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2023 Affordable SUV Challenge: The Kia Seltos Takes the Crown Again

By Brian Normile
2023 Affordable SUV Challenge: The Kia Seltos Takes the Crown Again
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The Kia Seltos SX rode its model-year 2024 updates to a second consecutive win in a comparison test of affordable SUVs. While its first win occurred in a pandemic-abridged test, the refreshed 2024 Seltos triumphed over a diverse field of competitors. 2023 Affordable SUV Challenge Results | Winner With the most expensive as-tested price of $33,085, the Seltos was at a disadvantage from the start. And while its optional 195-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine was among the most powerful in the comparison, sporty performance isn’t usually top of mind for affordable SUV shoppers. We also thought the powertrain might be at a disadvantage in our fuel economy test. Nevertheless, when the dust settled, the Seltos was the clear winner. How Did the Seltos Win? For this comparison, our three judges scored each of the six SUVs in 11 subjective categories, including front and backseat comfort, interior quality, visibility, powertrain, ride quality and interior quietness. Each vehicle was also scored for safety and driver-assist features, cargo space and child-safety seat fitment. We also took the SUVs on a 200-mile fuel-economy loop to test their real-world efficiency and separately measured 0-30 and 0-60 mph acceleration. We also calculated a value score for each SUV by taking into account both its as-tested price and features. All told, each vehicle could earn up to 1,095 points from 18 categories. The Seltos came away with four category wins from our judges and no losses. It won our interior quality assessment with its upscale design and materials, particularly its no-cost optional brown interior package. None of the other vehicles could match the Seltos’ near-premium interior, though the Honda HR-V came closest. The rest of the Seltos’ subjective wins were in driving-related categories, showing that perhaps our concerns with its turbo engine were misplaced: Judges appreciated the turbo four-cylinder’s power as well as the eight-speed automatic transmission’s behavior, which is vastly improved compared with the previous dual-clutch automatic. The Seltos’ handling was deemed best in the test, and our judges also found it to be the quietest SUV in the comparison, adding to its premium feel. The Seltos racked up wins in our objective tests, too, though these were all shared victories. It had best-in-test scores for driver-assist tech (a five-way tie, with the Chevrolet Trax trailing the rest of the field) and safety features (tied with the HR-V). It also tied with the Volkswagen Taos for measured cargo space. The most interesting win for the Seltos, however, was in our value category, where we award points based on both features and as-tested price. The Seltos was the most expensive SUV present, but it was also the best equipped, and this resulted in it sharing a win in this category with the Trax — the least expensive SUV in the test. While shoppers will pay more for a Seltos SX, they certainly get a lot of bang for their buck. In our other subjective categories, the Seltos never finished lower than fourth place, and a mid-pack finish in our Car Seat Check didn’t diminish its overall prospects, either. Perhaps most impressively, the Seltos did all this despite one glaring deficiency.