In the already overcrowded small-SUV market, budget-constrained manufacturers make every attempt to differentiate their product. This can lead to some creative and interesting vehicles being offered. I was recently impressed by the Mazda CX-30, which offered a more luxurious experience than many equivalent rivals. 

So, what does Kia offer with the Seltos LX? A 2-litre engine, spacious interior, SUV versatility, good fuel economy plus all the safety and technology basics, for less than $30,000! On paper, there’s a compelling argument that the Seltos could represent one of the best-value small SUVs in its segment.

Let’s determine whether the theory matches reality.

The Range

Firstly, the Kia Seltos is not a replacement for the Kia Sportage. The Seltos is shorter, skinnier, and not as tall as the Sportage. It tows less than the Sportage, and also has no diesel offering in New Zealand. This being said, the Sportage will more than likely be on the shopping list of those who are also considering a Seltos.

Kia offers the Seltos in five configurations, over four different spec levels. These are the entry-spec LX, LX Plus, EX, Limited. The fifth configuration is the Limited AWD, which is considerably different from the rest of the range. Our test vehicle was the entry-level LX model.

The LX comes with a 2-litre MPi Atkinson-cycle engine, coupled Kia’s IVT (CVT) transmission. The LX offers a number of features as standard, including an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather steering wheel, lane keeping assist, cruise control, driver attention alert, halogen daytime running lights, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, tyre pressure monitor, roof rails, six airbags, six speakers, and auto headlights. Unfortunately, the LX does not come with Kia’s 3-year/45,000km scheduled servicing arrangement, offered on the other new Seltos models.

The price difference between the entry-level LX and the LX Plus, which is the next model in the range, is $8,000. This is quite a jump, though after this, higher-spec models have smaller price increments. As mentioned before, the Seltos range tops out with the Limited AWD at $46,990, meaning there’s a $19,000 difference between the entry level Seltos LX and the highest spec Seltos Limited AWD. $19,000!  That’s nearly the amount of a new Mitsubishi Mirage! However, the differences between the LX and the Limited AWD are so considerable, that they’re borderline on being entirely different vehicles underneath. The LX is more similar to the rest of the Seltos range, whereas the Limited AWD is comparatively an outlier.    

The new Kia Seltos is available in a range of colours, plus offers optional two-tone colour combos ($500 extra) on higher spec cars. Colours include Starbright Yellow, Deep Ocean Blue, Mars Orange, Snow White Pearl, Steel Grey and Cherry Black. The two-tone is options include Gravity Grey with Cherry Black Roof, Platinum Gold with Cherry Black Roof, Clear White with Cherry Black Roof and Starbright Yellow with Cherry Black Roof

You can read up on full specifications of the Kia Seltos range on the Kia New Zealand website

First Impressions

Approaching the Seltos LX, you are greeted by a boxy, yet funky design which helps the cost effective Kia to stand-out from the others in the segment. The Seltos has squared-off edges, a flat roof, plus tight front and rear overhangs, which proportions the vehicle well. You can immediately see Kia’s design language in the front-end with Kia’s “tiger nose” grille, which is bordered with a nice textured metal finish. 

From the outside, there are only a few giveaways that the Seltos LX is the entry level model.  The wheels are the first giveaway – the Seltos LX features 16’’ alloys, whereas higher trim models get sharper looking 17-inch and 18-inch designs. The Seltos LX uses halogens lights, missing-out on the sharp exterior LED lighting of the flagship Seltos models.

Despite their absence, the car doesn’t suffer too much aesthetically.  Importantly, the Seltos LX doesn’t look inexpensive from the outside. Option it with an interesting colour, and you’ll definitely have one of the more fun and quirky vehicles in the neighbourhood.

The Interior

The modern and funky exterior continues into the interior styling of Seltos. Although there’s hard plastics throughout the interior, Kia has done their best to make it visually interesting.

First off, there’s a large textured silver panel running the length of the dashboard, to contrast the other plastics. The infotainment sits in the centre as the interior focal point, with climate vents and controls arranged neatly under it. The centre climate vents have some silver plastic accents on them, which gives them a look which reminds me of the vent design in some modern BMWs. There’s also a single handle on the passenger’s side of the centre console below the climate controls, giving the interior some asymmetry.

The door panels are perhaps the most interesting design component of the interior. The speaker grilles have this jagged edge, or some sort of Pablo Picasso cubism style to them. The interior door handles also sit flush with another piece of plastic to extend their look across the door. 

Altogether, I did appreciate the interior design of the Seltos LX and in execution it didn’t feel cheap from the front seats. If you were peering through the window at the inside, you’d think that the car is more expensive than it actually is from the way it presents itself.

Climbing into the interior, the front seats were soft and supported most areas well. I did feel they were lacking in lumbar support, but overall, they pass for being comfortable enough. The seat upholstery did feel rather durable, which alongside the use of hard interior plastics, did give the interior of the Seltos a feeling of durability. It’s not a Jeep Wrangler by any means, but it had a suburban ruggedness to it.

What exactly do I mean here? Well, it means that you don’t mind the sandy dog in the back after a day at the beach. Doing the gardening this weekend? Put down the seats, throw a bag of green waste in. Got irritable kids that like to kick the seat? The front seats have a hard-plastic backing – enjoy the intermittent massage instead. A quick wash and vacuum, and the interior should come up perfectly presentable to go out for dinner in.

On the subject of chores, the interior is spacious and the boxy style rear-end allows for a large load carrying capacity. Cargo capacity is 468 litres seats up, 1,428 litres seats down. Remove the rear parcel tray and there’s easily enough space for the dog. The boot floor sits flush with the load-lip, which is useful lifting any heavier objects. 

That same boxy rear provides decent rear headroom and means that the C-pillar doesn’t interrupt your vision or worsen the blind spot. Visibility out of the Seltos was excellent, so I wasn’t too concerned about the lack of a blind-spot monitoring system. 

This leads me to the most frustrating part of the Seltos’ interior. After placing the seats into the flat position, I went to put them back up and THUNK!  Turns out, you can’t simply push the seat back and have it latch back into position. Instead, you need to hold the release handle back before putting the seats back up. The trivial task of putting seats back up becomes a two-handed job. 

Technology wise, the 8’’ centre infotainment system worked fine with only a small amount of lag present. The format of the software was similar to the Hyundai Ioniq I had recently reviewed. The system relies on phone mirroring (i.e. Android Auto or Apple Car play) for navigation and voice commands, amongst other functions. Overall, it’s a basic system with some niceties in it. I do prefer the look of the 10-inch infotainment system in higher spec models. Although I’ve not personally used it yet, that system does offer more features and appears to have much sharper resolution and finish than the one offered in the LX.

Overall, the Seltos felt like a car that’s versatile enough to do all the chores, whilst still having some nice creature comforts inside.

The Drive

The Seltos does feel like a slightly larger SUV when seated in the driver’s seat, even though dimensionally it’s not very large. I would credit the feeling mostly to the driving position and the spacious interior. Driving along, I recall being able to just eyeball the driver of a Toyota Highlander at the lights. Despite this, the car didn’t feel ungainly either. It was easy to navigate the Seltos around Wellington’s tight urban roads.

The majority of the Seltos range are powered using a 2-litre DOHC MPi Petrol engine (all except the Limited AWD), producing 110kW of power and 180Nm of torque, which utilises an Atkinson combustion cycle versus the common Otto cycle of most internal combustion engines.  

This is not just some marketing gimmick, instead it’s actually rather clever technology. Atkinson cycles have been around for some time, being widely employed on the first-generation Toyota Prius. These days, the technology is commonly used in many Hybrid vehicles, though a number of manufacturers have taken to the technology for different uses.  

How does it work exactly? The engine adjusts the inlet valve timing so that during the compression stroke the intake valve is left open for a slight duration. By doing this, there’s a slight fuel/air mixture loss (which is fed to another cylinder), which effectively decreases the compression stroke, resulting in a decrease of the compression ratio. This means that the expansion ratio is greater than the compression ratio, meaning that each stroke better optimises the energy potential of the fuel/air mixture. The result is greater engine efficiency and reduced pumping losses for the intake stroke.

Enough technobabble! What do all these big words mean for a buyer? 

In short, an Atkinson cycle improves fuel economy. The Seltos’ claimed combined fuel economy is 6.8 litres/100km. This is 0.6 litres less fuel, or an 8.1%, improvement over Kia’s own Cerato. While 8.1% mightn’t sound like much, it’s actually quite an impressive improvement when you consider that the Cerato competes in the small car segment and weighs slightly less than the Seltos.

In practice, I could get fuel consumption around the low 6-litre mark under conservative driving. Surprisingly, I still managed to get a fuel economy figure of 7.2 litres/100km after some hurried driving. For a 2-litre SUV of this size, I consider this to be pretty good overall. 

So, why don’t more manufacturers use an Atkinson cycle? Well, there’s always a compromise, and that is power and torque are both negatively impacted. 

The Seltos did feel like it lacked a bit of low-end torque, and would feel like it was gasping at the top-end. However, I wasn’t expecting the small-SUV to be a performance paragon – leave that for the Kia Stinger GT!  However, I wouldn’t exactly call the Seltos slow either. It had a satisfactory mid-range for daily driving, and I even managed to unstick the tyres a couple of times after giving the car a boot-full off-the-line.

The Seltos is offered with a drive-mode selector, with Normal, Sport and Eco options. Changing the settings appeared to adjust how it would hold revs depending on mode, and according to Kia, will adjust the steering inputs if in Sport mode. Cycling through the modes, I did note some changes, but otherwise they weren’t substantial. Steering feedback in the Seltos was decent, and it had good self-centring ability. I found it was nicely weighted for an SUV.  

Which brings us onto the transmission – Kia uses their Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), which is their own brand of CVT transmission. CVT’s are great for optimising fuel economy, though they’re not exactly performance optimised. CVTs generally aren’t as responsive as other gearboxes and are known to ‘hang’ in higher rpms. Despite these tendencies, Kia’s IVT was well-behaved in the Seltos. The transmission was responsive, delivering power effectively and smoothly. I seldom came across any instance where the IVT didn’t optimise itself well. As CVT’s went, it was definitely one of the good ones. I only noticed one time where it hesitated after putting the power-down upon exiting a corner, although, I’m sure that 9/10 drivers of the Seltos wouldn’t notice this occurring.

According to Kia, they’ve also developed their IVT to act as if it has distinct gear changes (CVT’s do not use gears, per se), much like a conventional automatic. I did notice some behavioural differences between this IVT compared with other CVTs, in particular, it did appear to adjust lower into the rev-range between ‘shifts’, but I honestly didn’t know this was a thing until I read the brochure. Kia has also apparently equipped the transmission with a noise-insulating cover to cover up any CVT noise. I really didn’t notice any noises – so perhaps it worked!  Overall, it drove like it had a well optimised CVT, which is all you should ask for from the Seltos. 

The ride in the Seltos LX was okay. My commute is predominantly motorway and the Seltos suspension was compliant for the majority of it. However, I did note that the dampening wasn’t perfect and was prone to rebounding quite quickly going over bumps, translating this into the ride. Overall, it wasn’t ultra-plush, but it was perfectly acceptable for the price point. On the other hand, managing road noise wasn’t the strength of the Seltos LX, especially on New Zealand’s ¾ chip roads. A noticeable amount of road noise does filter into the cabin with the change of surface.

With both of these aspects considered, the Seltos LX is definitely more comfortable around the urban roads of Wellington, rather than cruising the Wairarapa straights. Although, on my journeys further afield, the Seltos did perform acceptably. Again, it’s difficult to argue against what it’s offering for the price point. 

Perhaps the only gripe I had with the Seltos LX was that the brakes were a tad grabby at low speeds, yet even this is one of those ‘learning curve’ qualities, as opposed to a negative one.


The Competition

Brand/ModelEnginePower (kW)/Torque (Nm)Economy, L/100km (claimed)SeatsBoot Space, LitresTowing Capacity, KgPrice Highest to Lowest
VW T-Cross TSI Life1-litre 3-cylinder Petrol Engine85/2005.454551100$34,750
Nissan Qashqai ST2.0-litre 4-cylinder Petrol Engine106/2006.954301200$33,990
Peugeot 2008 Active1.2-litre 3-cylinder Turbo Petrol Engine96/2306.554341200$33,990
Toyota C-HR (FWD)1.2-litre 4-cylinder Turbo Petrol Engine85/1856.45318600$33,900
Mazda CX-3 GLX2.0-litre 4-cylinder Petrol Engine110/1956.352641200$31,995
Honda HRV (S)1.8-litre 4-cylinder Petrol Engine105/1726.65437800$30,990
Skoda Kamiq Ambition TSI1-litre 3-cylinder Petrol Engine85/2005.554001200$30,990
Hyundai Venue1.6-litre 4-cylinder Petrol Engine90/1517.25355800$29,990
Suzuki Vitara JLX Auto1.6-litre 4-cylinder Petrol Engine86/1566.253751200$29,990
Renault Captur1.2-litre 3-cylinder Turbo Petrol Engine88/1905.45377900$29,990
Mitsubshi ASX2.0-litre 4-cylinder Petrol Engine112/2007.653931300$27,990
Kia Seltos LX2.0-litre 4-cylinder Petrol Engine110/1806.854681100$27,990
Seat Arona Style1.6 Litre 4-cylinder Petrol Engine81/1556.454001200$26,990

PROS

  • Value for money
  • Funky exterior and interior design
  • Spacious and durable interior
  • Fuel economy
  • Good CVT transmission
  • Don’t look or feel cheap
  • Boot space

CONS

  • Engine sluggishness
  • Road noise
  • Rear seat latch mechanisms
  • Grabby brakes at low speed
  • Not offered with 3 year/45,000km scheduled servicing

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Economy
7
Interior
7
Performance
6
Safety
7
Styling
7
Value
9
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A millennial who prefers driving cars to having avocado on toast.

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