KIA Seltos GT Line
Updated: 21 hours ago
Our test drive in this episode is the KIA Seltos. It arrived in South Africa in early 2020 and promised some grown up styling and good value in a compact SUV package, and was set to take on the likes of the Volkswagen T-Cross - which is not an easy feat.
Now, I promise we're going to talk about the Seltos, but we can't do that until we chat a little bit about its main competition.
Considering it arrived less than a year ago now, I've been astounded at the amount of T-Crosses I've seen on the road. Usually after a new model is launched, you see one and then maybe two examples, and then later on a whole bunch. But with the T-Cross, it seems like it's been a permanent part of every drive I've taken since the thing was launched.
It's been a spectacular success for Volkswagen, consistently ranking as its third most popular model and outselling the likes of the Golf and the Polo Sedan. Now, I would love to be able to say, "Go listen to episode so-and-so for our review of the T-Cross", but unfortunately we only had the car for two days before it was taken away. Thanks, Corona.
So what does the T-Cross's stardom have to do with the Seltos?
Well, if you're going to tempt anyone away from such a popular rival, you're going to have to be very good at what you do.
The first impression is that the Seltos' styling gives it a strong head start. OK, admittedly, I'm not a big fan of the T-Cross' look - for me, the front end is a bit generic and the rear doesn't really work with all that heavy eye makeup. But still the Seltos seems a lot more muscular, a lot more interesting. And the GT Line spec of our test car adds even more appeal.
The very wide looking front end is highlighted by red satin chrome and glossy black detailing, the wheels are upgraded to 17-inch units and all the lighting is full LED. It's not a bad view from the back either. Again, very wide looking, thanks in part to the satin chrome strip that links the tail lights. The SUVness comes from plastic scuffplates, front and rear wheel arch protection and a set of roof rails, all on top of the Seltos' 190 millimeter ground clearance.
KIA have tried to build some of that SUV into the drive as well. The Seltos is only available as a front wheel drive, but it does have a drive mode selector that allows you to choose different off-road programs, to help adjust the car's power and torquw for slippery or difficult surfaces.
But that's about as far as it goes. So like almost every other SUV on the planet, the Seltos will be spending most of its time on regular roads where it feels perfectly fine. The drive mode selector also delivers a sport mode that sharpens responses from the throttle and the steering. But in regular driving mode, it's an enjoyable thing to live with.
The ride set up is a little bit harder than expected: I was surprised to feel some of the rougher road surfaces finding their way through to the seat. It's really not terrible, though. On top of that, the steering is good, the cornering is confident, and it can get a little bit sporty.
Just a little bit. It has a sub-10 second 0-100 time, but if you get carried away, you'll be dealing with a measure of torque steer. That said, the Seltos isn't going to be frightened by every corner that you show it. The highlight of the drive is the 1.4 turbo petrol motor - it's easily the most eager part of the whole drive.
Ok, it is responsible for that mild torque steer I mentioned, but its 103kW and 242Nm make the Seltos capable and enjoy able. There's good power of the line, and usable mid-range power - this is one of those engines that just never feels like it struggles. It's a pity then that it's hamstrung by the gearbox.
Available on the GT Line model only is a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox. The rest of the range makes do with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic option. The dual clutch gearbox in the Seltos is interesting… For the first time, I can see what gearbox geeks have been saying for a while: that the days of the dual clutch gearbox are limited, and that's because the technology has a theoretical limit to the amount of torque it can handle. But more importantly, regular automatics are getting faster and more efficient.
I really feel like the Seltos GT Line could have done with just an ordinary automatic gearbox. Kind of feels like KIA fitted it with a dual clutch because they thought: "Well, this is the sporty one, so it has to have a dual clutch!" But the gearbox itself feels a little bit odd around town. It's a bit of a mix between a CVT and an automated manual. Occasionally it does this weird sort of throttle a blip after it change gears and then the downshifts can also feel a little bit clunky. I don't know, it just lets the side down.
Look, it's not so horrendous that the GT Line should be deleted from your list of contenders, but it's certainly not nearly as good as any other dual clutch set up I've driven over the last few years. Besides, there's a lot in the cabin of the Seltos GT Line that serves as a very good distraction to a subpar gearbox.
It is a very classy space, it's got leather seats with contrasting stitching, a mix of soft touch plastics and really good ergonomics, and some interesting details - like the wrinkled gloss black speaker covers that are also illuminated.
Yeah, I know it's a bit of an odd description, but there are photos on our Facebook page. And the whole Seltos range has got spec for days: cruise control, steering wheel mounted controls, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment with smartphone integration, electric windows and mirrors. Although oddly, climate control isn't available in any Seltos model. The GT Line gets a few extra bits like adjustable mood lighting, a flat bottom steering wheel and aluminium pedals. The whole set up is very comfortable and it doesn't matter which seats you find yourself in -there's good head and legroom in the back, where you'll also find an extra USB charging port.
I like the KIA brand. They generally put together some very nice cars, and part of their charm is the ability to endow a lot of them with a long list of standard features at a price that other manufacturers can't seem to match. And that's what they say about the Seltos as well.
But I'm not convinced. The styling is arguably the best in its class, and it is very well specced, but the gearbox is a weak link and the ride set up isn't the best. And at R460 000, this car isn't exactly rescued by its price tag. That brings us back to the VW T Cross, and in particular the 1.5 TSI R Line model, which is R45 000 cheaper, and comparable in every way - in fact, almost spec for spec - with the Seltos GT Line. So it seems at this time around, KIA have been out-KIA'd by Volkswagen.
Follow Spike Ballantine on Twitter and Instagram