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If you’re into cars and you live in India, you would have heard of the Kia Seltos, the first product from Kia Motors in India, expected to be in the same segment as the Hyundai Creta. If the success of the Creta is anything to go by, Kia Motors execs are going to be laughing to the bank, considering the Seltos is based on the Creta platform. But there’s new competition — the Tata Harrier and more recently, the MG Hector have created a buzz in the segment. The Kia Seltos brings with it new engines, new drivetrains, stunning new design and new technology but is this enough to make it a best-seller?
Before you read anything further, I want to make something clear. This is not a first drive review. For a number of reasons — firstly, these are prototypes and not production cars. These are cars that Kia Motors is producing to set their quality standards and train their technicians. These cars are close to what the production cars will feel like, but there could be variations. To what degree, I cannot say. Secondly, I didn’t get too much time behind the wheel. I drove a total of four variants — I will come to which ones they were in a bit but I drove each of them for little over a lap of Kia’s test track at their facility in Anantpur. Two laps if I was naughty and didn’t pull in to swap cars when I was asked to. So what you are about to read are my cursory first impressions of a prototype vehicle. A full-blown, detailed review will definitely follow when we drive the production cars on the road.
A big part of what will allow the Seltos to do well is the sheer variety of drivetrains. Where SUVs like the Tata Harrier don’t even give you an option when it comes to the engine-transmission set up, the Seltos will give you a total of six different layouts. There are three different engines, each available with a manual or an automatic ’box. The first is a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine that gets a six-speed manual or a CVT option. Then there’s the 1.4-litre turbo-petrol which comes with the option of a six-speed manual or a DCT. Lastly, and obviously, there’s a diesel — a 1.5-litre turbocharged mill that comes with a six-speed manual or a torque convertor automatic. Saying you are spoilt for choice is an understatement. I got my hands on both versions of the turbo-petrol and diesel, but I’ll come to what they feel like in a bit. Before that, I want to talk about the way the Seltos looks.
Design and aesthetics are a huge focus for Kia. One look at the Seltos rolling down the road, or in this case a test track, and you know they’ve done something right. The face is properly distinct — up and centre is the Tiger Nose grille, an element that runs through their entire range. The headlamps are intricately designed with a lot of elements making the face look rather expensive, and the indicators that sit below it are rather unique looking too. The Seltos is wider and longer than the Hyundai Creta, but it isn’t as tall. This gives the Seltos a far more aggressive looking, more dynamic stance compared the more upright Creta. There’s a heavy use of cladding, especially around the back and I’m not a fan of the faux tail-pipe elements but the rest of it looks quite sharp.
The Seltos will be available in two distinct trim lines as well — the Tech line which is the less sporty, more sombre trim line and the GT line which has plenty of sporty and flashy touches. These include GT badges on the front and rear, skid plates and side cladding with red accents, and different wheels. I particularly liked the red elements on the wheels that could pass off as centre-locking wheel hubs.
The two distinct trim lines carry over into the insides as well. The Tech Line and the GT Line get distinct patterns on their seats to tell them apart, and the GT Line also gets bits like red stitching and the option of an all-black interior instead of the dual-tone beige and black interior. The dash is a combination of soft touch and hard touch materials, and the layout is actually rather nice. The wheel is large and chunky, with steering-mounted controls. The centre console gets a 10.25-inch HD display on higher end variants, and a 7-inch digital information cluster. The Seltos gets an air purifier in the centre armrest and while lower variants get an Arkamys sound system, top-spec cars get a nice sounding Bose system.
Space is good, and the rear seats have more legroom than a Creta. You can also recline the rear seat backrest to enhance comfort. Overall, the cabin is a nice place to be — the only thing I didn’t fancy was the way the speakers look. They do have some ambient lighting that tweaks itself to the music being played but that would only be visible after dark.
Connectivity is the new rage and the Seltos gets a whole suite of connectivity features like the Hyundai Venue does. You can track the car live, get live traffic information, get stolen vehicle notifications and the ability to track it, maintenance alerts, remote start for the engine and AC and a whole lot of other things. Get a brochure if you want to know the specifics. Where Hyundai calls this system BlueLink, Kia calls it Uvo.
Right, the first impressions of the 1.4 turbo-petrol is that it’s fairly quick, getting off the line well, and the DCT does a brilliant job of climbing through the gears seamlessly. I preferred the DCT to the manual, as the gearbox had slightly longer throws than I would have liked and didn’t have the same slickness as the rest of the package. The manual would definitely be the enthusiast’s choice though. The DCT, meanwhile, does a good job of keeping you in the meat of the power, and is quick to react to your inputs. The Seltos’ turbo doesn’t spool up aggressively, but it’s a more refined linear spooling up. Some will like it for its refinement, while some won’t because it doesn’t shove you back into your seat when it lights up.
The diesel, on the other hand, doesn’t feel quite as quick. The 1.5-litre motor lacks the outright grunt the petrol has and it feels like a package that is better suited to be driven at 7/10ths rather than at full tilt. Refinement and NVH levels are impressive. The manual ’box in the diesel has a much more positive shift that the turbo-petrol — the throws are shorter and it feels more slick though the gate as well. The automatic variants of the Seltos also get drive mode selectors that adjust the throttle characteristics and the steering weight — you can pick between Eco, Comfort and Sport. Some variants also have an off-road mode selector, with different modes like Mud, Wet/ Snow and Sand. The Seltos isn’t AWD so it isn’t doing too much other than tweaking the electronics like the ESP and traction control to make the car behave slightly differently in low-traction situations.
Ride quality was good over the few rumble strips and bumps at the test facility. The Seltos has a maturity to its ride quality that I really liked. It doesn’t pitch too much and is well damped. The cabin is well isolated from the harshness of the road below it too. The Seltos seems to be set up for comfort, but chuck it around a bend and it can handle. Dial it into Sport mode and the steering weighs up nicely, giving you some confidence to push hard.
Kia will be launching the Seltos SUV in late August, and the bookings of which have already started. They have also started to set up a vast network in anticipation for it. 265 touch points — either service or sales points — have been set up across the country and even the service outlets will sell you cars if there’s no full-blown dealer in the vicinity. The Seltos seems to be a solid product, though a lot of its success will depend on how it is priced. It gets a lot more tech and features than the Hyundai Creta. The MG Hector has a lot going for it with its connectivity and space, and this segment is heating up properly again, that’s for sure. Bookings of the car start on July 16. Customers will be able to pre-book the car on Kia Motors India website and through all the dealerships across the country.