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Test Drive: Is the Kia Seltos worth all the hype?

Our Kia Seltos on Flinders Beach in Stradbroke Island, Australia.

Kia astutely chose the Seltos for its very late arrival in India, and the wholesales figures have been nothing short of spectacular: 12.854 in the first month last October and 83.685 in just 8 months, meaning the Seltos has single-handedly awarded Kia the most successful brand launch in Indian history. With 86.922 sales in 8 months (including 3.237 Sedonas) despite a COVID-19 stall since April, Kia nears the level of China’s most successful brand launch in history, Jetta (96.513 in 8 months) even though China is almost 7 times bigger than India as a new car market (25.8m vs. 3.8m in 2019). Thanks mainly to its Indian performance, the Seltos finished 2019 as the 4th most popular new model launch globally, has since snapped its first monthly win in New Zealand last April and notched solid volumes in North America, South Africa and Australia. Here at BSCB we get very curious when a vehicle is met with widespread success and we love finding out whether it is well deserved, so we asked Kia Australia to lend us a Seltos for a week. Note I test drove the Kia Seltos during the last week of February 2020 before COVID-19 travel restrictions were put in place. 

Our itinerary and Kia Seltos first impressions, including the best head-up display I have experienced so far.

We will be driving the Kia Seltos GT-Line AWD, it has a 1.599cc turbo petrol engine, weighs 1.470kg and has a claimed combined fuel consumption of 7.6L/100 km. In Australia, it is priced at AUD41.990 (25.700€ or US$28.800) and the model I drove had no optional extras. We have been given 500km in the Seltos and we’ll drive it from Brisbane to North Stradbroke Island, a wilderness paradise. In the same vein as the Kia Cerato we recently took for a spin, what impresses first when driving the Kia Seltos is the multitude of safety features and driving aids. Lane assist, rear traffic alert, blind spot alert and road sign recognition are all there and work flawlessly but probably the most striking feature is an outstanding head-up display that manages to pack a surprising amount of information while remaining legible at all times (see pics above). If this breadth of safety features coupled with expected practicalities such as a 10.25in touch screen, multiple USBs and Apple CarPlay are already above and beyond for this price point in Australia, in India this would be equate to a whole new level of sophistication which goes a long way in explaining the tremendous success this vehicle has enjoyed so far in that market. Although the Seltos is not perfect, with disappointments including cheap-looking inside door materials, a somewhat cramped driving space and sometimes sluggish dynamics, there is not much to complain about so far.

Stradbroke Island snaps

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: no one says North Stradbroke Island here, it has been affectionately shortened into “Straddie”, following a long tradition of two-syllable Aussie slang. The island is a swift 30-minute ferry ride from the Brisbane suburb of Cleveland and definitely qualifies as an unassuming gem that has been hiding in plain sight of one of the largest cities in the country. Stepping onto Straddie instantly slows your heartbeat down as the locals welcome you into a more relaxed and happy attitude. In Point Lookout, a settlement located at the northeastern corner of the island, the awesome North Gorge Headlands Walk is the best place to watch manta rays and sharks (I did spot one of each!) and the view down Main Beach is spectacular. My hotel room in Point Lookout looks over a mangrove and onto Cylinder Beach. Amity, another settlement on the island, located northwest, has a handful of laidback cafés while Dunwich where the ferry docks is only valuable as a stepping point to reach the mysterious Brown Lake. Sadly the rest of the island including much of its southern section is closed to visitors due to sand mining. Interestingly, North and South Stradbroke Island used to be one single island but a storm blew through the sand spit between the two and definitively separated them in 1896. Kangaroos, including large ones such as the one pictured above, are blissfully unafraid of humans and will graze undisturbed even as you walk right past them.

It’s heartwarming to see how much Straddie cares about its wildlife.

Undeniably one of the most heartwarming aspects of life on North Stradbroke Island is its inhabitants’s are for its local fauna, verging on obsessive. Massive “Wild Life” road paintings are seen everywhere on the island – and nowhere else in Australia – and a variety of warning signs are there to remind you that Straddie’s main inhabitants are not humans but in fact koalas and kangaroos. A large kangaroo was regularly suntanning in the main square in Point Lookout while I stayed there, and it is on Straddie that I spotted my very first manta ray in the 18 years I have now lived in Australia, majestically gliding around the North Gorge Headland. Sadly I did not spot any koalas but these are notoriously hard to distinguish up in eucalyptus trees whose bark matches the colour of their fur.

Beach driving on Straddie with a Kia Seltos.

One of first things I got asked at the hotel reception upon arrival is whether I was planning to drive on some of the island’s beaches, as a 4WD permit is required to do so. Given the Seltos is an AWD vehicle, and therefore not a “pure” 4WD, and its ground clearance is more attuned to city sidewalks than off-road tracks, I had not planned to. But the tease grew steadily over the week I stayed upon repeated encouragement from the hotel manager, and when the Marketing Team at Kia casually asked me to wash the underbody of the car if I drove it on sand I thought perhaps the Seltos is made for beach driving after all. And I wasn’t disappointed. Beach driving on Straddie is a calculated affair as you must negotiate the huge tides on the island and time slots only last a few hours. As a result, if the beach itself remains impossibly flat and sound, access points invariably get pretty deep soft sand ruts during “rush hour” which can become impossible to handle with low ground clearance. Although I have driven my fair share of sandy deserts, not knowing the Seltos’ limits made entering and exiting the beach pretty daunting, especially as I saw such off-road juggernauts as Toyota FJ Cruisers and Nissan Navaras struggle to exit as they precariously skidded alongside the sand ruts… As I mulled my entrance the Seltos got a lot of attention (at the time it had just launched in Australia) and I wasn’t the only one thinking the sand ruts may be more than it could handle. Not so. Whether entering or exiting the beach, the Seltos AWD transmission instantly adapted to the challenging dozen metres of sand and eclipsed the hairy spot without batting an eyelid. I’m impressed.

Meeting the Straddie locals.

Being a relatively self-sufficient island, Straddie gets its lot of unfailingly reliable vehicles in its car landscape which seem to only rarely leave its shores. One favourite local is the Land Rover Defender, and the Kia Seltos got to get acquainted with a handful of beautifully maintained and tuned up examples such as the ones pictured above. At the time of our visit, Australia was still reeling from one of the most dramatic fire seasons in its history and we travelled to the island on the ferry just next to a spanking new Fire Services Ford Ranger pictured above. The new generation Mitsubishi Triton also has the approval of the Redland City Council that manages the island.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, map of koala habitat.

With so many koala signs but none spotted in the wild, I couldn’t end this Test Drive without making sure I patted one, even if within the confines of a wildlife centre. There’s no better one in Brisbane than the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary founded in 1927 and located 12 km south of the city centre. It is home to 130 koalas but also kangaroos and wombats, such as the one pictured above snoring inside its favourite log. The only place in the world where the koala can be found is eastern and southern coastal areas of Australia in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, covering an area of 1 million km2 (390.000 sq mi) as pictured in red on the map above. An estimated 30.000 koalas died during the 2019-2020 bushfire season in Australia and the species is now classified as vulnerable. Koalas sleep or rest 20 hours a day and have a “smooth” brain meaning they lack higher level recognition and understanding that other animals have. For example, it won’t recognise Eucalyptus leaves if they are put on a plate. It lacks the ability to discern that it’s still food given the leaves have moved off the tree and onto a new source that they’re unfamiliar with.

So is the Kia Seltos worth all the hype? I say yes. For a small SUV at that price point, it clearly overdelivers in many areas such as safety alerts, a very helpful head-up display and solid AWD capabilities meaning it raises the bar for the entire segment. It’s hard to fault the Seltos, but when looking hard enough there are a few areas that could be improved such as the inside door materials and an over-revving auto gearbox.

  • Outstanding head-up display that manages to pack a surprising amount of information while remaining legible at all times
  • Wealth of safety features including lane assist, rear traffic alert, road sign recognition and blind spot alert
  • 3 point electric seat adjustment including passenger seat
  • Spotless adaptive cruise control down to 0 km/h including alert if car ahead is moving
  • Solid AWD capabilities
  • Aggressive exterior design
  • Keyless start
  • Intuitive steering wheel commands (audio and cruise control)
  • Swish gearbox
  • Rooftop
  • Large touch screen, Apple Car Play

  • Cheap-looking inside door materials
  • Sometimes sluggish dynamics
  • Gearbox not optimally levelled with revving up frequent
  • Cramped driver seat position
  • No sunglass holder

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