The South Korean brand is about to get a huge boost in Australia as an all-important new model is set to arrive putting rival brands on notice.
Dead certs. We all love to know about them, be it Melbourne Cup winner, share price jumps or the next property boom suburb.
Most are impossible to predict, except perhaps the success of Kia’s new Seltos.
Talk about right car at the right time at the right price. Dropping into the in-vogue small SUV segment — up nearly 20 per cent last year — here’s a striking looking high-rider with no obvious weakness. Big sales are almost guaranteed.
The cost? Expected to be close to a very sharp $26,000 drive-away. Add to that Kia’s market-leading seven-year warranty, strong standard safety kit, generous features, quality infotainment and class-leading cabin space and boot. The icing on the cake comes in the form of two-tone colours and some beautiful style touches such as the raised diamond pattern on the grille surround.
The last time I drove such a sure thing was the launch of the Mazda CX-3, which has since rocketed to the top of the sales charts.
Kia can expect a similar fate for the Seltos when it reaches Australian showrooms sometime around October.
The company’s Australian boss Damien Meredith predicts 650 to 750 sales a month initially, a number limited by a lack of supply.
A small SUV has been a glaring omission from the Kia line-up for too long.
“We’re late to the dance,” Meredith said, “but it’s an incredibly important car and we’re very confident, in a market sense, it’ll be incredibly well accepted.”
Once supply can meet demand, you don’t need a crystal ball to back the Seltos troubling segment leaders Mitsubishi ASX, Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Hyundai Kona.
Based on the SUV’s suggested price and level of equipment, I’d pick the Seltos over the opposition.
It’ll land in four grades: S, Sport, Sport+ and GT-Line. The entry level features 16-inch alloys, Halogen DRLs, cruise control, 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, rear camera and sensors, auto emergency braking and lane-keep assist. That’s most of your style, infotainment and safety non-negotiables, all for $26k on the road.
The Sport will be less than $30,000 drive-away and brings 17-inch alloys with full-size spare, climate control and excellent 10.25-inch, high-definition widescreen.
The Sport+ ups the luxe with cloth/artificial leather heated seats, heated steering wheel and extended active safety. Range-topping GT-Line is a style powerhouse with intricately crafted headlights, daytime running lights, layered indicators and ice cube-like fog lights — all LEDs — plus full artificial leather on power, ventilated seats, mood lighting, wireless phone charging and 7-inch digital instrument cluster.
All for less than $40,000 drive-away.
You may think that’s an expensive small Korean, but the Seltos is on the border between small and mid-size SUVs. Passenger space is excellent, and its 498-litre boot trumps many medium SUVs, Kia’s own Sportage for one. If you go to the showroom to buy the latter, good luck coming out without signing for a Seltos.
Its rear seats recline for comfort, and we fitted three adults — slim ones, admittedly — across the back with leg and head room in spades. It feels a full car size larger in the back than rival Mazda CX-3 or Hyundai Kona.
On the road
The only Seltos available for test driving in and around Seoul were Korean market models with 1.6-litre turbo petrol engines. This 130kW/265Nm four-cylinder with dual-clutch auto will be used in AWD Sport+ and GT-Line models in Australia, and are the performance picks with a 0-100km/h time of eight-seconds flat.
Our other engine, standard on S, Sport and Sport+ front-wheel-drives, will be a less spritely 110kW 2.0-litre petrol. Mated to a CVT auto gearbox, it should prove adequate rather than rewarding for the youthful urban and suburban target market.
The Seltos’ size strikes you on initial contact — it’s a chunky thing with long wheelbase and large doors, almost making a mockery of its small SUV classification.
It’s a wide-feeling cabin, and in our high-specification version the dominating touchscreen, prestige-feeling door handles, soft padding and curvaceous dash give an air of class. It is however let down by cheap-feeling hard plastics for the centre console, dash top and door tops.
Koreans obviously like their suspension erring on the side of wallowy, and the local Seltos bounced and body-rolled along our test route, restricting much driver enjoyment. That said, it impressively blocked road noise and cruising proved a relaxing delight; pivotal for Seoul’s clogged streets and freeways.
Kia Australia has already done local testing on the car and will tweak the steering and suspension on vehicles headed for our shores. We couldn’t test these, but on previous form there’s little doubt the cars will corner better, courtesy of stiffer suspension and sharper steering.
Hopefully they’ve fettled the dual-clutch transmission’s settings too, as it was an oft lazy, unresponsive thing on our test. The 1.6-litre turbo hauled well when revs climbed, but didn’t like being called into action in a hurry.
There was no chance to test the 2.0-litre with CVT auto, though it’s unlikely to create much driving joy.
Given the differences in specification between our Korean test cars and those that will land on our shores, it’s difficult to give a definitive verdict on whether the Seltos will be as good to drive as the segment leaders here.
Buyers probably won’t care too much, though. The Seltos’ style, value and equipment should be convincing enough to seal the deal.
The Seltos’ neatest trick is the ability to feel like a medium-sized SUV. At small SUV money, that could be an irresistible selling point.
Kia Seltos vitals
Price: From $26,000 drive-away (est)
Warranty: 7 years/unlimited km
Engines: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 130kW/265Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 110kW/180Nm
Safety: Untested, 6 airbags, rear camera, rear sensors, AEB with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane keep assist. (Smart cruise, blind spot assist and front park sensors optional on cheaper models)
As the sales increases of SUVs and dual-cab utes show no signs of abating, Kia sees opportunities for an expanded range in the near future.
Kia Australia chief Damien Meredith says there’s space for an even smaller, cheaper SUV, with work under way but no set date for launch.
“We agree there’s room for a sub-Seltos, and for one above it,” he says.
Sister company Hyundai will launch the Venue small SUV later this year but the baby Kia is likely to use an entirely different platform.
The larger SUV would be a more off-road specific seven-seater to sell above the road-oriented Sorento large SUV. This could well be built on the chassis of a dual-cab ute.
“We’re confident in the near future the group will have a light commercial in Australia,” Meredith says, although it is unlikely to arrive until late 2022 or early 2023.