One of the most awaited cars of the year is Kia’s Seltos and the rising anticipation in the run up to its launch next month is due to multiple factors. Making a late entry into India, it is the Korean brand’s first Indian vehicle. It has been designed, developed and manufactured specially for the Indian market at the company’s new plant located at Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh. And it is going to be sporting highly localised content; promising to be priced aggressively right from when it is launched on August 22. With so much curiosity surrounding the car, we decided to drive the production ‘proto’ to try and understand what it feels like to be behind the wheel of the Seltos.

Greek God?

There are no design similarities between the Seltos and the Hyundai Creta, with which the Kia SUV shares its platform. At about 4.3 metres in length, in the flesh, the Seltos looks more proportionate and comfortable in its skin than many other compact SUVs. The design delivers a modern image for the Seltos with the trademark tiger nose grille being mildly reinterpreted for this focussed-on-India SUV. The headlamp has an array of LEDs with an intricate construction of individual lights, and there is what Kia calls the sweeping LED light bar above. This feature is a big differentiator for the Seltos compared to the competitors in the segment. The fog lamps are an array of ice-cube shaped LEDs in a vertical orientation and set into either end of the front fender.

The rear design gives the Seltos a squat, wide and strong profile. The muscular haunches and the relatively low roofline makes the Kia SUV really good to look at from the rear too. The tail-lamps wrap around the edges and are positioned just above the haunches. Featuring bits of chrome within and sporting a connected tail-lamps design, the tail-lamps accentuate the sense of width at the Seltos’ rear. The lights also sport what Kia calls the heartbeat LEDs in the tail-lamps giving it a nice night time signature that looks like a blip in a heart rate monitor.

Kia Motors is eventually likely to have about four variants for the Seltos, though we were presented with only two trim variants — Tech Line and GT Line — during the prototype test drive event at the Anantpur Plant’s track. The Tech Line is meant to appeal to the family buyer looking for a premium feel and the GT Line is meant to appeal to the young, performance-oriented buyer. The trim variants are carried over from Kia’s other global models. The GT Line gets special bits to identify its elevated status including red brake callipers, unique skid plates with red accents, similarly coloured accents in the side-cladding and the GT Line badge at the rear. Depending on the trim variant, the Seltos also offers a contrast roof that contributes to the effect of a floating roof, and the rear spoiler accentuates the sporty look at the rear.

Fresh cabin

The Seltos’ interior is quite different from what we have seen in vehicles in this segment. The top trim GT Line I drove during the test drive featured a large 10.25-inch HD touchscreen and a seven-inch colour instrument display, which were both housed within a large rectangular binnacle that sticks out from the top of the dashboard and just barely crosses over into the ‘being elegant’ territory. Some of you may find it a little gawky and oversized. But the finish quality and the plastics and other materials used are very good. The top trim variants get a sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel and LED ambient, mood lighting. The GT Line has an optional all-black interior with red contrast stitched seats and panels. The top trims will be offered with an option for black or beige leatherette seats.

The top trim variants also get a eight-speaker Bose music system with speaker panels that feature a geometric pattern that is said to have been inspired by fractals. The same theme has been carried into some of the other trim elements in the cabin. The lower trim variants get a Arkamys music system with four different mood settings. Top variants get a head-up display (HUD) showing NAV info, current speed, and speed limits, etc.The other novel feature for a vehicle in this segment is the display of the blind spot and next lane, which is thrown up on the infotainment screen every time you hit the turn indicator. Rear passengers get decent legroom and the boot volume also looks to be more than in many other vehicles in this segment. Rear seats also feature two-step reclining positions for the seat back.

Powertrain options

In a refreshing change, Kia is offering three engine options and three automatic transmission options too, in addition to manual gearboxes, for the Seltos. The engines are the Smartstream 1.4 turbo petrol, Smartstream 1.5 petrol and the 1.5 CRDi diesel with VGT; all engines are said to be BS VI compliant, and Kia claims that the rated mileage they offer will be segment leading. The engines are all offered with automatic transmissions including a seven-speed dual clutch, an intelligent continuously variable transmission and a six-speed torque converter auto gearbox. The manual transmission option offered with all three engines is a six-speed stick shift. Though the exact output numbers for the engines have not been revealed, they all feel peppy and refined. The 1.4 turbo petrol is an interesting engine and the seven-speed DCT is another surprisingly good gearbox with imperceptible shifts and an equally likeable character at slow and high speeds. The other auto transmissions are all quite refined too.

Combined with its 0.35 co-efficient of drag value and the lightweighting through increased use of high strength and advanced high strength steel, makes the Seltos feel agile in addition to contributing to a quiet cabin free of design-related turbulence and noise. The NVH packaging is excellent managing to keep out much of the exterior and engine noises. At the Kia plant, the track has a simple oval orientation with a mix of simulated tarmac and regular black top roads. The Seltos feels solidly planted at high speeds with no sense of fidgety unease at keeping the lane. There is understeer, typically found in front wheel drive vehicles, but it is only intrusive during high-speed cornering. There is no four-wheel drive option, but the Seltos uses electronic aids like vehicle stability management to offer three traction modes — mud, snow/wet and sand. There are also three drive modes including normal, eco and sports. Much of the changes are just ratios and algorithmic variations without involving any significant changes to the hardware functions. But the steering characteristics change based on the mode selected with just a bit of stiffening in sports mode. For the ABS brakes, Seltos features 14-inch discs at the front and 16-inch at the rear. They offer good bite and the braking is progressive and judder-free.

While it can be said with certainty only after driving the Seltos on regular roads, its suspension still feels like the best in the segment. Currently, the Renault Duster and the Hyundai Creta would rank at the top, but the Seltos is likely to either be very close or top that experience.

Worth the wait?

The Kia SUV also gets a few India-specific tweaks like air-conditioning with higher air flow volume and even an air-purifying system with its own perfume. With an embedded SIM card and a number of pre-loaded voice command functions, the Seltos also has a long list of connected services and functions that can be done remotely for safety and security of the car and its occupants.

Kia Motors’ officials claim that there will be a few tweaks to the final vehicle that will reach showrooms, but the production prototype is already a very good indicator of what to expect. And measured by that, the first Kia seems set to conquer. With an attractive design, quality fit and finish and loaded with features, the only way the Seltos may not reach market potential is if Kia messes up the pricing.