The Kia Seltos may be just another crossover in the sea of many that you can buy these days, but there's much more to it than that. For Kia, this car represents their global ambitions. Why? Let me explain.
Kia calls the Seltos a world car so it can't just be a good car for one part of the world. See, this crossover has to be good just about everywhere else where standards vary. If it can't please one corner of the globe, then it's no good. Not only that, the Seltos must be within reach of many as well. This is why the Seltos is, perhaps, the most important car Kia has made. They must hit all the right spots if they want to succeed in this class.
On looks alone, Kia have got that bit covered, at least in my eyes. The front end is of particular interest. The T-shaped headlights aren't something you see often done on cars but Kia's execution here was spot on. It gives the crossover character and in the crowded crossover market, it definitely stands out. That big, bold grill helps too, giving it a bit more presence on the road despite its compact dimensions.
It looks good from the side too. Sure, there are a lot of subcompact crossovers that have a 'floating roof' design but it just works well here. Even the black cladding is effective in making the Seltos look 'chunkier' that it really looks too. There's a neat visual trick on the sides too. The upward sloping window line makes it look like the roof line sweeps downwards when in fact it stays level for the most part. As for the rear, it's clean, simple, and uncluttered, much like the rest of the car.
What we have here is actually the entry-level LX variant but you'd be hard-pressed to tell from a passing glance. All Seltos variants wear the same wheels so you'd have to look closer to spot the differences. This LX doesn't come with foglights and LED headlights plus the side turn signal lights are on the fender and not the side mirrors.
It's not bland on the inside either. There's a blend of soft curves and angles in here but it all comes together harmoniously rather than haphazardly. If there's one detail about the interior that does leave my head scratching, it's the speaker covers. I don't know what Kia gave it this rather peculiar pattern and it seems out of place in an otherwise well designed cabin. Ergonomics are good too, with buttons, dials, and switches exactly where you expect them to be.
Given the Seltos' place in the market, don't expect soft touch materials to greet you when you hop in though. That said, it feels well screwed together and the feel of the buttons and dials don't feel cheap to push and turn. Hard plastics aside, the Seltos makes up for it by having a comprehensive infotainment system. There's Apple CarPlay and Android auto, along with what looks like the most comprehensive driving information screen among its contemporaries. Not only does it tell you your economy but it also shows you the time you've spent on the road, how much of that you spent idling (stuck in traffic), and your time on the move as well.
Room in the Seltos is on the spacious side. There's a fair amount of foot room at the front and you're never given the impression that you need more unless you're over six feet tall. The same goes for the rear with decent amounts of leg and head room. Of course, there are limitations to its size as fitting three tall adults there will be a bit of a squeeze unless all of them are on the slim side. For as long as you have four on board, the Seltos should prove comfortable enough for everyone. Cargo space on the other hand is good for its size and you can fold down the rear seats for more room. Folded, it's a vast cargo bay although there is a slight lip on where the seat backs fold so you can't just slide items when you're packing it up.
What's surprising about the Seltos is its engine. Normally you'd expect a 1.6-liter under the hood of a subcompact crossover, but that's not the case here. Instead, it's a 2.0-liter, which you'd expect in something a whole size class bigger. Stats aren't bad either as it puts out 149 PS and 179 Nm of torque, which isn't bad for a non-turbocharged two-liter engine. The transmission is what Kia calls their Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), which is their way of saying continuously variable transmission. Don't dismiss it though because it's one of the more interesting "CVT"s I have encountered. I'll explain later.
But first, the drive and I will be very straightforward about this: it won't really stir your soul. I'm not saying that it's not fun to drive. Steering feel could be overly light for some and feedback is almost non existent. That's not to say it doesn't handle though, because it can. Driving up and down twisty country roads, the Seltos proved competent around the bends. Yes, there's roll, but it's what you expect in a crossover. It holds the road well enough for you to feel confident when taking on corners, and all in all, it feels safe. A good handler? Yes, but it won't engage you.
As for the engine, I'll be blunt about that too. It doesn't feel like there's a 2.0-liter under the hood. It feels more like a 1.6-liter and that's mainly due to the throttle response. It takes its time when you step on it and the engine itself takes a bit of a while to wake up. Mind you, it's not slow at all, but you really need to stir the engine to feel its power. It can hustle, but only if you're really leaning on the gas.
But that's not the main point of the Seltos. Its job is to bring you from point A to B with all modern conveniences and features in comfort. When it comes to that aspect, that's where the Seltos delivers. If there's one thing I like about Kias (and their Hyundai counterparts), it's that they get the ride and damping bang on. It's comfortable and absorbs bumps effortlessly but it's not wallowy. There's no unnecessary sway or other body motions that make you feel like you're on dead shocks. It's smooth, supple, and serene.
And while the engine takes a while to wake up, it more than makes up for it when it comes to fuel economy. We'd normally associate 2.0-liter engines as being a bit thirsty but that's not the case at all with the Seltos. Despite slogging through very heavy traffic (15 km/h average), it still returned 9 kilometers per liter. So while the engine doesn't move like a 2.0-liter, it thankfully doesn't drink like one. In a mix of heavy and moderate traffic, achieving 10 to 11 kilometers per liter was achievable.
Now for that IVT and it's unlike any other transmission I've ever experienced. The best thing about the Seltos' IVT is that it doesn't feel like a CVT. Normally, a traditional CVT would just stay at a certain RPM and keep on accelerating. In the Seltos, it acts like a conventional automatic even in normal driving circumstances. What Kia have done here is combine the smoothness (and efficiency) of this sort of transmission, along with the familiarity of an automatic. I now wish everyone would make a CVT like Kia's IVT.
At Php 1,098,000, the Kia Seltos LX presents good value. Okay, so it's not exciting to drive and I wish it had more safety features such as side airbags and stability control (that's in the higher-spec models) and I also would've wanted rear air-conditioning vents or a charging point at the back. But as a small crossover, it's a pleasant daily runabout. It's comfortable, refined, well equipped in the infotainment department, spacious, and fuel efficient.
Sure, it won't stir the soul, but if you're using your head over your heart when you're buying your next car, the Seltos ticks all the right boxes. I say mission accomplished, Kia.