A vehicle’s design is one of the primary considerations of consumers when buying a personal car. After all, why would you even consider one if it doesn’t suit your taste?
In this regard, the Kia Seltos can be considered as one of the top notchers. When it was first launched in India in 2019, the subcompact crossover immediately caught the attention of motoring enthusiasts, local and international alike. Same goes when it was first announced for the Philippines – inquiries for the new crossover came incessantly through AutoDeal. But, are looks the only merit of the Seltos? Like a beauty pageant contender, I believe that good-looking cars should have substance, too.
I’ve tested a top-of-the-line Kia Seltos SX during the holidays to see if it could offer more than just a pretty face.
I'm actually on the fence with huge car grilles, but the Seltos’ tiger nose that connects the LED clusters is nicely executed and effectively complements the overall look. In fact, it has one of the busiest faces today, even among Kia vehicles available locally, yet it works – at least in my book.
As the range-topper, Seltos SX gets a full LED affair from nose to tail, raising its appeal both in broad daylight and at night. The blacked-out sloping roof and other satin chrome accents give the crossover a sporty appeal, while the thick under claddings are a sweet contrast to this front-wheel-drive urban crossover. The 17-inch Y-spoke alloys are uniquely designed and the Starbright Yellow of the media test unit is a rare sight on the road, so those are a plus, too.
Two things I’m not a fan of, though. The half-rainbow turn signal lamps are a bit of an overkill. It’s like wearing a set of dangling earrings together with a necklace, bracelet, and watch – not offensive, but would have been better if simpler. Same goes with the fake twin-exhaust embellishments on the rear bumper – things that the Seltos can live without.
The first thing you’ll notice in the Seltos’ interior is its clean layout that’s easy to understand. The radically-designed speakers look interesting, too. However, the choice of materials employs a polarizing contrast. The seats – a combination of leather and cloth – look premium, but the heft of plastics on the dashboard, door cards, and the center console isn’t so, as are the scratch-prone piano blacks found everywhere. Your consolation would be the soft leather-clad elbow touchpoints.
One thing I like best about the Seltos’ cabin is the number of stowage areas in front. The area under the air-conditioning controls is plenty enough for your wallet, two smartphones, and spare coins, while the door pockets are average-sized. That ends in the front, though, as the rear passengers will have to make do with the door pockets for storage.
Trunk space is huge for this car’s size, but I’m a bit bewildered by the fact that Kia removed the option of a tonneau – must be a case of cost-cutting for this Korean-made car, I reckon.
The Kia Seltos’ creature comfort banks on the fact that the air-conditioning works great even on hot days, while seats are soft and supportive. Space in the front cabin is abundant for the average-sized Filipino. Legroom at the rear seats is suitable for adults, however, wiggle room isn’t so much. It’s a compromise for three passengers, but doable.
As for the suspension, Kia tuned the Seltos to be a bit sporty, so expect the shock absorbers to be a little stiff. While this employed great ground feedback, I can't help but notice that the car tends to transfer the impact on the occupants, especially when going over road imperfections. NVH insulation can be improved, as well.
The Seltos’ crown jewel when it comes to tech features is its easy-to-use, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and tactile knobs (yes!). It also has automatic headlights, cruise control, auto climate control, speed-sensing door locks, and manual headlight leveler.
Its best feature, however, is usable even before you enter the car: remote engine start. I find it perfect for the Philippines, which we all know has a rather warm climate. Just imagine leaving your car in a sunny parking lot for hours; having the ability to cool the cabin even before you enter is just a heaven-sent feature – something that I admittedly miss.
But frankly, I can’t help but look for more tech toys in the Seltos considering its P1.5 million price tag that puts it among the pricier small crossovers in the market. I expected things like electronic driver’s seat adjustment, additional USB charging ports, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, auto-folding mirrors, tire pressure monitor, and a graphic trip computer. Or better-sounding speakers, maybe? Guess those are the trade-offs for a bold-looking car that you can start with a press of a button.
The Seltos doesn’t have an ASEAN NCAP rating at this time of writing, so we’re rating it based on what’s written on its spec sheet. Thankfully, it has covered the basic safety features for its class, and more.
The Korean subcompact comes with dual front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as ABS with EBD, traction control, stability control, five 3-point seatbelts, and ISOFIX child seat tethers. As a bonus, it also has brake assist, hill start assist, and hill descent control.
Driving & Handling
There’s no better way to say this so I’ll just drop this here: The Seltos is among the best-handling mainstream cars out there, and I’m not even exaggerating. It’s as nimble as a motorcycle, with a very light steering feel and great driving visibility that made zipping through tight spaces seem basic. Going through winding roads was also controlled even at speed, while highway traverse was planted and stable, with minimum steering corrections required. Best part, with its stiff suspension, body roll was kept at a bare minimum when cornering even at daring maneuvers.
While I believe that the Seltos’ handling is its greatest trait, its powertrain setup seems a bit lackluster, specifically because of its Intelligent Variable Transmission – Kia’s version of CVT. The 2.0L Atkinson cycle gasoline engine pushes more-than-enough horses to bring the Seltos up to sprint (147 hp and 179 Nm of torque), but the initial pull comes delayed because of the rubber-band effect of this transmission type. This can easily be solved by switching to Sport mode, but that’s at the expense of more fuel.
As a silver lining, the combination of a huge-displacement engine and a relatively lightweight body means less stress on the powertrain, which should be good for longevity and fuel efficiency.
The Seltos takes its CVT-mated, under-stressed engine to its advantage in terms of fuel economy. In mixed driving conditions at an average speed of 60 km/h, I was able to clock in 14.3 km/L, while highway runs with the cruise control set at 90 km/h registered 22.4 km/L.
In the city, amidst the horrendous EDSA traffic, the Seltos returned 8.2 km/L. Not bad for a 2.0-Liter, really.
Did you know that Seltos was derived from Celtos, the son of Hercules in Greek Mythology? Like the strength that its father’s name suggests, the Kia Seltos employs a strong aesthetic appeal with merits that don’t end at face value. It’s a bold-looking car that’s quite enjoyable to drive, and I seriously suggest that you test one out (hopefully not just within the city) in order for you to understand the feeling.
If you’re not for too much tech and gizmos in a car, the 2020 Kia Seltos SX, at P1,498,000, is perfect for you. It’s definitely a beauty with substance – you’ll just have to contemplate whether the missing features should affect your decision to buy one.