Posted on October 19, 2023
With precious few weekends of summer left, our mission was clear: escape the Greater Toronto Area and head to the beach for some sun and sand. A three-year-old in tow meant lots of stuff like tents, toys and water gear would have to come with.
Would Kia’s new Seltos subcompact crossover fit the bill for this journey or would its small stature reveal its foibles when met with long stretches of arrow-straight two-lane endemic to Southern Ontario?
For someone living downtown, the virtues of a little sport-cute are apparent. They’re efficient, easy to park and manoeuvre and they fit in places bigger vehicles don’t. There’s less need for soothing air suspensions, big power, and massaging seats that are a boon on the open road.
I knew the Seltos would work well in the city, but I wasn’t sure if it would be right for a longer drive.
Sharing a platform with the Hyundai Kona, the Seltos slots in between the Soul and the Sportage, going head to head with rivals from Toyota (C-HR), Nissan (Qashqai) and Honda (HR-V).
A base Seltos LX starts at $22,995. Powering it is a two-litre four-cylinder putting out 146 hp and 132 lb.-ft. of torque driving the front wheels through an intelligent variable transmission, Kia-speak for a CVT. For an extra $2,000 you get a sophisticated all-wheel drive system that comes with a centre differential lock for extra traction over rough surfaces and torque vectoring to enhance cornering capability. Equipping all-wheel drive also scraps the torsion beam rear suspension for an independent multi-link setup. Not a bad way to spend two grand.
Kia set me up with a fully loaded SX Turbo. At $32,595 it’s the only one that gets the more powerful 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, with 175 hp and more importantly 195 lb.-ft. of torque driving all four wheels through a seven-speed dual clutch automatic. It shifts seamlessly above 40 km/h, but can display some clunky shifts at a parking lot pace.
The turbo engine might only displace 1,600 cubes but it is able to move the not-so-little Seltos along at a good clip, making passing slower vehicles on country roads a simple task. With a fully loaded vehicle the naturally aspirated base engine would have likely had some trouble there. A shame, then, that Kia doesn’t allow you to spec it without getting a fully-loaded Seltos.
The Seltos proves once again that Kia leads the industry in offering the best value for every dollar spent. The impressive list of included equipment reads like something you’d find on a BMW option list. For a small vehicle, I wasn’t expecting such a large 10.25-inch centre touch display with Kia’s latest UVO infotainment and navigation. I also wasn’t expecting to find ventilated seats in the front row or heated seats in the second row. Heated steering wheel? Check. Smart cruise control that works in bumper-to-bumper traffic? Check. A full suite of advanced driver aids like forward collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic avoidance, blind spot collision avoidance? You bet.
There were also some unexpected items here like an auto hold feature and hill descent control, and a blind-spot monitor that can warn you of approaching cyclists or cars when parked, a feature I first saw on a $90,000 Mercedes GLE.
Where some of the competitors in this space can feel cramped the Seltos feels one size bigger. Like the TARDIS, it’s small on the outside but surprisingly large inside. Four adults will be comfortable over a longer distance. Seltos also boasts the largest cargo area in the class at 752 litres, stretching to 1,778 litres with the rear seats folded.
Nifty speaker grilles look and feel like they’ve been rendered in 3D polygons, and you get mood lighting that pulses to the beat of your music. Cool quirks that don’t need to be there, but it’s the little things that matter in a segment this competitive.
Getting away from typical attributes like power and space, the Seltos impressed me with its composure and refinement on the road. Benefiting from a thoroughly modern structure composed of 61 per cent high-strength steel and 374 feet of structural adhesives, this is a remarkably stout car and a confident and easy one to drive. Even over rough roads the Seltos remained stable and planted, with good steering and a comfortable, relaxed suspension that irons out most bumps.
It’s also good fun in the corners. There’s moderate body roll, but it settles quickly and is predictable. You don’t expect it to be as nimble as it is and that’s an added bonus.
The Seltos looks good too. Where Hyundai designs, like the Kona, are polarizing, Kia shoots a bit straighter without getting too serious. LED lighting is used everywhere, including a strip that runs along the top of the grille split into two halves, forming a striking lighting graphic. The rest of it is all clean lines and flowing surfaces with a set of very cool-looking rims and tiny overhangs giving it that ready-to-go puppy dog stance.
About the only complaint I have is the fuel economy. Averaging nine litres per 100 km on a highway drive is OK, but I was expecting more. I’ve done better in vehicles you’d never think would be efficient, like the Honda Civic Type R, a 300 hp hot-hatch with a manual transmission.
The Kia Seltos might be the new kid on the block, but it came to play. It feels more substantial that its competitors and is packed with features you won’t expect at this price point. But was it a worthy shuttle to the beach? Most definitely. I have the tan lines to prove it.
2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo
Body style: 5-door, 5 passenger subcompact crossover
Configuration: Front-engine, All-wheel drive
Engine: 1.6-L turbocharged 4-cylinder; Power: 175 hp @ 6,000 r.p.m.; Torque: 195 lb.-ft. @1500-4500 r.p.m.
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic
Cargo capacity: 752-1,778 litres
Fuel economy: (regular gasoline in L/100 km) 9.4 city; 7.9 highway
Observed fuel economy: 9.0 L/100 km
Website: Kia Canada