Crossovers

2020 Kia Seltos first drive review: This little SUV will be big

Kia's plugging another gap in the increasingly crowded crossover-SUV market, adding a new choice in the undersized all-rounder class and putting competition from Honda and Toyota on notice.

Kia has yet to confirm if it'll sell the Seltos in the US.

Kia

It's hard to imagine the world needing another crossover-SUV to choose from right now, but competition breeds quality and so welcome the new Kia Seltos. Hot on the heels of its success with the Telluride, Kia's launching another new SUV. But while that three-row big-bro targeted options such as the Chevy Traverse and Volkswagen Atlas, the Seltos is going Honda HR-V hunting. 

The Seltos slots in the increasingly busy Kia lineup between the Soul and the Niro. However, where labeling Soul as a crossover feels a bit aspirational, the Seltos has some legit chops, including available all-wheel drive and a center locking differential. 

More importantly, it looks like an SUV. Its 103.5-inch wheelbase is two inches longer than the Soul and about three shorter than the Niro, while its 70.9-inch width and 63.5-inch height match that of the Soul. Though dimensionally similar, where the Soul's style could be best described as "sleepy urbanite" the Seltos' look is far more ready for action, with a tall, upright nose and a big, chunky border of black trim all around the base. 

The leading edge is the Seltos' most notable feature, and certainly its busiest. Kia's "tiger-nose" grille is proudly on display, flanked by headlights with multiple inset LEDs and a pair of turn signals with a cool, 3-D effect. Stacked LED fog lamps sit down low and the whole thing is connected by so many bisecting layers of differing colors and materials it's easy to get lost. It's a far cry from the Telluride's lines, which are simple and clean yet striking and strong. 

On the inside, where the Telluride aims high and misses the mark with questionable materials, the Seltos keeps things far more simple and succeeds. Black plastic abounds, but the overall design is clean while touchable points feel good enough. Headroom and legroom are plentiful, even in the second row, which features heated, reclinable seats. The front seats are ventilated and covered in your choice of fabric, artificial leather or the real stuff. 

Infotainment duties are served by either an eight-inch or 10.2-inch capacitive touchscreen running an updated version of Kia's UVO system with higher-resolution mapping and snappy performance combined with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. An 8-inch multifunction gauge cluster keeps the driver informed, working in tandem with a slick pop-up HUD.

On the safety side, for a little guy the Seltos is packing a lot of features, including six airbags and a comprehensive active suite of systems. The Seltos is available with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert and even a comprehensive lane-keep assist system and adaptive cruise that, in its marketing materials, Kia says is good enough to run with your hands off the wheel for a short time. 

Is it? I didn't trust it enough to let it go hands-free, but the Seltos systems felt similar to those in the new Telluride -- which is to say, quite good. The system kept the car centered on well-marked Korean highways, while adaptive cruise spotted traffic early and adjusted speed appropriately. 

The Seltos' cabin is cleanly designed and features a 10.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

Kia

How did the rest of it drive? Well, Kia's familiar 1.6-liter, turbocharged engine with 175 horsepower won't win any awards for throttle response or outright grunt, but in the few times I had to merge quickly the Seltos was up to the task. The seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission didn't deliver the kind of responsiveness you'd expect out of this kind of 'box, but Kia engineers said they'd tuned it for smoothness and not performance. Mission accomplished, then. 

The ride quality on my car's 18-inch wheels was quite good over South Korea's many speed bumps and occasional potholes, this thing hoovering up concrete kilometers with aplomb. Sadly I wasn't given any opportunity to try its off-road chops. I'll have to save that for later, but when it comes to the usual daily grind for a crossover-SUV -- making the school run, weekend excursions to the mountains, that sort of thing -- the Seltos looks ideally suited for domestic bliss. 

That assumes, of course, that Kia will choose to bring the car to our shores. My drive was in South Korea in a Korean-spec car and the company isn't willing to confirm any plans about an American release. But with crossover-SUV sales booming in the US, Kia would be foolish not to. 

Kia

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

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