Interior looks and feels upmarket with the minimalist design being complimented by solid and soft-touch plastics.
As intriguing as the monthly new vehicle numbers often are, the presence of the Kia Seltos on the December results sheet as the third best-selling compact SUV behind the Ford EcoSport and Volkswagen T-Cross no doubt came as something of a surprise for many so early on.
With a total of 830 units moved over the last two months, the smallest, for now, SUV in Kia’s line-up has signalled its intension in a big way and with a name derived from Greek mythology, in this case Celtos, the son of Hercules, an indication that the marque has started penning its own folklore tail.
What remained untold though was whether the Seltos’ instant approval would last as the myth behind its story made the leap from fable to reality at the local media launch in Cape Town last week.
The first model to be built as Kia’s brand-new Anantapur Plant in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, the Seltos is very much aimed at a younger audience with a design that is anything but conservative compared to its mentioned rivals. Unashamedly inspired by the Telluride and to some extent, certain Skoda models offered in Europe, the Seltos is as striking as it is imposing with its long bonnet and characteristic Tiger Nose grille flowing into and cutting the angular LED headlights in two for an apparent two-piece design.
It is a similar story down the side where the now ubiquitous upwards moving shoulder-line and blacked-out C-pillar are prevalent. The rear is less expressive but far from nondescript with the neatly integrated boot spoiler, sporty faux silver diffuser and oversized LED lights styled with a near full-width logo bar. All this round off a package that not only trumps the Ford and Volkswagen, but also the model on which it is based, the outgoing Hyundai Creta.
Inside, the interior looks and feels upmarket with the minimalist design being complimented by solid and soft-touch plastics that adds to the Seltos’ premium aspirations. Bar the odd scratchy surface, overall build quality is as impressive as the space on offer.
Benchmarked against the Nissan Qashqai and not the EcoSport or T-Cross according to Kia, the Seltos measures 4 315 mm in overall length with a wheelbase of 2 610 mm, height of 1 620 mm and width of 1 800 mm. Overall boot space is rated at a commendable 433-litres with the biggest boon being more than sufficient head-and- legroom for those seated in the rear.
Given its target market, the Seltos’ specification sheet is inclusive with all models coming as standard with automatic headlights plus daytime running LEDs, cruise control, rear air-conditioning vents, all around electric windows, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, six airbags, ABS and EBD, a six-speaker sound system, reverse camera with parking sensors and a 3.5-inch instrument cluster display.
Out of the Mother City was where matters started to unravel though as the first leg of the journey behind the wheel of the midrange EX+ saw the drivetrain failing to live up to the initial hype. The only option for the EX+ as well as the entry-level EX, the normally aspirated 1.6-litre petrol engine produces 90kW/151Nm, which, while admittedly adequate in everyday conditions, needed a good helping of revs when the route got hilly and the need to overtake arose.
Accompanying the raucous engine note that resulted from the lack of lowdown torque, the six-speed automatic gearbox simply refused to shift down and tended to go on a hunting spree for the correct ratio, before eventually dropping a cog that sent the tachometer close to the red line. A six-speed manual is offered, but only on the EX, with a 1.5 CRDI turbodiesel arriving later this year.
The second part of the route took place over the infamous Franschhoek Pass, but with the flagship GT-Line being the centre of attention. Fitted with a bespoke bodykit, sportier 17-inch alloy wheels, red brake calipers and red accents on the skidplate and at the base of the doors, the current best-selling Seltos model immediately shone as it felt more up to the task than the EX+.
Thanks to the turbocharged 1.4 T-GDI engine that delivers 103kW/242Nm, the GT-Line not only felt more responsive and willing, but more polished overall with the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox adding to the drivetrain by being much slicker and immediate on kick-down. It is therefore a pity that no gear shift paddles are present on not only it, but on the entire range.
With its expressive looks, packed spec list, acres of space and supple ride, the Kia Seltos’ popularity over the last two months has been justified as it ticks all the right boxes wanted from a [small] SUV. Although it is a given that the somewhat disappointing drivetrain in the EX and EX+ will be of little concern to most buyers, the GT-Line, in this writer’s opinion, rates as the complete package whose only hillock comes in the shape of the rather steep asking price.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.