Top-model little Kia SUV packed with kit

·4-min read

A friend recently asked what small SUV I would recommend for his teenage daughter. It happens a bit in this job.

Without hesitation, I steered him towards the Kia Seltos.

It's not all that long ago that I would have been reluctant to recommend a Korean car.

But it's a sign of how times have changed - and quickly - in this rapidly-expanding market segment.

The Seltos is one of a growing breed of new Korean SUVs hitting Australia, including its Kia stablemate, the recently-launched Stonic and, higher up the pecking order, the company's all-new flagship SUV, the Sorento.

There's also corporate cousin Hyundai's "twin beneath the skin" offerings like the entry-level Venue and the Seltos-sized Kona, recently facelifted.

But amid all of those, it's fair to say this is the one that has impressed us most.

It helped, of course, that we drove the Seltos in its ultimate form, the GT-Line with a drive-away price of $42,990 which is a pretty steep ask for a car this size. So we expected it to feel above average, and it certainly did.

This model gets all the bells and whistles, including heated and chilled leather seats and panoramic sunroof. But what won us over was the Stonic's stylish appearance, strong finish and impressive driving dynamics.

Stylistically it's a winner, with crisp, beautifully-balanced exterior lines complemented by a very "now" two-tone paint job (white at the bottom, black on the roof). It's a design we've recently admired on Volvo's baby SUV, the XC40.

Anyone who thinks they should peer down their nose at the Korean brands, and Kia in particular, should really get with the program. This is a car that reminds us more of a European badge, perhaps a Volvo or even an Audi, than something built on the Korean Peninsula..

The 1.6-litre, turbocharged engine (130KW, 265Nm) delivered sparkling performance in the Seltos, via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission which is only offered on the GT-Line and the slightly cheaper Sport variants. Other Seltos models make do with a less-lively engine and the smooth but monotonous CVT constantly-variable gearbox. Most are also front-wheel-drive while the GT enjoys all-wheel grip.

Electronic driver aids such as autonomous braking, collision warning and pedestrian detection are standard across the range; the high-spec GT-Line also gets front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, radar cruise control and lane-following assist, all of which help justify the price tag.

Inside it is modern and funky but in a much more up-market, high-tech kind of way than many rivals. The oversized 10.5-inch infotainment touch-screen (way more generous in size than even quality rivals like Mazda's CX-3), the touch of the buttons on the centre stack, and the clarity and detail of the instrument panel all combine to give the Seltos a premium feel.

Seats are not just heated but also ventilated, a rarity in cars of this ilk. There's also the matter of a Bose audio system which further pushes the Seltos up market.

All that gear also makes the Seltos more expensive than the likes of Mitsubishi's popular AS-X, Toyota's C-HR and its Hyundai equivalent, the $40,000 Kona.

Perhaps most surprisingly it sails within $1000 of the top-spec Mazda CX-30, recently named as Wheels' Car of the Year and a stand-out in this category. Keeping such impressive company only emphasises how smart the Seltos is.

Cockpit space is generous and thoughtfully designed, along with a useful 433 litres of rear cargo space.

It's admirably quiet on the road with engine and tyre feedback nicely dampened, and dynamically it turns and stops with assurance. That smart little engine also delivers efficiency of 7.6L/100km which is better than average for a 4WD of this size.

Would I buy one? Quite happily.

But then again, the Seltos ads, featuring very contemporary pop singer Billie Eilish, point to a slightly more youthful market. Haven't heard of her? Well this car might be just a bit too cool for you.

Perfect, then, for a friend's teenage daughter.

KIA SETOS GT LINE

* HOW BIG? For a compact SUV it delivers impressive interior space and plenty of room for random items in the back.

* HOW FAST? The Korean-made 1.6-litre, turbocharged engine gives the little Kia a spirited personality, complemented by its nimble handling and supple ride.

* HOW THIRSTY? Despite driving all four wheels, and carrying plenty of luxury items inside, the Seltos sips a very reasonable 7.6L/100km.

* HOW MUCH? It's not cheap with a drive-away price a tick over $42-grand, but its style, quality finishes and strong spec suggest it's still decent value.