Kia Seltos First Drive Review: Ringing Alarm Bells in the Compact SUV space!

Kia Seltos comes to India at a time when the auto industry is going through a massive setback in terms of sales. Based on an already perfected formula i.e. the Hyundai Creta, can the Kia Seltos make its mark and kickstart an all-new brand in India? Read our Kia Seltos review from the roads of Goa to find out!


The year 2019 hasn’t been kind to the automotive industry but that hasn’t stopped carmakers from launching all-new models. This year we have already seen a lot of big and important launches and there will be many more throughout the year but Kia Seltos is probably the biggest launch of the year. We say that because this is not just the launch of the Kia Seltos, but the introduction of a new brand. This is the first model from Kia that will provide the Kia experience to the consumers in India. So does the Kia Seltos compact SUV live up to the expectations or not, what does it have that really works well, what does not is exactly what we are going to tell you over the course of this review.

Kia Seltos – Design and Appearance

In terms of initial visual impressions, the Kia Seltos is absolutely stunning to look at. It sports a fresh design so there is nothing else out there in the market that looks similar. Not only is it a totally fresh design but it is a good looking one as well. Now when you look at the front, the GT line has got a little more sporty appeal than the Tech line but the overall design is largely same across the variants. The front end is sharp and the Tiger nose grilled done in chrome bezels and we are sure that most of you will like this. The angular grille that gets a piano black finish looks good and of course, if you look at the headlamps, these get LED DRLs with a striking design. The fog lamps are LED units as well. Combine this with a hood that has got some strong muscular creases and you get a kinetic and dynamic design in the Kia Seltos. One thing that sets the Seltos apart from any other car in the market is its LED DRLs. In most cars, you do get LED DRLs these days but if you look at Seltos, it runs right across and it’s only under the badge that you don’t have it and it has got a seamless effect to it. The indicators are placed below the headlamps so overall its a very different approach when it comes to the headlamp design.

The side profile of the Seltos is quite sharp and angular and you can see a lot of creases and a lot of action happening around. The attention-grabbing stunning alloy wheels on the GT line truly stand out while the one size smaller ones on the Tech Lines also bear a good design. There is a floating roof that gives a lot of dynamism to the overall design and there are roof rails as well to give it some sportiness.

Moving further back, you do get a spoiler which is pretty must a norm these days and if you look at the tail lamps, just like the headlamps, these are quite sharp looking and have a sporty effect. The cluster inside is quite nice to look at and the way Kia calls it, its got a heartbeat design which we are sure you can notice mimics the way heartbeat is reflected on a graph. Even the rear bumpers with the body cladding and the skid plate look the part. So overall the Seltos does come across as an attractive and dynamic vehicle with a fresh design in the compact SUV segment.

Kia Seltos – Interiors and cabin experience

The moment you step inside the cabin, it is a very refreshing and welcoming sight. Now to start off what will catch your attention first is the centre console and particularly the infotainment screen. The Seltos gets a 10.25-inch coloured touchscreen and it gets a very nice and premium design so if you look at the bezels around it, there is a very premium feel to it. The display is nice and the user interface is quite easy to operate. It is a simple system to operate and the touch response is nice as there is no lag. In terms of features, you do get access to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and the party piece here is Kia’s UVO app which gives you access to a host of internet features. Now, these are features that help you in terms of internet connectivity, safety and vehicle maintenance as well.

Coming to the rest of the interiors, if we talk about the dashboard, it is a good looking unit. At the centre, you get soft-touch material which adds a bit of premium quotient to the overall cabin appeal. The plastic quality again, used on both top and bottom is nice so it again adds to the premium feel. You also get a piano black finish around the infotainment screen, the centre console and even in the lower part of the centre console. It looks good and premium but the only issue with this is that when you use it on a day to day basis, you will end up with a lot of fingerprint marks, which can be an eye-sore.

Between the Techline and GT Line, the difference in the dashboard is that you get a dual colour tone for the former and all-black scheme for the latter one including the seats. The seat pattern is different and there is a lot of difference in features as well. Talking of seats, they are quite nice and across variants, you get leather seats that feel premium. Side support is quite nice and the cushioning is good too. In terms of space-management, one can easily store a one-litre bottle in the front door pockets and still, there is space left for a lot of knick-knacks. The glovebox also is voluminous so you can store some things here. Other key features include wireless charging, which supports fast charging. In addition, you also get a fast-charging USB port and there is a 12V socket as well and still, you are left with one more USB point. So there are a lot of options to charge your device and listen to music on the go.

The instrument cluster is a combination of digital and analogue units. At the centre there is a digital screen that gives you access to a host of information including trip meter, odometer, expected range, average speed, average fuel consumption, tyre pressure monitoring system and lots more. All this information is flanked on both sides by two circular pods which are analogue units for the speedometer and fuel gauge and on the left, you have the tachometer with the temperature gauge for the engine.

Another interesting feature here is the electrically cooled seats at front which prove to be a boon on hot days. You get an electrically-operated sunroof along with an electrically powered seat for the driver. However, the big miss out here is that if you opt for the variant with DCT gearbox you will miss out on features such as the cooled seats, electrically powered seats and you won’t get a sunroof as well.

The moment you get on the rear seat of the Kia Seltos, you will come to know that the Seltos holds an advantage over its rivals. That is because the Seltos has a long wheelbase and this long wheelbase and extra width give it an edge in terms of space at the rear as it gets segment-leading legroom. I am 5’8’’ and with driver seat set to my driving preference, there was a lot of space and I couldn’t even use the entire space. Despite a sporty design, there is no compromise in the headroom and hence, even if someone who is 6 feet tall will not have any problems.

The seat bench is quite nice and cushioning is nice so if you are going to be here for a long time, there won’t be any problem and it is going to be a comfortable experience. The door pockets have a lot of space so you can put in a lot of stuff. The centre armrest has soft padding so all of this gives you a very good in-cabin experience. Adding to the comfort is a smart display screen behind the driver armrest. This display shows real-time data for the smart purifier system that works all the time gives you access to clean air inside the cabin.

Coming to the segment-first features, the UVO app gives you access to a lot of features and there is a lot that the car offers to you in terms of experience. Kia says that the global first feature that no other Kia car in the world has is the smart purifier system, so this is a feature developed in India, for India and this is a really good feature if you are someone staying in Delhi like me.

In UVO, there are 37 smart features and some of the notable ones that you can enjoy include navigation, live car tracking, car location sharing, destination sharing from the car, live traffic information, destination schedule, find my car, auto collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, panic notification, roadside assistance, stolen vehicle notification. In terms of vehicle maintenance, you get features like vehicle health report, auto diagnostic alert, maintenance alert there’s a lot many left. All said and done, there is still one-party piece left that is going to make the audiophiles happy and that is the Bose audio system. It’s a 400-watt audio system that is pretty impressive in terms of output. One gets an 8-speaker layout with a centre speaker upfront. The sound quality is quite impressive and it comes with a display and lighting effects so basically you can customize the lighting colours, the way lighting plays around in the cabin and you have ambient lighting as well. So if you couple that with the audio system, you get an overall impressive effect in terms of enjoying the music

Kia Seltos – Engine, transmission and performance

This is an area where Kia has done a lot of homework and it shows because you get three engine options and each one of them gives you access to an automatic gearbox option, something that the competition does not have. The engines on offer are a 1.5-litre petrol and a 1.5-litre diesel and these give you power outputs of 113hp and there is also a 1.4-litre GDI engine turbo petrol engine which gives you 140hp and apart from the fact that all these engines get an automatic transmission or a six-speed manual gearbox, the centre of attraction with the GDI engine is the seven-speed DCT gearbox option. So if you are someone who loves driving or are an auto enthusiast, this combination of a turbocharged petrol engine along with a DCT gearbox is surely going to rev up a lot of excitement in you.

But then again that’s all on paper. A lot of times we’ve seen that DCTs don’t really work that well with the exception of DSG from Volkswagen but that is not the case with the Seltos fortunately. The DCT in the Seltos works like a charm so you don’t really have to wait for it to come to a boil to start getting quick shifts. It’s not overly tuned for fuel efficiency as well so it’s not always desperately hunting for a higher gear and that does not ruin the driving experience well. You also get driving modes and you can choose between Normal, Eco and Sport. These modes not only alter the throttle performance but also alter the dynamics in terms of steering. So switch to Sport mode and the steering weighs up a lot compared to the Eco or the Comfort mode and you get a sharper response from the throttle.

The motor itself is very impressive and the power comes in quite early and despite it being a turbocharged unit, you do not experience any significant lag. Talking about the diesel engine, it’s a good unit as it gets adequate power and a lot of low-end torque, of course, being a diesel. The driveability is quite nice as the six-speed manual gearbox is mated well to the engine and the ratios are set well which means you do not have to frequently downshift in slow-moving traffic. The gearbox itself is quite easy and smooth to operate as the throws are not long and the operation is really smooth. Apart from the fact that the motor in itself is quite smooth, be it the GDI engine or the diesel one, the NVH insulation is so impressive that there are not much of outside sounds that filter much inside the cabin. That’s a really nice thing if you look at it from a perspective that Kia Seltos is positioned as a premium compact SUV so it lives up to those premium expectations.

Kia Seltos – Ride Quality and Handling

Now for a car that offers good engine options and comes with a turbocharged petrol motor and a DCT, it is important that it should have good dynamics. In terms of handling, the Seltos is quite impressive and despite the fact that this is an SUV and it is dimensionally larger than most of its rivals, there is not much of body roll around corners. There is some but not to the point where it will make you feel uncomfortable. The ride quality is spot on as it offers a good balance between comfort and sportiness so when you are going over bad surfaces or potholes or expansion joints on flyovers, all of it is filtered out very well.

In terms of high-speed stability again, the Kia Seltos is quite impressive and if you are braking hard from a high speed, even during that panic moment, the car reacts very confidently as it does not sway away from the line much and you always feel that you are in control of the vehicle.

Kia Seltos Safety

Talking of safety, the Seltos does lives up to the expectations in this department as well. The safety kit that you will get will vary from variant to variant. If you opt for the higher variants, the best that you will get in terms of safety includes features such as six airbags, traction control, ABS with EBD and hill-start assist. Kia also claims that the structure of the vehicle itself uses a lot of high strength steel and that should make the vehicle safer in case of an unfortunate crash. You also get rear parking sensors along with a 360-degree camera sporting dynamic gridlines for reverse gear, which makes parking or getting in and out of tight spaces a breeze.

Another good thing about the Seltos is that from day one when it goes on sale, it is BS-VI compliant. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t run it on BS-IV fuel so you can right now run it on BS-IV fuel and eventually in April 2020, when BS-VI norms come into compliance, that time this car will already be compliant with those norms. There is a DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) in the car but no SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) as the latter is required only for larger diesel engines. This means the cost increment shouldn’t be huge as SCR costs pretty much a bomb.

Kia Seltos – Expected India price and Verdict

By now, we have already given you a complete download on what the Kia Seltos offers, what all features it has got, what’s good about it, what it lacks and what its capabilities are. So if I have to summarise the overall Seltos experience, it is quite an impressive SUV as it has got an attractive design and it truly stands out from the competition. It offers features that are not just at par with the segment but set a new benchmark in the compact SUV space. Add to this the fact that the Kia Seltos is good to drive as you get great engine and transmission options

The Kia Seltos then is a very good offering from Kia considering the fact that this is the first vehicle from the brand in the country. Now the only missing piece in the puzzle is the price which will be announced on 22nd August and if Kia can manage to price the Seltos between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 17.5 lakh (ex-showroom), that is where it will hit the sweet spot and if it manages to do so, there is a good chance that the entire competition will be left mighty worried as for a company to be able to ring the alarm bells off with its first product is a big achievement. That is if Kia manages it.

Get live Share Market updates and latest India News and business news on Financial Express. Download Financial Express App for latest business news.