Two meaningful takeaways from Kia’s 2020 Seltos SX, an urbanely-styled compact SUV that looks like it’s simultaneously trying to give Land Rover’s new Defender and Subaru’s Forester a run for their money. First, the fairly-inexpensive Seltos is packed with technology in a fashion similar to which Japanese automakers became renowned in the 1980s. Second, nobody looking at it would believe how lovely this thing rides.
For a shade less than $30,000, the Seltos has a 1.6-L turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cylinder engine, a 7-speed (wet) dual-clutch automated-manual transmission, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, even LED headlights. Then there’s an expansive suite of advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) technology and top-line electronic and driver-interface features, including a vivid 10-inch central touchscreen. The cabin is the electronics match for vehicles costing twice as much. The only trade-off? Virtually all the touchable plastics are vividly low-rent.
Equally amazing is that this small SUV, which Kia said is meant for the paper-thin white space between its funky Soul and the mainstream Sportage, has the supple and confident damping of a luxury sedan. There’s pothole-smothering absorbency – itself a rare attribute for anything “compact” – yet more-than-acceptable body control when you engage a backroads workout for the 175 hp the turbocharged 1.6-L manufactures. We were blown away time and again by the Seltos’ utter disregard for every kind of bad road surface.
We wouldn’t put a lot of stock in the off-road abilities of this decidedly car-like wagon-thing and after taking in the hard-plastic cabin fittings, you wouldn’t be wrong in suggesting the near-$30,000 price is pushing it, regardless of the Seltos SX’s extensive content. But the wide dynamic capabilities of the 2020 Seltos SX – particularly its creamy-but-capable ride – put it at the top of the segment.
2020 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD
Base price: $27,890
As tested: $29,485
Highs: High-quality ride; premium driveline and electronic tech
Lows: Downmarket cabin materials; small 1.6-L is soft at the upper end of the tach
Takeaway: Offbeat but enticing package reminiscent of 1980s Japanese cars.