The Indian auto industry is going through its toughest period seen in the recent past. CEOs, politicians, general public and I feel the cars themselves were screaming out loud! Well, in all this turmoil, the world’s 4th largest auto market saw a host of launches in July 2019, restoring faith in the minds of the youth who run the largest democracy in the world, that all is not lost. We saw launches from Hyundai in the EV segment; BMW launched their most expensive SUV (with the largest kidney grill ever seen by mankind!!) and their most expensive sedan (I don’t know if I can call that gigantic form a sedan) in the 7-series. Well even India’s biggest carmaker gave a Botox injection to its people carrier, the ertiga and called it the XL7 (if only chrome could make cars premium). However the bigger news for me personally was the big bang entry of two manufacturers – Morris Garages (MG) and Kia Motors. It defied all logic when I first saw the news. The industry was sliding down faster than my nephew could in his playground and yet two big brands deciding to come and join the party making massive investments in setting up a manufacturing plant each and creating a dealer network in one of the most diverse countries! That was pretty badass according to me. I wonder how the board meeting would have gone for both these companies when they made this decision. But then, finally, when the knights for both these kingdoms were unveiled who was going to fight the battle for India, God oh God was I interested more than ever! The MG unveiled the Hector which boasted about premium build, more space than an apartment in Mumbai and a personal assistant built in who can do everything other than make your morning cuppa (or can it?). This went head on with the segment leader creta and the Tata’s foray into SUVs (with some help from Land Rover), the Harrier. Things were looking great for the hector and it took India by storm. It had things that Indians had never seen and it had more flaunt value than that of a Delhi dude! In the words or my friend, you get a flat screen TV that talks back to you, what more do you want! Well I would say POWER for starters! Things were looking great till the so called Badass came in from Korea and this is where things got interesting; really interesting! Kia is known to make great looking cars, with a premium feel to it and yet they don’t ask for your kidney to have one. I drove a Kia in the US and loved, well just how everything felt and worked. It had the controls at the right places and also everything you need without any fuss. I had great expectations from the Seltos and might I admit, given the history, I was confident it will be a good car. But will it be good enough to take on the bling machine from China, I wasn’t that sure, and boy did Kia make me wait. They kept teasing every damn Indian channel and YouTube with a talking lemur. While it was an interesting take on advertising, the lemur was getting annoying. Then finally in the first week of August, the Seltos was unveiled and like every Kia car, the design looked good, really good, infact extremely good. The car had the right proportions for a mid size SUV, had lines at the right places, enough chrome to notice but lesser than what is needed to blind you, the stance of an SUV but the car actually being a crossover, and finally with options that requires 2 pages to write and a feature list that would be longer than the Mahabharata if you make a book out of it. In the interim, I thought I should have a look at the Hector as well. So the rest of my article will be split into two, talking about the Chinese SUV and the Korean.
To start off with, I was blown away by the way hector looks when you look straight at it. It has the interesting headlamp arrangement which every manufacturer seems to be adopting. The DRLs looked good, a big grill in the front, butch looking bumpers and a nice cluster of projector headlamps and a tall stance. All this is brilliant till you move to the side and your expectations falls to a size as small as those R17s trying hard to fill up those SUV like wheel arches who are calling out for bigger wheels. This is the most disgusting looking angle. But things changed when I pulled those chrome finished door handles and got in. I am greeted by this large screen and a very airy cabin which would have put my first rented apartment in Andheri to shame. The connected car tech was really cool and I spent a good 30 minutes exploring everything and I must say the sales advisor was very very patient answering all my questions (obviously he needed more training). Then it was time to take the hector on to the road. A brief 15 minute wait later I got the petrol auto. I climbed in, adjusted my seat (powered ones). The 1.5 liter mill produced around 140 horses and 250 Nm of torque and was mated to a dual clutch transmission (which the sales advisor struggled to explain). On paper this looked good, good enough actually. When I pressed the engine start button, the refinement was top class and the flat screen TV lit up and there came my first distraction. I got acquainted with it and drove off. The transmission worked flawlessly till I found an open road and floored it. This is when the hector struggled, really struggled. The transmission didn’t kick down, there was a delay that even my dad in the back seat could notice and then the engine revved and that’s all. Forward movement didn’t come in, well lets say adequately! I was disappointed then and there. Did MG think they could distract people with a gigantic thingy and take away the core thing that a car is supposed to have? Then I found a few more niggles. The thing is my mom is not very comfortable in closed spaces and she is very finicky about air con management. When I wanted to change the temperature, the voice command didn’t recognize my desi accent and for manual intervention I had to take my eyes off the road and play with that gigantic screen which was right now set to navigate back to the showroom (which was my earlier command). Then my mom bought out another point and she spoke in Malayalam so that the sales guy isint offended (her logic). She said the roof is not well built and feels like paper. Well, what she meant is the massive panoramic sunroof cover was made of a material that looked and felt as fragile as a JK copier A3 sheet. I was so lost into the panoramic roof that I completely missed it. Finally she got off and again said, the powered tail gate button is too high for her to reach, but MG had thought about it and it could be held at a level comfortable for her. Not bad I say! On my way back home, I was disappointed at the power delivery and was looking like a guy whose GI JOE was taken away. Don’t get me wrong, the interiors were good for, well, a Chinese car. The engine was adequate for most part, it looked good from the front but was a let down from the side. It had more features than I would ever use on a daily basis but the issue remained, the features that I wanted to use every day like the radio, aircon, demanded me to take my eyes of the road. Well I am not in the mood to kill a few people doing that, will let Thanos do it! My mom was impressed with the space but wasn’t happy with the roof and the way she was shaken in the back seat. Yes the car had noticeable body roll.
This then brings me to the Kia Seltos. I went through the long list of permutations and combinations of engine, variant and transmissions available. Trust me, it had more combinations that your chaat guy round the corner. Even though my heart went straight for the 1.4 Turbo petrol with DCT (Power, power and power), I still wanted to experience the 1.5 petrol and the 1.5 liter BS6 oil burner. By the way, fun fact, all Kia cars are BS6 ready. They claim they have tested on BS4 fuel extensively but then its to be seen. Before I get to the engine and transmission options, I just want to go straight out and say that she looked stunning from every angle. The front with its tiger grill and DRLs till the center, the heartbeat indicators and the LED fog lamps and the LED headlamps (where it should be) all looked well designed. Well this is a design I understand. Things need to be in proportion in life for the mind to feel happy and the Seltos did that. When I got into the interiors the first thing I noticed is that the car is well put together. It had a premium feel to it and had minimal or no panel gaps, and that reassuring “thunk” when you close the doors was a testament. On the inside you get an ipad and not an outrageously big flat screen TV. It seamlessly integrates with the dashboard and is vibrant. It doesn’t have a panoramic sunroof but a standard one. Where the Seltos does a one up is with the HUD which shows speed and navigation info without you having to take your eyes off the road (this is thoughtful, please note MG). It also has an air purifier system, so the air inside your cabin is better than the outside Delhi air you breathe (LOL, Delhi get your act together). Finally it also has the 24/7 road side assistance and about 37 connected car features (most of them I wont be using daily). The crown jewel for me was the 8 speaker BOSE system. Don’t get me wrong here, there are Burmester sound systems in Merc that are great but in this price range this is the best sounding system, even better than the Harman ones. Finally, I get my hand on the 1.4 P DCT and I am greeted with a red ambient light in the cabin. The seat adjust is manual which is one down for the Seltos. When I finally settled down, set the aircon to my liking (using buttons, thank you very much), put the 7 speed DCT to D and moved on. On the interior roads you notice the refinement, wind, road and engine noise is well contained and even the aircon blower is not making a noise like you are in a hurricane (in some cars). The sound system is playing a good track from the Bluetooth connected phone of the sales executive. Please note, there is no BOSE in this combination. I request him to help me get an open stretch of road to do some tests and he obliges. My friend also recommends me to put the drive mode to “Sport” which is there only in the auto variants apparently. The dials become red and the rev counter is constantly at 2K. This I believe is to keep the turbo spooling so that I get that instant burst of power. And God does this thing take off when you put the foot down! On paper it has 140 horses and 250 torques but it feels like much more. The DCT takes charge of things, shifting up and down with no lag at all. Finally a car that reminded me of the VW unit (which is by far my favourite). I pushed the car harder and she kept pulling all the way to the redline. Finally I ran out balls and braked in a slightly tricky section which had a line of strategically placed potholes and loose gravel thanks to the monsoon. There was absolutely no drama from either the suspension or the brakes. I could feel the ABS doing its thing, but it didn’t cut in too soon for my liking. The DCT shifted ratios as if nothing happened and kept the engine on boil for the next surge. I loved it and I repeated it over and over again and every time the grin on my face was getting wider, and this was truly Badass! On the way back I put the car in ECO and was waiting for a turbo lag, but it never came. The DCT was operating like a CVT, butter smooth, holding a gear if needed and shifting up when its job is done for economy. I unknowingly (hehehehe) hit a pothole that was massive enough to put a truck to shame and then again no drama here. I was impressed. This is what I need from a car, enough grunt to keep me happy when I want the fun, no drama in normal day to day commute and the confidence that she will take care of me if God forbid things go south and finally looks good every single day. May I say the KIA Seltos ticked all the boxes. Is it Badass, well, it can be if you need her to be!
(The article is written by Manu Sasidharan. He is a hardcore petrolhead, an auto enthusiast and an amateur designer. He has been in close touch with the industry for a long time and is abreast with the action in the automotive sphere. Driving is his passion and combined with love for travelling makes him nomad by nature. On the education front, he has done Engineering in Electrical & Electronics from Cochin University and Management Studies from Symbiosis Pune).