In the complicated world of car manufacturing and catering to varied audiences in different markets around the world, India holds a special place. It’s special because it’s known to be the failure, or even burial, ground for some of the biggest carmakers in the world – just ask General Motors, for instance. With a vastly varying mindset and demand of customers across the country, unique geographical and infrastructural conditions, and completely baffling clarity of government policies, the Indian market offers maze-like complexities for companies to tackle. As the now-infamous Mr Carlos Ghosn once said to us over lunch before the launch of the Kwid, ‘India is definitely one of the most difficult, if not the toughest market in the world to understand and succeed in.’
Considering that two manufacturers account for around 70% of the passenger car market in India, it’s clear that Kia Motors has its work cut out for it. To be honest, though, Kia has followed quite an active strategy right from the day when they announced their decision to enter into the Indian market – the vast Auto Expo display with their global portfolio of vehicles made that clear. And using various devices they’ve been keeping the buzz around the brand alive and wild, such as their sponsorship of the Australian Open Tennis tournament and events around it in India. But, of course, many such events organised by the brand were to serve two purposes – first to highlight their massive investment in India (over $1.1 billion at last count) to build a 3,00,000-unit plant in Anantapur, and secondly to build anticipation and excitement for their first product – the Seltos SUV.
Proof of the Pudding
Of course, the first public appearance of the Seltos SUV was during the 2018 Auto Expo in the form of the SP2 concept, and it’s good to see that by and large Kia has stuck to the design of the concept car. In fact, it even retains the Punchy Orange shade of the concept car displayed at the expo. As a result, then, what we get is a very attractive looking SUV that features many mature design touches that make it stand out in a crowded market.
The front end of the Seltos is particularly impressive – the huge ‘Tiger Nose’ grille is Kia’s design trademark and finished in a bright aluminium with a knurled finish and a contrast black plastic grille. Pair this with the large sweeping headlights and the indicator module, along with the vertically placed fog lamps, and the Seltos cuts a fine figure and asserts itself dominantly on the road. The profile of the Seltos also looks strong with prominent shoulder lines both front and aft merging into the head and tail lights, respectively. Three aspects stand out in the design of the Seltos when viewed in profile. One, the large 17-inch wheels, of our test car, fill the wheel arches quite well. Two, the roof rails are well integrated and well finished, and the plastic cladding on the lower side of both doors is very well integrated. Compared to the front and profile design, the rear seems a bit confused, as there seems to be too much going on. Sure, there are the large LED taillights paired with a big chrome piece and the large roof spoiler, but, in my opinion, the rear is not as well-executed as the rest of the car.
One of the unique innovations that Kia intends to bring to the Indian market is the variety of trim options. The two broad trim lines on offer will be the Tech Line trim – focused more towards luxury – and the GT Trim, which focuses more on sporty design cues. Both trims are significantly different from each other, and not just on the outside but also inside. For instance, on the Tech trim, the exterior finish is mainly a combination of body colour and black trim parts, while the wheels vary between 16- and 17-inch options. Whereas, in the GT Line, there is a distinct red highlight theme carried all over the car. Red highlights are present on the front and rear skid plates, brake callipers, different wheels, and even door cladding.
Similarly, the interior of the Tech Line gets a two-tone finish on the dashboard. The seats of the HTX+ version that we tested had a Beige finish. In the Tech Line, you also get the option of an all-black fabric interior on some trim versions. The GT Line, on the other hand, carries over the Black & Red theme of the exterior design to the interior. Our GTX test car had an all-black interior carrying red highlights with contrast stitching and GT Line emblems on the front seats. The GT Line also gets an option of a two-tone Beige finish, but I think that the all-Black interior looks stunning and perfect for the GT Line trim of the car. Also, to further customisation options for Indian customers, the Seltos will be available in 13 different exterior colour options, with 5 options for dual-tone contrast roof finishes.
Packed to the brim
Apart from the design, the other distinguishing factor that Kia is relying on is the quality of the Seltos and the list of features that it’ll have as standard. The quality levels of the Seltos – of both versions of the car that we tested – are simply phenomenal. From plastics and soft-touch surfaces to digital screens and general fit-and-finish, everything is simply class-leading. The seats of the car deserve special praise here. The torrential rain in Goa forced us to spend quite a bit of time sitting inside and waiting for the rain to subside. And I must say that they were supremely comfortable. Combine this with features like a10.25-inch touchscreen multimedia display, a 7-inch colour screen in the instrument console, a 360-degree camera, and a blind sport camera – it plays the video feed from the camera mounted in the ORVM on the 7-inch screen in front of the driver – which function seamlessly, and it’s clear that in terms of features and quality, the Seltos is changing the benchmark for the Indian market.
Further, depending on the trim version you purchase, there are bucket loads of standard equipment, such as a sunroof, front ventilated seats, and a Bose audio system. My favourite. However, is the 8-inch HUD display, which works beautifully and can be used not only to project the car’s speed but also turn-by-turn navigation right in front of the driver.
As far as engine options are concerned, the Seltos has that aspect covered too. It’ll be offered with three different engine options and four gearbox options in India. The entry-level engine will be a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, producing 113bhp and 144Nm, paired with either a 6-speed manual or a CVT automatic gearbox. The diesel front will be led by a 1.5-litre CRDi engine, producing 113bhp and 250Nm of torque, which will be available with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed torque converter automatic. And lastly, to bring up the sporty aspect of the Seltos, the range-topping engine is a 1.4-litre turbo petrol, producing 138bhp and 242Nm of torque, which will be available with either a 6-speed manual and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. Most importantly, right from launch, all 3 engines of the Seltos meet BS 6 emissions norms, even on BS 4 fuel. This means that you don’t have to worry about the Seltos changing when the BS 6 norms are enforced from April 2020.
We tested the 1.5 diesel and 1.4 petrol engines, and both, right when you start them, give you the first impression of fantastic refinement. At idle, in both models, it’s almost impossible to tell if the engine is running or not. This level of refinement is in fact evident in all aspects of the Seltos. The NVH aspect of the Seltos is particularly impressive, for, at all speeds, the noise and vibration levels inside the cabin are superbly controlled. Speaking of speed, we first drove the diesel engine, which allows the Seltos to have a pretty decent performance – the 0 –100km/h mark can be achieved in 11.5 seconds, which is reasonably quick. What helps here is the delivery of peak torque right from 1,500rpm, which means there’s virtually no turbo lag and the engine pulls cleanly from any rpm. Both manual and automatic gearboxes of the Seltos in diesel trim work well, with Kia’s engineers claiming to have worked especially on reducing the effort it takes to depress the clutch, especially as the clutch ages – something that will require a long-term test. The automatic gearbox also functions quite well but is not the fastest box around. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s lazy. I just think that the addition of paddle shifters to the Seltos would’ve increased the manual control capability and improved gearbox response. Also, with its 113bhp, if you’re expecting steamroller style acceleration, you’ll be disappointed. The diesel engine of the Seltos has been tuned to offer drivability and efficiency (Kia claims fuel efficiency figures of 21km/l with the manual gearbox and 18km/l with the automatic) and as such a linear power delivery of the engine is sufficient for all conditions but not outwardly exciting or shocking.
If you’re looking for thrills, then it’s the sporty 1.4 petrol engine that you need to get hold of. Producing its peak torque of 242Nm of torque at 1,500rpm, the petrol engine responds beautifully to throttle inputs without any hint of lag and is much more fun to throw around. 0 – 100km/h can be achieved in 9.7 seconds, which means that whether you’re driving in the city or overtaking on the highway, the turbocharged engine provides an instant throttle response and sustained grunt throughout its rev range, till peak power tapers off after 6,000rpm.
The other highlight of the Seltos is the brilliant setup of its suspension, steering and overall handling balance. Kia’s engineers have been working tirelessly to get the perfect setup, and their level of effort reflects in the Seltos’ performance. Whether it's high-speed handling or the feel from the steering, the Seltos feels absolutely spot on. In fact, the compromise between the low-speed ride on broken roads (it’s a tad stiff) and the high-speed manners is something that is an absolute revelation. Sure, if you’re on completely shattered roads, you’ll have to slow down and be careful, and if you’re really throwing the Seltos around on a race track, there’ll be some body roll – it’s an SUV after all! – but in most everyday conditions, the Seltos is flawless and an absolute pleasure to drive.
However, all is not perfect for the Seltos, and there are a couple of things that I would’ve really liked it to have. One, in the quest to be fully digital, Kia’s engineers have taken away the ubiquitous volume knob from the multimedia system, something that I absolutely don’t agree with. Sure, I can use the touchscreen to control the volume – which involves taking my eyes off the road while driving and is simply unacceptable – or the steering mounted controls, but I still prefer a simple knob that can be used without even looking at it. Second, for added control, I wish Kia folks had provided the automatic-gearbox versions with steering-mounted paddles, as that would’ve allowed for more manual control over gearshifts.
A winner in the making
But all said and done, other than those two, I really can’t find any fault with the Seltos. With its combination of distinctive design, quality, equipment levels, terrific suspension setup and driving appeal, the Seltos seems like a sure-fire winner for Kia Motors. Additionally, it offers many first-in-the-segment features, such as the 138bhp 1.4 turbo engine, HUD display, and even a Bose audio system. And, lastly, it offers enough variations – in terms of design, colour and equipment – to please even the most demanding customer. And that should make Hyundai worried about the fate of the Creta after the Seltos’s launch on the 22nd of August. If Kia can price the Seltos close to the Creta, they have an absolute winner in their hands. With the sum of its components making the Seltos probably the most polished vehicle offered by affordable brands in India till date, the Seltos just feels like the second stage of the evolution of the Indian market. The Seltos is a product that can be class-leading in any market in the world and is definitely so in the Indian market. And with Kia launching over 250 dealerships along with the Seltos, all mass-market manufacturers in India should be very worried about the approaching Korean dreadnought.
- Kia Seltos 1.5 Diesel
- Kia Seltos 1.4 Petrol
Engine: 1,493cc / Turbocharged / 4 Cylinders
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual / 6-Speed Automatic / Front-Wheel Drive
Power: 113bhp @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 250Nm @ 1,500-2,750rpm
Engine: 1,353cc / 4 Cylinders / Turbocharged
Power: 138bhp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 242Nm @ 1,500-3,200rpm
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual / 7-Speed DCT Automatic / Front-Wheel Drive
Also read - Kia Seltos variant-wise features revealed