Although when the Kia Seltos first landed at the tail-end of last year it was a rather overdue addition to Kia’s lineup and a very late entrant into the competitive small SUV space, it seems as though it’s been able to pull it off, with sales for 2020 so far seeing it outselling fellow newcomer the Mazda CX-30, while staying right up the chuff of the Nissan Qashqai and Toyota C-HR, although it still trails the ever-popular Mitsubishi ASX by some margin.
But while I’ve already had a steer of the 2.0-litre front-wheel drive model in Sport+ guise and spoke quite positively of it although noting that it didn’t really serve up anything particularly different to the class norm, I’ve now been able to get my hands on the GT-Line variant you see here, which packs a punch when it comes to both the spec sheet and what’s lurking under its bonnet.
While it would be wrong to call the step-down Sport+ under-equipped, if you’re a fan of gadgetry like I am, the GT-Line can make it feel like it is. Quite a surprising feat in a modern car – and yes, even a range-topping one – there isn’t a single blank switch inside, which is how you know this thing is brimming with niceties.
A semi-digital instrument cluster (with a shift indicator light in Sport mode for some reason, despite the lack of paddles), retractable head-up display, an absolutely excellent 10.25-inch infotainment system with in-built navigation and smartphone mirroring, a Bose sound system, powered sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats with power adjustment and perforated leather, a heated steering wheel, and automatic climate control are all standard, leaving little to be desired as far as gadgets are concerned.
It’s got all the right active safety equipment fitted as standard, too, and perhaps most impressively of all features level two autonomous driving tech in the form of Kia’s Lane Following System, which, like Tesla’s Autopilot or Volvo’s Pilot Assist, will keep the car between the lines itself allowing you to more safely perform tasks like changing the climate controls or radio station, although like with all of these systems, it will only work for so long with both hands off the wheel before it starts bonging at you to put them back on it. That a car at this price point features it though is most impressive.
Dual-zone climate control is perhaps the only thing that’s missing, although its omission is to create a point of separation between the Seltos and Sportage, but otherwise it leaves little to be desired. That is, except for one thing – a bit of visual jazzing up.
Without wanting to sound too harsh, it’s a bit dull inside for a car bearing a sporty GT-Line badge on the back. Where’s the bespoke flat-bottomed steering wheel like you’d find in a Rio GT-Line, or the red leather and stitching of a Picanto GT, or the bucket seats of a Cerato GT? All three of those models are considerably cheaper than the Seltos, yet are far more interesting to spend time in.
It’s not that the Seltos’ cabin is bad or anything, as there are no overly offensive materials anywhere and it feels solidly pieced together, but a splash of colour wouldn’t go amiss – especially when there are plenty of nice additional touches to set it apart from other Seltos variants on the outside, my favourite of which is its unique light signature thanks to the nearly full-width lightbar running across the top of its grille.
Only the ultra-gimmicky but admittedly rather fun ‘Sound Mood Lamp’ adds any real colour to the otherwise overwhelmingly dark cabin, which at night flashes lights in the speaker grilles and above the glovebox in time with the music you’re listening to with a range of colours or moods to choose from. Is it a good laugh? Yes, but it’s the only one you’ll really be getting in this lavishly equipped but drably-adorned cabin.
However, there’s nothing too drab about the way the Seltos GT-Line drives, thankfully, meaning that badge does hold some relevance.
Under the bonnet, in place of the lower-tier models’ atmo 2.0-litre, it packs a familiar 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder used in many Kia and Hyundai models, with the version here given the less-powerful 130kW and 265Nm tune, although those are still very solid figures for the class.
It’s backed by a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and part-time all-wheel drive system, too, which is a step up from the front-drive models that use a CVT.
Although 20kW is shaved off the turbo mill’s typical power outputs in front-drive-only models, it still feels a responsive and punchy unit that pulls strongly all the way to redline in a way that truly belies its low displacement, although it can, admittedly, feel a tad choked up when you floor it at lower engine speeds unlike in its freer state of tune.
It gets the Seltos moving more briskly than you might expect, then, especially thanks to the excellent gearing and fairly prompt shifting of its dual-clutch auto. It’s a transmission that’s a bit smoother and easier to drive around town than most others of its kind, I found, and unlike a number of others, it hasn’t been plagued with any real reliability issues, with no horror stories to be told of it. It does occasionally hang onto gears for a tad too long after you’ve reached the speed you were accelerating to, but otherwise, it’s fairly well-mannered.
However, perhaps the biggest benefit of stepping up to the turbo drivetrain – which is, it should be noted, optionally available in the Sport+ but standard in the GT-Line – is the addition of the all-wheel drive system and the revised suspension setup that comes with it, as the front-driver’s rear torsion beam is swapped out for an independent multi-link setup.
Like with all Kias, it benefits from an Australia-specific suspension tune to help it better cope with our roads, and I have to say that the work the company’s local engineers have done on this is most impressive.
While with the torsion beam, the less sporty Seltos variants already delivered a very good ride and impressive handling, the way the turbocharged variant drives is truly excellent.
Even hits from the biggest of potholes fail to transfer through to the cabin, while it also remains quite flat and composed through the corners – if a bit too flat, as some detectable body roll before you reach the limits of adhesion and encounter understeer when really pushing it would perhaps be beneficial.
The all-wheel drive system is quick-witted and shuffles the power around very cleverly, and will happily send more of it rearwards when you put it into Sport mode, helping it feel very tractable.
It’s not bad on basic muddy trails and gravel roads as a result, either, with the ability to lock the system’s power split to 50:50 front and rear to alleviate any real traction issues, while the excellent ride quality translates as well off the beaten path as much as it does on it, meaning it serves up all the off-roading ability the average person could want for handling an unpaved track to a walking trail, picnic spot, or camping ground.
One other point worth noting is that turbo variants feature larger brakes than lower-level models as well – 305mm ventilated front discs and 284mm solid rears, up from 280mm and 262mm respectively – which feel to have great initial bite and good fade resistance.
If there’s any one catch to stepping all the way up to this GT-Line variant, it would have to be the price, as the $42,690 drive-away price tag does see it treading on the toes of a mid-spec Sportage. It’s also more than five grand more than the Sport+ model with the same turbo all-wheel drive powertrain, too.
While the budget-conscious buyer will be better off with a boosted Sport+, I do think the GT-Line’s many interior luxuries and slightly snazzier looks not only go a long way to making it feel as though it’s worth the premium, but it really does make it feel quite a premium product in general.
Given just how well it handles itself on or off the road, just how insanely well-equipped it is, and just how impressive Kia’s seven-year unlimited warranty still is, the GT-Line looks to be worth the premium to me at least.
2020 Kia Seltos GT-Line 1.6T AWD Drive-Away Price: $42,690 | As Tested: $43,210
Pros: Zippy performance, stacks of kit with not a blank switch in sight, excellent ride quality, standard semi-autonomous driving tech in something this affordable
Cons: Drab cabin ambiance, intrusive road noise, Sport+ turbo is considerably cheaper
In a nutshell: There’s no doubt that the turbocharged Seltos is a great steer, but whether the extra kit the GT-Line offers over the Sport+ is worth it is up to you.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Kia Motors Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel expenses were covered by the author.