Kia, the Korean automaker now merged with Hyundai, and once famous only for its small, entry-level cars, is now a full-line car company with no fewer than thirteen different models. There are six cars—ranging from the premium Cadenza and K900, to the mainstream Optima, Rio, Forte, as well as the very sporty Stinger, a minivan named Sedona that is now looking more like an upscale crossover, plus six actual crossovers that range from the subcompact Niro hybrid and Soul, to the compact Sportage, to the mid-size Sorento and full-size Telluride, which is redefining how American’s look at the brand.

Add this week’s Seltos to the mix, another compact class offering that slots into the lineup just below the Sportage, and is just slightly larger than the Soul. The Seltos—sharing a platform with Hyundai’s Kona and the Niro, is taller, more spacious inside, and still offers optional AWD with a locking button for low-speed 4WD capabilities.

The Seltos immediately sets itself apart from its primary rivals, Jeep Compass, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Kicks, with more distinctive styling. Seen here in top SX trim, ($21,990 base price, $29,485 as shown) the Seltos wears brilliant Starbright Yellow paint complimented by a black roof. This two-tone paint scheme is stylish and well-executed, a theme that the industry is using more of to draw clear distinctions between modest and expressive styling.

While the Niro and Kona feel closer to tall cars, the Seltos feels more like a crossover, with a raised hip point a few inches higher. This improves ingress and egress for all occupants, increases ground clearance for occasional soft-roading or snow-drift busting, and generally aids forward visibility as more and more vehicles grow in size.

Once again, the interior makes major points as Kia (and Hyundai) have used their new-found engineering prowess to create functional, comfortable space that is not only full of the content that consumers crave, but the surfaces, textures, and controls that help differentiate the brands for price-conscious consumers. An optional 10.3-inch touchscreen, stocked with the entertainment pieces that users expect (Apple/Android/XM/Navigation/more) works in concert with the fluid instrument panel to create an efficient cabin. SX trim brings heated leather seats, big sunroof, remote start, automatic climate control and power lift gate, as well as the full Kia Drivewise driver-assist portfolio of electronic safety aids—that are optional on other trim levels. To borrow an old phrase—this is not your grandfather’s Kia.

Power comes from two four-cylinder engines. A 146-hp 2.0-liter is standard, combined with a CVT automatic. Our optional 1.6-liter Turbo engine spins out 175-hp and a nerve-tingling 195-pound/feet of peak torque, running through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. Low speed power delivery can sometimes be less than lineal, often a trait of dual-clutch automatics as they balance power request and efficiency, however the potent rush served up by the turbo-motor makes this Seltos a strong performer against the crop of competitors that lack this option. Again, the proliferation of German engineers that now work for Kia have brought technologies and design from BMW and Mercedes to Kia.

Handling is secure, the ride is balanced, and our fuel economy exceeded the EPA estimates of 25/30-mpg by two miles per gallon. Rear seat space is ample.

Misses; the cabin could be a little quieter at highway speeds, the Seltos, like many Kia/Hyundai models, does not remember screen selections or retain safety control functions from start to start (like stop/start deactivation) and the auto climate system resisted our best efforts to find the happy medium of cooled/warm air for the season without AC.

Hits include the attractive styling and stance, the well-defined interior layout, the up-level content for the price, plus the kick-in-the-pants fun of the turbo motor. As it has done in the past, Kia offers big bang for the buck in this package—that still includes the 10-year/100,000 mile warranty coverage. While you were sleeping, Kia has earned top honors in the J.D. Power Initial Quality ratings for five straight years.

Like the hot-selling Telluride crossover, this Seltos punches above its weight class and should expand Kia’s success in the ever-growing crossover wars.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.