Kia's smart Seltos is looking more stylish than ever, and it's also scored an updated turbo engine backed by a new transmission. So, how does it perform?

When the Kia Seltos first launched, it still wore Kia’s old badge and was an overdue entrant into the small SUV segment. Now, four years later, the Seltos is being given a refresh – complete with a trendy, Jack Harlow-soundtracked advertising campaign – to help it remain competitive in one of the most crowded and hotly contested segments in the market.

The facelifted 2023 Kia Seltos range consists of four trim levels with a naturally aspirated four-pot engine with a CVT and front-wheel drive standard across the range, while a turbocharged engine with a new torque converter automatic and all-wheel drive is optional on the top two trims. Although the range starts from $29,500 before on-road costs ($31,690 drive-away) for the base S FWD, here, we’re testing the top-spec GT-Line AWD model which comes in at $44,900 before on-roads ($47,690 drive-away).

While the general shape remains familiar, there are plenty of differences to be seen across the outside of the Seltos, with a revised headlight and taillight designs complementing the tweaked bumpers; a larger radiator grille, as is the trend; prominent new black side cladding; and revised alloy wheel designs across the range. All in all, it’s a smart-looking redesign that has definitely helped the Seltos shed its years and look fresher than ever.

Nine different paint schemes are offered across the range, with the Pluton Blue you see here being a new colour for 2023. As on my tester, it’s available with a two-tone Fusion Black roof exclusively on GT-Line models, although for some reason ticking that box means you miss out on the sunroof which would ordinarily be standard.

The interior also feels particularly renewed thanks to a curved dual screen display now used across the entire range, with all variants bar the base model scoring a pair of 10.25-inch screens for the gauges and infotainment system. It’s a similar setup you’ll find in other Kia models now such as the EV6, Niro, and Sportage, with it featuring purple neon sign-inspired icons that are perfectly fitting for the vibe Kia’s marketing puts across. It’s easily the most noteworthy change you’ll find inside the Seltos, yet it’s lifted its cabin ambiance drastically.

The GT-Line model tested here comes fully-loaded with black artificial leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, 10-way power adjustment and memory for the driver’s seat and 8-way power adjustment for the front passenger seat, a colour head-up display (although it’s projected onto a pop-up screen rather than the windscreen itself), ‘Sound Mood Lighting’ which sees the ambient interior lighting pulsate in time with your music, an eight-speaker Bose audio system for you to listen to said music through, and a new powered tailgate. It’s also the second Kia model after the Niro to include Kia Connect smartphone connectivity, allowing you to use your phone to start the vehicle remotely, check the vehicle status, and control settings such as the air con and heated seats.

There are a few interesting omissions though, as single-zone climate control remains across the entire range, while even illuminated vanity mirrors in the sun visor are limited to the top two grades. Only this GT-Line model scores wireless phone charging as well, yet wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is limited to only the base S variant. LED headlights and automatic wipers are also limited to this top-spec variant as well.

Being a small SUV, towing is hardly the Seltos’ strong suit with braked capacity rated at 1100kg for FWD models and 1250kg for the AWD version tested here. However, country buyers will still be glad to see that a full-size spare wheel is standard on all variants bar the base model.

Even with it, cargo capacity is rated at 433 litres with the second-row seats in place with that expanding to 1393 litres with the second-row folded down, putting it almost on par with SUVs a class above it. The S model with its space-saver spare bumps that up to 468/1428 litres. Given its overall dimensions, the amount of room for both front and rear-seat occupants is impressive as well.

The Seltos comes loaded with new safety technology including lane following assist, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, safe exit assist, and intelligent speed limit assist, although the latter system is quite overbearing – stray even 1km/h over the speed limit and it’ll bong at you mercilessly, while if you turn the system off it no longer displays the posted speed limit on the dashboard at all. As before, the Seltos bears a five-star ANCAP safety rating based off 2019 testing.

READ MORE: The Kia EV6 GT-Line RWD offers tail-happy fun and impressive electric driving range

While the standard 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine remains unchanged from in the pre-facelift Seltos, Kia has updated the optional 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot tested here considerably for 2023. Power is up 12 percent, taking it to 146kW at 6000rpm while torque remains unchanged at 265Nm from 1600-4500rpm. While its all-wheel drive system remains the same, the transmission linking the engine to it has been changed from a seven-speed dual-clutch unit to a new eight-speed torque converter automatic promising a smoother driving experience.

Certainly, the extra power Kia has extracted from this engine can be felt higher up in the rev range – unsurprising given valve timing was one of its greatest changes – where it feels punchy and eager. However, lower down in the rev range, there still feels to be a hint of hesitancy to its power delivery.

I’m not so sure about the new torque converter auto, either. There’s no question that it’s a better transmission when driving in city traffic as it’s far smoother there than the old DCT, but when you want to take advantage of that extra power the 2023 Seltos has it’s not quite as responsive as you’d like, taking a noticeable pause to slip down a few ratios to deliver the burst of acceleration you’re after. There’s no longer a set of paddles on the back of the wheel to command it with either.

The locally-developed suspension tune remains unchanged for the 2023 Seltos, with it remaining fairly comfortable on most roads, although some of the potholes that lined my Adelaide test routes could send a bit of a thud through the cabin. That’s in large part due to the 18-inch alloy wheels the GT-Line model wears; if you’re after better ride quality, the Sport+ model can be had with the same turbo engine but smaller 17-inch wheels with fatter tyre sidewalls.

It handles quite tidily, with any traces of understeer only present when you push the Seltos right to the limit and body roll remaining quite well contained. However, what’s a bit of a let-down is the firm feel of its steering, with a high degree of resistance felt through the tiller even without it set to Sport mode.

The new transmission might be smoother, but it hasn’t exactly helped the Seltos’ fuel consumption much as I saw a return of 9.4L/100km over the course of 586km of testing compared to a mere 7.4L/100km claim on paper, although in city traffic I found that number regularly crept up over 10L/100km. Looking through my records, I saw fuel consumption of just 8.2L/100km in the old model with its DCT driving in similar conditions, so that’s a noticeable increase here. For reference, I saw just 7.3L/100km in the unchanged base FWD version I last tested in 2020.

As always, the 2023 Seltos is covered by Kia’s seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty with seven years of capped price servicing. Turbocharged models require servicing every 12 months/10,000km at an average cost of $497 per visit over that period. Naturally aspirated variants are less expensive at $434 on average, and have a longer 15,000km service interval.

While the Seltos’ looks are fresher than ever and especially in this Pluton Blue hero hue that looks every bit as cool as it does in the ads, it’s the way the Seltos drives that’s now letting it down. The extra power is undoubtedly nice to have and the new transmission is smoother in traffic, but it comes at great detriment to its fuel consumption. Before, you could have your cake and eat it too, but now you’ll be paying the price for the Seltos’ performance quite literally.

Despite this, the brilliant styling tweaks and improved interior only increase its appeal to all buyer sets, with this being a car that singles, couples, or young families could all find plenty to like about for their respective needs.

Unless you really need all-wheel drive for the odd beach day or camping trip, I’d recommend city buyers stick to the base naturally aspirated engine with its improved fuel economy and running costs – not to mention a $3100 saving on the initial purchase price.

2023 Kia Seltos GT-Line 1.6T AWD Drive-Away Price: $47,690
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Looks more stylish than ever, extra top-end power is welcome, torque converter auto is a lot smoother in traffic, wrap-around digital dash lifts its cabin considerably
Cons: Updated drivetrain is considerably thirstier than before, heavy steering feel, two-tone paintwork deletes the sunroof, bizarre specification omissions

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Kia Motors Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.

Patrick Jackson
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