Questions can be funny, especially when they are hurled at you from a height. I haven’t the slightest clue about human psychology, but people do love to get on a high horse. In this case, the relevance of compact SUVs to keen drivers was being questioned. And the logic was relatively simple: how can something made to handle everyday tasks satiate those who love judging corner grip through their palms and the seat of their pants? It’s an eccentric bunch of people (who love cars), so getting it right becomes all the more difficult — and even more so for a manufacturer new to the local market. The burgeoning success of the Kia Seltos might tell you that Kia’s managed to tick all the right boxes, but what does the Seltos do for the enthusiast? A well-paved road awaited us.
The road in question is the stretch between Gudalur and Ooty. It has a total of 36 tight hairpins, with the entire road being barely wide enough to fit just two cars. With a well-made barrier on the side, one need not worry about overshooting. But placing your car exactly where you’d want it to be is crucial. Lose momentum and you risk the chance of stalling. Turn a touch too much/too hard and you’re bound to go wide. Brake too late and you might lock up and hit the guard rail, or brake a little early and you’ll embarrass yourself. These are just a few of the things that can go wrong, and let’s not forget how essential it is to power out of the corners at the right moment.
The Kia Seltos pretty much had it covered everywhere, but there are a few points to emphasise upon. Firstly, what drives it: a 138-bhp/24.6-kgm turbocharged Smartstream 1.4 T-GDi Petrol engine mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. It makes mincemeat of highways with a strong push once the turbo spools up. In the hills, keep it at around 1500 rpm and you have enough poke to climb, turn, and even wheelspin your way out of corners. The shifts are smooth, but not vague, and you can properly slot each gear in which is reassuring. The disc brakes (on all four wheels) ensure that despite some substantial retardation repeated for longer than I can remember, there wasn’t any fade at all — it’d be interesting to see how the Seltos copes up at the racetrack. The chassis is no different from the components mentioned above, and what Kia has done is find the balance that doesn’t upset the ride quality and neither does the Seltos wallow too much.
The light steering makes controlling the Seltos effortless, but it offers enough feel telling you what’s happening in front of you. This becomes exceptionally helpful when making minute corrections to your line as you tackle the hairpins. Some of the successive bends made the Seltos shine. The way it can carry and lose speed is unimaginable, especially for a vehicle that’s not bound to tackle a million corners on the way to office/school. And it doesn’t disappoint there, either. Its other niceties, like the retracting heads-up display, are impressive on the highway, the range of cameras (including a 360-degree view) enables parking the Seltos in the tightest of parking space really easily — with you looking like an absolute parking ninja. What was also adored during the time with the Seltos were the blind-spot cameras. Never have we been so confident in changing lanes. It takes about an hour or so of driving to get used to, but there’s certainly no going back now.
We drove the Seltos from Mumbai to Ooty, subjecting it to a variety of traffic and road conditions. Even for those who don’t relish winters, Ooty is pleasant. While the main town is busy during the season, it’s easy to find peace here. And if you do that after putting some hard miles on the Seltos, with it flawlessly manoeuvring every single bend on your way, the feeling seems even better. The Seltos effectively challenges the notion that compact SUVs/crossovers can’t be fun. It’s only misery that its rivals don’t come anywhere close to it. Also, it’s time you get off your high horse and drove one instead.