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2024 Kia Seltos SX is Korea’s teal turbo tiger

2024 Kia Seltos SX is Korea’s teal turbo tiger

By VJ Bacungan

Sometimes, a second chance is all it takes to make magic happen. Actor Robert Downey Jr. gained prominence in the ‘80s and ‘90s for his various film roles, as well as notoriety for his arrests related to drug dependence. After getting out of rehab, he slowly got back in the “A-list,” especially with his appearances in blockbuster films like “Iron Man” and “Tropic Thunder.”

Then, there’s the late rock legend Tina Turner, who had to start from scratch after leaving her abusive husband and singing partner in the mid-1970s. After years of slugging it out on her own, she reached international stardom in 1984 (already in her mid-50s) with her “Private Dancer” album and its electrifying anthem, “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”

It’s much the same with cars – some may be wondrous, but these simply did not have what it took to get to the top of the sales charts. The Kia Seltos subcompact crossover is one of many that fell into obscurity following its launch in November 2019.

But this latest Seltos, now sporting a much-needed facelift and backed by its truly reinvigorated distributor AC Mobility, looks to be the hit it has long deserved to be.

Unmistakably suave

In the week that I had this top-of-the-line Seltos SX, everyone had their eyes glued to it, thinking it was the larger Sorento crossover or Carnival minivan.

This means Kia has succeeded with the revamped styling on two levels – first, the Korean carmaker has made the Seltos look more expensive, and second, it has truly incorporated the “Tiger-nose” look that is defining Kias in this decade, led by the EV9 battery-electric crossover.

Besides the striking nose flanked by automatic LED headlights, eye-catching cues for this SX model include the two-tone 17-inch alloy wheels, aluminum-look roof rails and full-length LED taillights. The squared-off roofline at the front windows and the upward kink in the rear-quarter windows are likewise impressive Seltos trademarks.

Finally, the Pluton Blue paint scheme (exclusive to the SX variant) is truly unique to Kia, providing rich teal hue that makes the Seltos stand out amid the dreary silvers and the tacky reds or oranges of its rivals.

Cosseting, spacious cabin

Inside, the Seltos roundhouse kicks rival like the Honda HR-V Turbo by offering substantially more space for five passengers.

In addition, soft leather is abound the cabin, although the hard plastics on the dashboard and the door cards diminish the luxurious ambiance.

But unlike the lunacy of Chinese crossovers, the buttons for the radio and the powerful dual-zone climate control system are separate. This means you don’t have to navigate 685 submenus to change the station or adjust the fan speed.

Similarly well-designed are the single-piece digital display for the 10.25-inch gauge cluster and the 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system that provides clarity and responsiveness that make you remember that this car is from the Smartphone Capital of the East. However, the gauge cluster is quite dim at night and it would be nice to add more brightness.

Nonetheless, the Seltos SX also comes standard with fabulous features like a panoramic moon-roof, wireless charging pad, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, and air-conditioned seats (proving extremely useful in this skin-baking summer).

Stout performance

The biggest news for the Seltos is under the hood.

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Gone is the so-so naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-4 engine, replaced by a turbocharged 1.4-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve four-banger exclusive to the SX variant. This produces 140 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 242 Newton-meters of torque at 1,500 to 3,200 rpm.

Don’t let the numbers fool you – this Seltos SX is quick, providing strong acceleration and linear turbo boost from 2,000 rpm all the way to the red line. The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) provides smooth yet lightning-quick shifts to fully maximize the power, but a manual mode would have been appreciated at this price point.

All this performance is reined in by powerful disc brakes all around, assisted by the clever Forward-Collision Avoidance Assist and Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go. However, the brake pedal is a bit spongy and the active-safety assists, oddly enough, don’t include blind-spot monitoring.

In addition, the DCT needs some more tweaking in low-speed driving, especially when tackling inclines. The gearbox sometimes feels like it’s slipping and can’t decide which gear it wants to use. Thankfully, the Seltos SX offers impressive fuel economy, getting 8 to 11 km/l in the city and 17 to 20 km/l on the expressway. This point alone would make me choose this over the smaller and terribly thirsty Geely Coolray.

Driving the Seltos is a relaxing affair – the numb steering may feel like you’re mixing cream in a bowl, but it is very light and offers good responsiveness. The suspension is also tuned for comfort, but stiffer springs and dampers would make it more composed over bumps and around corners.

Comeback kid

This reborn Seltos, particularly the top-spec P1,688,000 SX model, puts Kia Philippines back in fighting form.

The company now has a well-sized, well-equipped, and well-priced crossover for Filipinos who want to move up from their sedans, but cannot afford the eye-watering price of admission of the Honda CR-V or the Toyota RAV4, nor are willing to test the (non-territorial) waters with Chinese brands.

Indeed, Kia has moved into the market vacated by legacy Japanese brands, who are trying to do battle at this price point with the smaller Toyota Corolla Cross and Honda HR-V. Looks like the time is ripe for the Seltos’ second chance.

Go get ‘em, tiger!