CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – The lines between segments are becoming increasingly blurry. Such is the sustained popularity of the crossover body style that manufacturers are shoehorning box-fresh nameplates into the narrow gaps between conventional vehicle classes.
While consumers are sometimes left scratching their heads, puzzled about which model fits where in a given line-up (and indeed which one competes with which in the broader market), automakers are rushing to fill every conceivable crossover-shaped space. Can we blame them? Not really. The demand’s clearly there.
So, where does Kia's fresh-faced Seltos fit into the picture? Well, measuring 4 315 mm nose to tail, it’s a little larger than the outgoing Hyundai Creta (but a touch shorter than, say, a Renault Duster), slotting in just below the Sportage and thus leaving space for the upcoming baby Sonet. In production form, the latter will be about the size of its Venue cousin and step into the role of entry-level Kia crossover when it arrives locally later in 2020.
Segment straddler or not, there’s undoubtedly a place in the local market for something the size of the Seltos, what with the Sportage having grown with each of its first four generations. Indeed, the Indian-built newcomer (the first model out of Kia’s just-built Anantapur plant) has already found favour in South Africa, with 830 units sold in its first two full months on sale, seeing it immediately take up the mantle of Kia’s best-seller.
Since launch (the first units were on dealer floors in mid-November 2019), the local line-up has comprised four variants, including two engine options and three trim levels. The range kicks off with a naturally aspirated 1,6-litre petrol mill, driving the front axle via either a six-speed manual or an automatic transmission with the same number of cogs. This free-breathing unit is offered in both EX and EX+ trim (although exclusively in self-shifting guise in the latter).
At the summit of the line-up, you’ll find the GT-Line variant, which boasts a turbocharged 1,4-litre petrol engine worth 103 kW and 242 N.m, linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Interestingly (and somewhat surprisingly), the Korean brand’s local distributor says this R444 995 range-topper has been the top seller early on, with particular demand for units finished in white with a black roof.
And what about oil-burning fans? Well, Kia Motors South Africa also confirmed new 1,5-litre turbodiesel derivatives have been pencilled in to join the range in around April 2020 (slightly later than initially expected), offered in EX and EX+ guise, and with the choice of manual or automatic gearboxes.
While we sampled both the 1,6 EX+ automatic and the GT-Line during a drive in the Western Cape, we’ll focus on the former here (check out a full road test of the flagship model – which has also since joined our long-term fleet – in the upcoming March 2020 issue of CAR magazine).
The mid-spec derivative draws 90 kW and 151 N.m from its atmospheric heart, a familiar engine that also does duty in the petrol-powered versions of the outgoing Creta. With peak twisting force arriving at a fairly lofty 4 850 r/min, it predictably lacks the mid-range punch of the forced-induction unit in the GT-Line although gives away only 1,5 seconds in the obligatory sprint to three figures (according to Kia’s numbers). The torque-converter automatic, meanwhile, feels neatly calibrated to suit the engine’s easy-going character, allowing relaxed cruising at the national limit.
The engine's by no means the last word in brisk acceleration (something buyers at the Reef should, of course, bear in mind) but is certainly competent enough for the daily grind and has allowed Kia to implement a competitive pricing strategy towards the bottom and middle of the range.
Employing a multi-link rear suspension set-up, the Seltos rides with a touch more sophistication than the likes of the Creta, doing a soild job of ironing out road creases despite the EX+ model running on 17-inch alloys (for the record, there’s a full-size spare under the boot board). It handles predictably, too, while the driving position is suitably raised.
Space on the rear bench is particularly impressive (the 2 610 mm wheelbase certainly helps here), affording occupants oodles of leg- and headroom, and allowing the Seltos to best its more compact rivals. That said, the centrally seated passenger back there – admittedly a spot not always used – has to make do with a lap belt. And the front passenger pew may feel a touch high-sited for taller individuals.
Standard specification is generous across the range, with items such as six airbags, ABS with EBD, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, automatic headlamps, LED daytime running lights, cruise control, an eight-inch touchscreen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality) and a leather-clad steering wheel all included. The EX+ variant adds features such as electronic stability control, hill-start assist control, auto-folding side mirrors, leather upholstery and a centre console armrest. While the chunky gloss-black frame surrounding the touchscreen and instrument cluster might not be to everyone’s taste, the cabin feels a little more upmarket than the price-tag suggests.
Despite a slight overlap in pricing with the larger Sportage, the new Seltos seems very smartly positioned (pricing starts at R353 995). It’s a little late to the party but with distinctive exterior styling, high perceived cabin quality and a wide range of engine options once the diesel arrives (not to mention an unlimited kilometre/five-year warranty), it’s well placed to grab a healthy slice of the growing crossover pie. And it plugs what was the gaping hole between the Rio and Sportage in Kia’s local line-up, what with the Cerato and Soul no longer offered in South Africa.
Sure, it’s something of an “in-betweener” in terms of segment-standard exterior dimensions, but the new Seltos is handily sized for a small family, feeling compact and nimble enough to deal with the hustle of busy streets yet substantial and spacious enough to accommodate even lanky teenagers in the back. And that’ll certainly help set it apart as it jostles for attention in a sea of crossover-shaped rivals.
FAST FACTSModel: Kia Seltos 1,6 EX+ AT
Price: R389 995
Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder
Power: 90 kW
Torque: 151 N.m @ 4 850 r/min
0-100 km/h: 11,2 seconds
Top Speed: 175 km/h
Fuel Consumption: n/a
CO2: 164 g/km
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Service plan: five-year/90 000 km
See Full Kia Seltos price and specs here