff that is hard to read. Between the dials though you get a large 7-inch screen that not only shows all the trip computer and fuel economy readouts but projects infotainment details and, on the GTX+ variant, even alerts you to objects in the blind spot via the 360-view cameras. Flanking the dials are shift lights and it also shows the gear you’re in when the DCT is in manual mode. And from the top of the dash a screen slides for the Head Up Display, just like in the Mini Cooper.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

The 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen dominates the dash and the important stuff is organised in neat and easily accessible tiles, all of which respond very well to touch inputs. A neat addition is the in-built air purifier that cleans out the air in the cabin and even has an Air Quality Index (AQI) readout. Via the infotainment you can increase the speed of the air purifier’s fan and even perfume the cabin. Audiophiles will be (pleasantly) surprised that even the standard Arkamys sound system sounds good and includes mood lighting around the speakers that pulses to the beats of the music; there’s even a party mode for even more of the pulsing.

The Seltos gets 37 smart features via Kia’s UVO app, similar to Hyundai’s Blue Link that debuted on the Venue, and includes a Vodafone e-SIM that connects with the call centre for road side assistance and even stuff like pushing maps to the car. The UVO app allows you to start the car remotely (only the automatics), set the temperature, geo-fence it, locate and immobilise the car if stolen and even start the air purifier to clean up the air inside the Seltos.

Now for the back seat and if being chauffeur driven is your topmost priority, I wouldn’t suggest you cancel the MG Hector booking. It’s not that the Kia Seltos is cramped, there is adequate space for four and five can squeeze in, but it is nowhere like the Hector’s abundant space. Neither does the Kia’s 433 litre boot match the Hector’s 587 litres. The different profile of the seats and 45mm added to the length means Kia claim there is slightly more space than the segment leader but in reality there is only a wee bit more space than the Creta.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

How different are Seltos’ dynamics compared to Creta?

Kia and Hyundai are sister brands under the Hyundai Motor Group and much like Volkswagen, Skoda, Audi et all share common VW Group underpinnings so too does the Seltos share the Creta’s platform. The big difference though is 5 years of development. The Creta came in 2015, set a new benchmark, and fully deserves its 10,000 units a month sales figures. Now Kia’s engineers have taken the same basic underpinnings and added 20mm to the wheelbase, BS 6 engines, and a European level of dynamic sophistication.

Since we’re all familiar with the Creta I’ll use that as the base line. The ride quality of the Creta makes it a comfortable car for the city but on the highway it feels a touch too soft and the body doesn’t stay flat over bumpy roads. The Seltos sorts that out. There’s a touch of firmness to the low speed ride but it still manages to iron out bumps and potholes with more polish than the Creta. Go over a speed breaker and the front suspension feels stronger, there’s less sogginess and the stronger rebound means there’s no secondary movement. Build speed and the Seltos takes on bad roads with even better polish, there are no suspension thuds and clunks entering the cabin, and on the short bursts of speed we got on the highway the Seltos felt very confidence inspiring despite the wet and slippery roads.fidence inspiring despite the wet and slippery roads.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

We didn’t get too many corners that we could attack at speed, roads in Goa are narrow and to add to that the rainfall was as plenty as it was incessant, but the few opportunities we got revealed good control over body roll and equally good grip levels. Must add the Goodyear Assurance tyres, 215/60 R17 on the GTX, do perform well in the wet. The steering isn’t lifeless either, on the contrary it has some feedback and inspires confidence too. In Sport mode it gets a little too heavy for low speed manoeuvring but that weight adds to the stability on the highway.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

Sport mode? The DCT transmission equipped Kia Seltos gets a drive mode selector with Eco, Normal and Sport modes, of which Normal feels the best compromise. In Sport the gearbox holds on to gears for far too long making the Seltos too jumpy. In addition there’s a terrain mode selector that alters the engine and ESP mapping between Sand, Mud and Snow modes. This is a trick similar to what the Tata Harrier employs and in the absence of all-wheel-drive the utility is really quite limited.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

The upgrade Polo GT TSI drivers have been looking for?

0-100kmph in 9.7 seconds, that’s the headline figure of the 1.4 GDI turbo-petrol engine when mated to the 7-speed twin-clutch DCT transmission. Finally we have a logical upgrade, both on price as well as performance, over the Polo GT TSI — at least until VW brings in their own turbo-petrol-equipped mid-size SUV in a year.

The motor makes 138bhp of power and 242Nm of torque which feels plenty quick, especially on our test route that afforded very little opportunity to put pedal to metal. To go with that power, it also gets disc brakes all round and ESP as standard. And to answer all your questions thrown up on social media, yes, the 1.4 TGDi Seltos is fast, sporty and fun to drive. What I’d have liked though is a bit more of the turbocharged character, like you get in the VW Group TSI engines: a stronger kick when it gets on boost, some more whistling from the turbo and dumping from the wastegate, and a little more aggression. This is a very refined motor, with very little turbo lag, but it is possibly a bit too refined for what is billed as a sporty variant.

For those worried about fuel efficiency the DCT delivers a claimed 16.5kmpl and with the manual it drops down to 16.1kmpl. On our drive we didn’t see double digit figures, but then again we weren’t driving it in a relaxed manner either.

Kia Seltos First Test Drive Review | Are the Hector, Creta and Harrier under threat?

Seven engine and transmission options

The TGDi + DCT is, in my opinion, the combination to have if you’re of an enthusiast bent. But it won’t be the best seller. That, even today, will be the 1.5 diesel. It makes 113.4bhp of power, 250Nm of torque and gets to 100kmph in 11.5 seconds delivering a claimed efficiency of 21kmpl. A 6-speed automatic is offered as an option on the diesel which returns a claimed efficiency of 18kmpl.

The 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol offered on the Tech Line develops 113.4bhp of power and 144Nm of torque and is over two seconds slower to get to 100kmph compared to the 1.4 turbo, hitting it in 11.8 seconds. The claimed fuel consumption though is the same as the turbo+DCT at 16.5kmpl for the manual. This engine gets a CVT automatic which ups the fuel efficiency to 16.8kmpl.

All three engines of the Seltos are BS 6 emissions compliant right from launch. Not BS 6 ready, but BS 6 compliant, that too with our current BS 4 fuels. And it does not need an Ad Blue tank or any other form of urea after treatment to meet the stricter emission norms that kick in next year.

Seven engine and transmission options

The TGDi + DCT is, in my opinion, the combination to have if you’re of an enthusiast bent. But it won’t be the best seller. That, even today, will be the 1.5 diesel. It makes 113.4bhp of power, 250Nm of torque and gets to 100kmph in 11.5 seconds delivering a claimed efficiency of 21kmpl. A 6-speed automatic is offered as an option on the diesel which returns a claimed efficiency of 18kmpl.

The 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol offered on the Tech Line develops 113.4bhp of power and 144Nm of torque and is over two seconds slower to get to 100kmph compared to the 1.4 turbo, hitting it in 11.8 seconds. The claimed fuel consumption though is the same as the turbo+DCT at 16.5kmpl for the manual. This engine gets a CVT automatic which ups the fuel efficiency to 16.8kmpl.

All three engines of the Seltos are BS 6 emissions compliant right from launch. Not BS 6 ready, but BS 6 compliant, that too with our current BS 4 fuels. And it does not need an Ad Blue tank or any other form of urea after treatment to meet the stricter emission norms that kick in next year.

Good thing you waited

The Indian automotive industry is struggling, big time, and the drop in sales is severe enough to be now labelled a recession. And to recover from this slump is going to take the rest of the year. If there’s a silver lining it is that most experts believe we’ve hit the bottom and it will now stabilise at this level before inching back upwards. And, for Kia, the good news is that even in these depressed times buyer interest is still there for new cars. Witness the strong interest in the Hector that has led MG to stop bookings, or the Venue that has raced away to the top of the compact SUV charts and will take up the slack left behind by a drop in Creta volumes — which is bound to happen. While growing the mid-SUV segment the Kia Seltos will also eat into the volumes of current players and, of the lot, the Creta will get hit the hardest. And that’s because the Seltos has everything we’ve loved about the Creta, only a bit more. More in terms of style, performance, engine and transmission options, features, dynamics, quality and most importantly driving pleasure. Priced right the Seltos will definitely have been worth the wait.

Click here to watch the Kia Seltos in action!