Does a turbo engine give the Kia Seltos SUV some extra soul?
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Kia Seltos Limited AWD
- Lots of character for a family SUV
- Proper 50/50 lock for the AWD system
- Premium equipment level
- Fidgety dual-clutch transmission
- Thirstier than you’d think
- Firm ride in urban driving
Korean carmakers love to put little ditties in cars. In the Kia Seltos for example, you get an electronic tune in the cabin when you turn the car on and a different one when you shut the engine down.
I’ve just realised the brief ignition-off theme in the Seltos Limited AWD is the same as the ringtone on my phone: it’s the Windows XP audio signature from 2001, which I chose after much thought to make myself appear clever and ironic.
This is the thing about Kia and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Hyundai. They want to be a bit left-of-centre where possible, yet they’re also aiming directly for the mainstream. It’s a fine line.
Read more: Is the Kia Seltos a NZ game changer?
The Seltos Limited is quirky in places: layers of light at the front (check out the LED grille bar), a side rubbing strip with a racing chicane and a Sound Mood Lamp inside that pulses in time with whatever you’re listening to on the entertainment system (shades of the flashing speakers in the idiosyncratic first-generation Soul).
And yet, is there anything more mainstream than a small-medium SUV? So it’s the job of the Seltos to have fun without being silly, because this type of vehicle still has to please most of the people most of the time.
If sales figures are anything to go by, Kia seems to have judged this whole thing perfectly. Seltos is currently the second-best-selling new SUV in NZ, beaten only by the evergreen Toyota RAV4. The next SUV on the list (at number five overall) is also a Kia, by the way: the Sportage.
Our Seltos Limited AWD is therefore the best of Kia’s best. Or the best of the second-best if you want to keep the RAV4 in the picture.
At $46,990 this flagship model is loaded with Limited trappings: “composite” leather seats with heating/ventilation up front, LED lights on the outside including the top grille bar, that six-theme/eight-colour Sound Mood Lamp, larger TFT instrument cluster, Bose sound system and 18-inch alloys.
There are actually two Limited models: the 2.0l and this 1.6l, which happens to be the more expensive one despite having a smaller engine. That’s because it has a turbocharger attached, giving an extra 20kW/85Nm.
It also happens to be the only Seltos you can buy with AWD, the only one with a dual-clutch gearbox (every other model is CVT) and the only one with multi-link rear suspension. If you care about driver appeal, this looks like an extra $4k pretty well-spent.
That’s not to say the Limited AWD is a performance machine; just a noticeably more brisk and sophisticated iteration of the Seltos SUV. It’s the extra torque that really makes the difference, allowing the Limited to lope along and make the most of its seven transmission ratios.
Yes, “ratios”. The CVT (or IVT, for Intelligent Variable Transmission, as Kia calls it) fitted to lesser Seltos models is actually a pretty good execution of the technology. But nothing beats having actual gears, right? Especially when it’s a dual-clutch system.
It’s not all sweet shifting, though. The 7DCT is a bit sluggish at low speed and on mild inclines, where it gets a snip confused. It’s almost like Kia’s tried to give it a bit of CVT character.
It’s much better when you’re pressing on, although even in Sport mode you never get the super-fast swaps you might experience from Volkswagen Group’s similar DSG technology.
The chassis, too, works better on the open road than in town. The ride’s firmish in urban running – not terrible but nervous enough for passengers to notice. But at speed, the car’s impressive balance and the extra talent of the multi-link rear suspension let you get a real flow on through the corners.
The AWD is an on-demand system, so you’ll feel it slipping and re-engaging on wet roads. The extra traction is definitely there, but you can feel the car working to provide it. It offers one welcome feature that’s becoming increasingly rare in crossover SUVs: a proper 50/50 lock setting, which means you can tackle some properly slippery stuff.
You do pay for the upscale powertrain at the pump. The engine needs 95 octane for a start. And while the ADR fuel consumption figure of 7.6l/100km looks okay given the get-up-and-go, it’s hard to replicate in the real world. We struggled to stay in the eights, even in gentle motorway driving.
Beyond the accoutrements of Limited specification, the Seltos is pretty good at doing stuff an SUV is supposed to do. It’s usefully compact for city parking (235mm shorter than a RAV4), relatively roomy and practical – including a two-step recline for the rear seats – and boasts an impressive level of fit and finish.
The infotainment screen even has a touch of BMW about it, with a widescreen format and tile layout that can display a combination of phone projection information (music playing on Android Auto, for example) with other stuff from the car’s own operating system.
Many of the perceived glitches in the Limited AWD model aren’t really such an issue, because if you’d like a Seltos Limited that’s smoother in town and less thirsty, you can have that: the 2.0l model, which looks exactly the same so you lose little in status and equipment.
All you have to do is decide which version is singing your song.
KIA SELTOS LIMITED AWD
ENGINE: 1.6l turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: 7-speed automated double-clutch transmission (7DCT), AWD