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July 25, 2019

First Drive: 2020 Kia Seltos 1.6 T-GDi

Samgyupsal. Black Pink. Finger hearts. Korean pop culture has invaded the Philippines in a very big way. So, it’s a surprise that their cars haven’t done the same. Though they’ve made in-roads in some segments—small budget cars and people movers to name two, they’re not household names yet. In life, changes happen in small, baby steps; once in a while though, a giant leap happens. For Kia, the Seltos is one of those times.

A glance alone is enough to see that Kia’s scored a homerun yet again with the Seltos. While the longevity of the design is up for debate, it’s interesting, fun, and hip—perfect for today’s Instagram generation. Taken individually, each design element feels exaggerated, overly ornamental, and maybe even a bit like a caricature. However, when taken together, it works well. It gives off the same playful vibe (and head-turning stares) as the Suzuki Jimny, minus the retro. It rides on the same platform as the Hyundai Kona, but looks wider, bigger, and simply, better thought of.

Sadly, that futuristic, slightly weird, crease-free polyester vision of the future doesn’t quite extend to the Seltos’s interior. There are still some playful elements like the center-tunnel mounted grab handle and music-connected ambient lighting, but it still feels too close to Corporate Kia down to some disappointingly hard plastic on the dashboard and door panels.

While the Seltos loses some points in interior design, the straightforwardness means it’s very easy to understand. Ergonomically, it’s well-polished with the chunky three-spoke steering wheel, nicely-bolstered seats, and controls positioned where you’d expect to find them. The seating is closer to that of a hatchback than an SUV, but there’s still excellent visibility all around.

Now, normally sub-compact crossovers prioritize front seat comfort over everything else, but the Seltos takes a different approach. Dimensionally, it offers more head-, shoulder, and leg room in both first and second rows compared to the Honda HR-V—a crossover that’s generally considered large for its size.

But more than that, they’ve managed to sculpt the rear seats as not to overly punish the person sitting in the middle. Plus, the rear seats offer adjustable recline (from 26 to 32 degrees), A/C vents, and even a USB charging port.

Oh, and given Kia’s emphasis on tech-savvy buyers, the Seltos’s infotainment system is sublime. The screen size alone is huge (10.25 inches at its biggest and 8 inches at its smallest), but it scores high in functionality as well. This is the first in the segment that allows two devices to pair via Bluetooth simultaneously. This means, the driver can use his mobile phone’s hands-free feature (including Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), while the passenger can listen to his music playlist on a different mobile device.

At the back, the Seltos offers 498 liters of trunk space, again the biggest in its class. The trunk floor is movable too, either creating a secondary storage compartment in its upper position, or a deeper floor in its lower position.

Globally, the Seltos is also offered with a normally-aspirated 2.0-liter engine, but for its global outing, only one spec was made available: the turbocharged (T-GDI) 1.6-liter engine making 177 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 265 Nm of torque at 1,500 to 4,500 rpm. In this guise, Kia says the Seltos should do 0-100 km/h in 8 seconds—faster than a Subaru Forester or Mazda CX-5. Floor the accelerator, and it does return a strong and satisfying shove. Better still, the power is actually controllable. Light taps of the go-fast pedal won’t send it rocketing forward uncontrollably. It’s measured, but still maintaining a light, lithe runabout feel. Honestly, the only thing lacking is a memorable soundtrack. As it stands, the music from the car’s pipes is just too hushed.

The only transmission paired with the turbocharged engine is a 7-speed dual clutch automatic. While this may elicit some thoughts of jerkiness and shuddering, Kia’s managed to eliminate all that in the Seltos. Despite deliberate attempts to confuse the transmission, it maintains its composure very well.

Already more than capable of keeping up with the big boys, the Seltos does the handling bit just as well, too. It still doesn’t fully make an emotional connection with the driver, but it’s actually nimble and a bit of fun to toss around. With a 5.3-meter turning radius, it turns on a dime, but weighs up nicely at speed. There’s some general firmness to the ride, but nothing that borders on the stiff. The cabin’s isolated very well too, except perhaps when going over large potholes.

The final Philippine market specs have yet to be revealed, but it must be realized that Kia’s ingredients for success have been there for quite some time, as evidenced by the Stinger and the Forte GT. They simply needed a bigger audience for more people to realize that. By targeting the sub-compact crossover segment, they’ve found the perfect platform. The Seltos isn’t just a perfect example of how far the design and engineering’s gone in the past few years, but for as long as Kia does it right and prices it well (it is said to hover around the P 1 to P 1.2 million mark), Filipinos won’t just be thinking of Jisoo, Jennie, Rose, and Lisa when they think of Korea; they’ll be thinking of Seltos, Sportage, Soluto, and Sorento as well.

2020 Kia Seltos Major Specifications
  • Overall Length: 4,370 mm
  • Overall Height: 1,615 mm
  • Overall Width: 1,800 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,630 mm
  • Ground Clearance: 170-179 mm (179 mm, as tested)
  • Curb Weight: 1,345 kg
  • Engine: 1.6-liter T-GDi
  • Maximum Power: 177 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
  • Maximum Torque: 265 Nm @ 1,500-4,500 rpm
  • Transmission: 7-speed DCT
  • 0-100 km/h: 8.0 seconds
  • 80-120 km/h: 5.3 seconds
  • Top Speed: 208 km/h
  • Fuel Tank: 50 liters
  • Front Brakes: Vented Disc, 305 mm
  • Rear Brakes: Solid Disc, 284 mm
  • Wheel Size: 235/45 R 18 (as tested)
  • Front Suspension: Independent, MacPherson Strut
  • Rear Suspension: Coupled Torsion Beam Axle
  • Turing Radius: 5.3 meters


  1. Where's the part of the article that says we cant have the GDI option due to low quality fuel issues? So were stuck with a five year old 2.0 liter carry over engine to be sold at GDI engine prices? Just saying.

    1. We still don't know what engine we'll be getting. Everyone drove the 1.6 T-GDi...that's the only engine available during the drive.

    2. This Car wont be saleable as Kia might be expected because the Local distributor feels too much pride of it's vehicle hi-quality that's why it's pricey, but in reality Pinoy Consumer still thinks Kia as a secondary class and cheap Car. Lower the price and you will see the result. Boom.

  2. Just sad that we never get the value of what we pay for in the Philippines for new models considering that the local prices are at par with the foreign valuations, but we get less toys and a carry over outdated engine touted as "all new".

  3. Not liking the front grill. By leaving a gap below it looks like a gapping mouth of a toddler with a tooth sticking out. It's just plain ugly.

  4. too expensive, with less features. price it like MG does and you will have a hit. look at suzuki.


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