There’s always a twinge of nervousness when revisiting a particular model of car so soon after sampling one of its stablemates. Did we really get a good handle on everything Kia’s entry-level crossover is all about when we tested the halo-placed 1,4-litre turbopetrol GT Line model? Was there a lower-rung model waiting in the wings to hit that elusive crossover sweet spot? Kia SA kindly availed us of its latest addition to the Seltos family – a 1,5-litre turbodiesel automatic – and it seems to have given us all of the answers we were looking for …
Yes, the EX + technically sits lower on the Kia Seltos model rung than the GT Line but it’s hardly what you’d consider a lesser model, especially when it comes to the standard equipment on this particular model line. Most of the concessions are of the cosmetic variety and, given that not all the GT Line’s glitzier touches met with unanimous approval, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker.
While it makes do without such head-turning elements as the GT Line’s grille-spanning LED daytime running lights, red-and-black body kit inserts and dual-tone alloy wheels, the EX + is a particularly pleasing vehicle to look at in its compliment-grabbing Punchy Orange metallic paint finish.
It’s a similar story inside. Barring some of the GT Line’s sportier touches, the EX + presents a solidly constructed and upmarket cabin, replete with logical instrumentation, a crisp infotainment screen perched usefully high on the dash and leather seats in what can only be described as a sort of “watch-strap link” quilted finish which give the front occupants great support and plentiful adjustment.
Although R463 995 leans towards the pricier end of the segment, the EX + wants for little in terms of standard kit. Its non-cosmetic concessions to the GT Line can be counted on one hand and include halogen head- and taillamps in lieu of LED items; standard remote-controlled central locking instead of the keyless entry and ignition; and the rotary drive mode selector … a contentious feature and we’ll circle back to this a little later.
Meanwhile, the likes of cruise control, touchscreen infotainment system with smartphone integration technology, automatic headlamps, air-conditioning, electro-chromatically dimming rear-view mirror, electric windows and mirrors and a suite of aftersales services – roadside assistance, mechanical warranty and a service plan – all spanning five-year/90 000 km, are present and correct.
A common observation among those who’ve taken me aside to discuss the Seltos’ virtues is that it’s a difficult car to accurately pigeonhole within its segment. Technically, it may take a tilt at VW’s T-Cross and the Mazda CX-3, yet, its packaging is a clear notch above its rivals. This includes a cabin that, according to our measurements, boasts utility space comparable to the Mercedes GLC (256 litres of loadspace with rear seats up and an impressive 1 072 litres with the seatbacks folded). And its rear legroom is on par with the Range Rover Sport at 776 mm.
This Tardis-like interior allowed the Seltos to effortlessly field everything from ferrying five adults to hauling furniture and gear for long weekends away. Such packaging has no doubt played a significant role in placing it firmly in the family vehicle fold while still catering for the style-conscious lifestyle set.
But with the skin-deep differences between the GT Line and EX Plus minimal as they are, the big news is in the engine bay where a 1,5-litre common-rail direct injection turbodiesel ‘four has put in a varied but largely impressive performance over the last six months. With 82 kW and 250 N.m of torque on tap, it’s hardly brawny.
With a classic car feature in Knysna calling, the Seltos’ keys were thrown the way of our features writer, Wilhelm Lutjeharms, who gave the Kia its first taste of long-distance service with 1 000 km-plus to the Garden Route. Returning an indicated average fuel consumption figure of 6,70 L/100 km on the outbound leg towards Knysna, he surmised careful driving could potentially yield around 900 km from a single tank of fuel. Equally impressive was the ease with which the 250 N.m of torque translated into drama-free overtaking at 140 km/h. There were a couple of blots on the diesel Seltos’ ledger, though. Generally strong, the engine quickly runs out of steam at 160 km/h and the impressive mechanical refinement at motorway speeds made way for some noticeable diesel clatter permeating the otherwise well-insulated cabin around town.
No sooner had the Kia Seltos cooled its heels from this challenging first outing and a 300 km round trip to Montagu loomed when journalist Nikesh Kooverjee got behind the wheel for a trip up the West Coast. The turbodiesel’s fuel economy once again impressed – this time returning just under 6,50 L/100 km – but the presence of dirt roads on both journeys unearthed a minor chink in the diesel’s armour. Without the GT Line’s configurable drivetrain management system, the diesel’s standard traction control system was the sole electronic safety net when tackling loose surfaces. This effectively tailored such parameters as gearshift patterns, throttle mapping and traction control settings.
Although the Seltos’ responsive steering, taut body control and decent levels of grip made dirt roading at moderate speeds pleasant enough, the traction control’s intervention was rather heavy-handed. Any loss of grip seems to kill throttle inputs outright, actually diminishing some of the control you’d normally regain by feathering the pedal until the tyres find their feet. This is no doubt a system calibrated for on-road use where it behaves more forgivingly and will present a slight caveat only on rare occasions when the Seltos sets foot off the macadam. However, it’s worth noting a measured approach on loose surfaces is the best policy here.
With COVID-19 tightening its grip on everyday activities, the middle section of the Seltos’ tenure comprised a great deal of town driving. This did put a dent in the fuel consumption – climbing to an all-time high of 7,30 L/100 km and averaging 6,87 L/100 km – but it remained an impressively comfy, fluid and frugal daily driver. Time spent in traffic also highlighted the benefit of the diesel’s extra low-end torque (250 N.m between 1 500-2 750 r/min vs. the GT Line’s 248 N.m at 1 500-3 200 r/min) on pull-away. Some of the hesitance the GT Line’s powertrain showed off the mark was still present but it’s not as evident as in the turbopetrol and you quickly adapt your driving style when presented with junctions and slipway filtering.
One of the benefits of keeping a long-termer in our fleet for six months (as opposed to just three) is that it allows us to see just how the car comes into its own around the magical 10 000 km mark. In the Kia Seltos, the turbodiesel’s mechanicals bedded in nicely, dampening down those low-rev rattles, dropping the average fuel consumption and smoothing out the transmissions occasional off-the-line indecisiveness.
LOG BOOK: KIA SELTOS 1,5 CRDi EX +
Mileage: 9 642 km
Purchase price then: R446 995
Purchase price now: R463 995
Second hand value: R400 000 (approx)
Fuel used: 50 ppm diesel
Top-up oil used: Nil
Best consumption: 5,78 L/100 km
Worst consumption: 7,44 L/100 km
Average consumption: 6,49 L/100 km
Fuel & top-up cost: R5 675,85
Cost per kilometre: R0,59
Oil filter: R275,90
Air filter: R391, 12
Brake pads (front): 2 456,07
Left headlamp: R18 824,32
Windscreen: R11 307,34
Tyre: R2 909,50