Opening a cafe in a street with 27 coffee shops already established requires a good degree of confidence.
And that’s exactly what Kia has in the new Seltos small SUV, a high-riding hatch to rival the A to Z (or Mitsubishi ASX to the MG ZS) of baby SUVs.
Kia reckons it will rocket up the charts to sit inside the top 10 for sales, limited only by restricted flow from its South Korean factory.
Chief operating officer Damien Meredith says his team waited “longer than we would have ideally liked” for the Seltos, which joins a booming segment.
“However, despite being a little late to the party we are confident that the Seltos is the right car for the market and has the potential to be the belle of the ball.”
He’s right — the Seltos has the potential to be a class leader.
It looks great, both as a whole and up close, with a blocky stance and intricate design details including a textured chrome strip above the headlights.
Bigger than most in its class, the Seltos is similar to the ASX or Nissan Qashqai and a size larger than the compact Mazda CX-3 or Hyundai Venue.
In the rear, head and legroom are particularly impressive — adults will be far more comfortable here than in most rivals.
Prices start from $25,990 drive-away for the Seltos S, which has basic autonomous emergency braking, eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, reversing camera, rear parking sensors and steel wheels.
The Seltos Sport adds 17-inch alloys, a huge 10.25-inch central touchscreen with satnav, plus climate control, fog lights and a full-size spare.
Sport+ models add partial leather trim, smart keys, more advanced driver aids including active cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert, plus such deft touches as an electronic parking brake.
The top-spec GT Line trumps lesser models with wireless phone charging, sunroof, eight-speaker Bose audio, seven-inch digital driver’s display, head-up display, heated and cooled faux leather seats, LED lights and more for $41,990 drive-away.
It also features funky “sound mood lighting”, colourful ambient light pulsing in time to the beat of the selected music.
Kia says the 10.25-inch touchscreen in premium grades will be particularly attractive to tech-savvy customers as it allows them to customise the screen’s layout, operating up to three apps at a time.
Options include metallic paint ($520) and a $1000 safety pack for the S and Sport with more comprehensive autonomous emergency braking and active cruise control.
Kia concedes the standard model without optional kit is unlikely to return full marks in an ANCAP safety test.
In the Seltos S and Sport, as well as front-drive versions of the mid-grade Sport+, the
2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine produces 110kW/180Nm and is coupled with a continuously variable transmission.
All-wheel drive Sport+ models and the range-topping GT grade get a 1.6-litre turbo with 130kW/265Nm, backed by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The standard car rides well on rough Australian roads while retaining an impressive degree of composure. Beefier springs and roll bars unique to Australia make the Seltos genuinely fun to drive, with a fine degree of accuracy and minimal body roll.
Finely honed, the steering gives a rare degree of feel and feedback, building weight under load to imbue confidence. Wind and road noise insulation is better than average and the high driving position with excellent vision ticks important boxes. The standard 2.0-litre/CVT combination is adequate if not impressive, getting the job done without any urgency.
Comparatively quieter and effortless, the turbo provides much more impressive acceleration and the security of all-wheel traction — the trade-off, due to the extra weight and larger wheels, is the slightly less fluid driving experience.
Kia’s new machine is a polished, attractive and well-rounded car at an affordable price. It’s great to drive — but the optional safety kit should be standard.
Kia Seltos vitals
Price: From $25,990 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 7-year unlimited km $$$, TBC
Engines: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 110kW/180Nm; 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 130kW/265Nm
Safety: Not yet rated, 6 airbags, AEB, lane departure warning, reversing camera
Spare: Space-saver (Seltos S), full-size (others)
Originally published as Tested: Kia’s game-changing SUV