Before I begin, a disclaimer of sorts. Kia is going to offer the Seltos in a choice of 17 variants to begin with, which is a mindboggling number. Each will have different sets of features, bells and whistles and whatnot, and all 17 will not last the course, given the amount of inventory dealers will have to maintain. To that end, I will only deal with the top-end petrol and diesel automatic variants here, to prevent you (and, more importantly, me) from being confused to kingdom come.
You will know by now that Kia has been tom-tomming the Seltos for over a year, beginning with the SP2i concept it showed at the Auto Expo in 2018. Since then, it has unleashed a veritable blizzard of sketches, teasers, unveils, prototypes, pre-launch drives in both Korea and India and a rather incomprehensible TV commercial featuring Tiger Shroff attempting to interact with a meerkat, all to the effect of being badass or some such (if you have remained untouched by any or all of these communication efforts, kindly let me know where you go to escape from the real world). The danger with this sort of communications blitz is that if your product doesn’t quite live up to all the hype, you’re up the creek minus a paddle. Fortunately for Kia, this is not the case – the Seltos is, in my opinion, possibly the best car that’s been launched so far this year in India, pound for pound, segment for segment.
To give you some background information, Hyundai is Kia’s largest stakeholder, and therefore the companies share R&D, but otherwise operate quite independently and compete in markets across the world. For Kia to enter India was a no-brainer, regardless of the current slump in the automotive market, and the model with which it has chosen to do so is the Seltos, which is, in essence, the next-generation Hyundai Creta. The two cars will square off against each other in the compact SUV segment, but the Seltos is the proverbial cheese to the Creta’s chalk.
To begin with, the Kia is by far the better looking (flashier, even) model. It has what Kia calls a ‘tiger nose’, split grille, with very slick (also split) LED headlamps and indicators, and a vertically stacked set of fog lamps integrated into a stylish bumper, the lot garnished with plenty of chrome. From the side, it’s a proper SUV all right, with its 17-inch wheels filling out the arches and the upswept shoulder line meeting the roof line in a sporty manner. The rear looks great, too, with a scuff plate and LED tail lamps that extend on to the profile. Kia has, in the last while, put design at the core of its philosophy in order to distinguish itself in markets worldwide, and it’s clear that the Seltos was conceived in the same vein. The best looking vehicle in its segment? Without a doubt.
The cabin is top shelf too. The quality of materials, fit and finishing are segment-best, and the car’s variants have so many different sets of features that it’s impossible to keep track of them. The top-end petrol model that I drove (in GT-monikered trim) only lacked a kitchen sink — and a powered driver’s seat, strangely, which the lower spec diesel automatic gets (I told you, the features list is long, but mainly confusing). The leatherette seats look great and are very comfortable, and there’s plenty of room in here for four adults (five will fit in relative comfort as well)
Here’s a list of some of the features in the cars I drove, to give you an idea of just how packed they are – a head-up display, a 10.25-inch touchscreen, an in-built air purifier (a world-first, says Kia), steering mounted controls, a wireless phone charger, a Bose sound system, auto headlights, tyre-pressure monitoring, ventilated seats, climate control, an electric sunroof, ambient lighting, parking sensors front and rear, voice-activated functions, a 360-degree camera, blind-spot monitoring cameras on the wing mirrors and selectable drive modes. Oh, and there’s Kia’s proprietary UVO app, which connects to the embedded e-SIM card and gives you 37 different functions (much like Hyundai’s Blue Link tech) – these include remote engine and A/C start (in the automatic variants), geofencing, engine immobilising, live location, one-touch access to a 24-hour call center and many more. The app works well but is dependent on network connectivity, so it’s unlikely to function entirely flawlessly all the time. Features like these were once the domain of hideously expensive luxury cars, and the democratisation of technology has been one of the highlights of the automotive industry over the years; if you want still more features, you’re probably never going to be happy.
The engines in the Seltos are all ready for the new BSVI emission norms that will come into effect next year (these norms are a part of the reason that the industry is in a slump, but that’s a separate story). Three are on offer – two petrols (1.4-litre turbo and 1.5-litre naturally aspirated) and a 1.5-litre diesel. You get manual transmissions with both engines, of course, but I am now of the view that automatic gearboxes (in any car) are the way to go — if you can afford one, get it, because it will save you a whole lot of stress in Indian driving conditions, and it will be as fuel efficient as a manual, if not more.
The engine that I was most impressed by was the turbo petrol, paired with a 7-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox — it’s refined, very peppy and a hoot to drive, cracking the 0-100 kph run in under 10 seconds; with 138 bhp and 242 Nm of torque, it never feels out of breath. The 1.5-litre diesel, with just over 113 bhp and 250 Nm of torque, is surprisingly fun as well – and extremely refined. You can just about hear it at idle, and it’s only above 3,000 rpm that a faint drone from it enters the cabin, which can be a little distracting over a long drive. Mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox, this engine is also classleading, without a doubt.
Bringing up the rear in emphatic fashion is the Seltos’ suspension, which was specially developed for Indian conditions — it’s brilliant. I took a series of potholes at more than average speed on several occasions, and could barely feel any thuds or crashes, even when I switched seats to the rear and was driven around for a bit. The car handles in an entertaining and reassuring manner, and you’re never left feeling that it’ll lose its composure. The steering wheel on the top end versions is an excellent, meaty, flatbottomed unit which feels great to grip and which offers enough feedback to keep the drive entertaining, and the brakes are superb as well.
The Seltos is one of those rare cars in which it’s difficult to find drawbacks — and it’s not often that I say this. Kia has knocked it clean out of the park, and kudos to it for thinking up and then actually delivering a vehicle that ticks virtually every box for India. At a price range of Rs 9.69 lakh to Rs 15.99 lakh, ex-showroom, there’s one for every budget, and you’d be hard pressed to find more value for money in * any * segment today.
1.4/1.5-litre petrol, 1.5-litre diesel
Rs 9.69 lakh to Rs 15.99 lakh (introductory, exshowroom)
Bose audio, HUD, climate control, 10.25-inch touchscreen, air purifier, wireless phone charger, 360-degree camera, ventilated seats