Kia must be tired of breath-mint jokes by now, so I’ll just say that I have no idea what “seltos” are, but I am impressed with their incarnation in steel. At a time when the average new-car price in America hovers just below $48,000, this well-equipped, attractive and fun-to-drive subcompact AWD SUV bears a sticker price of $33,085—and it’s no warmed-up leftover, but a thoroughly refreshed 2024 model.
“Subcompact” means that when we found this waiting for us in the parking lot at the airport, we were unable to fit two large hard-side suitcases into the cargo bay. One bag had to be slid into the back seat. There might have been room to stack them atop each other if the Seltos’ roofline didn’t descend so stylishly at the rear. But then the vehicle wouldn’t be so . . . stylish.
Had we folded down the back seat, there would have been scads of room for bags. The back seat itself does not feel subcompact; it is right-sized, for two people. The front seats are comfortable indeed, but only the driver’s adjusts electrically. Despite its looks, this is an inexpensive car, even our range-topping SX model.
The Seltos is available in four lesser trim levels as well, from the $26K front-wheel-drive LX up through the S, EX and X-Line before reaching the SX. Base models get a 2-litre, 147-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission. More expensive versions such as this one have a smaller (1.6-litre) but stronger turbocharged Four that for 2024 makes 195 horsepower and 195 torques. It is connected to an 8-speed automatic transmission with Econ, Normal or Sport driving modes.
This upgraded powertrain, with the all-independent suspension, all-wheel drive and a stiff chassis, makes the Seltos responsive and lively. It’s also quiet and—again, for the price—notably refined.
The SX trim includes a long list of amenities such as dual computer screens, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone chargers in front and back, heated and cooled front seats, automatic climate control, a smart key with pushbutton start, electronic e-brake, LED lighting, interactive cruise control with stop & go, lane-keeping assist, rear crossing alert, emergency braking assist, controls in the steering wheel, Bose satellite radio, power sunroof and liftgate, and more. Everyone who rode in the Seltos over-estimated its price by thousands.
But of course that’s the Korean carmaker’s (Hyundai and Kia are parts of the same company) party trick: Value for money backed up by long warranties. And now, clean, crisp, outstanding design, too, across both badge ranges.
There is an entire ecosystem of small $30K SUVs out there, most of them from Korea and nearly all of them attractive, competent and well equipped. It’s hard to reconcile this with the aforementioned record-high average price of a new car today. Are carmakers using some of the profits from the top end of their ranges to subsidize the low end, where new young buyers feed, and—it is to be hoped—get hooked? Smart move.
Next week: Mercedes-Benz EQS 580