2020 Kia Seltos S vs Honda HR-V VTi
Two relatively spacious yet compact SUVs faceoff as we see which base model offers the best of what: it’s the Kia Seltos compared to the Honda HR-V.
Right out of the blocks, the Kia Seltos has hit its stride. Barely a few months old, it’s already selling as strongly as the small-SUV big-hitters, Honda’s evergreen HR-V included. And like the Honda, its chief packaging pull is its space. For a small wagon-on-stilts, the Seltos’s interior is almost ballroom big.
That’s been the HR-V’s calling card from the moment the current car emerged in February 2015 and, until Kia’s Seltos, it remained unchallenged for the amount of real estate it could squeeze into such a compact form.
But is the Seltos really a match for the HR-V’s packaging brilliance? And can a six-year-old Honda still hold its head high up against a freshly minted rival … even though the Seltos is, at its core, a slightly longer Hyundai Kona?
PRICE & EQUIPMENT
It’s a close price contest – $24,990 and $24,490 before on-road costs for the Kia Seltos S and Honda HR-V VTi, with the next step up in each range (the Seltos Sport and HR-V VTi-S) both adding a $3K premium to that bottom line.
However, Kia is currently offering the base Seltos S CVT for $25,990 drive-away, whereas Honda’s similar deal on the HR-V VTi is $26,990 drive-away … which could get you a Seltos S with optional Safety Pack. But more of that in a moment.
Given their base-model status, all the basics are covered, plus a few unexpected extras. The Honda brings LED daytime running lights and LED tail-lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a trip computer, climate control, power windows with auto up/down in the front, driver’s seat-height adjustment, a rear-view camera, low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), and a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with built-in sat-nav. But you’ll need to venture much higher up the HR-V food chain to get additional active-safety systems like forward collision warning and lane-departure warning.
The Kia misses out on the Honda’s alloys (it gets 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers), LED tail-lights and daytime running lights (they’re plain old halogen), climate control (it gets push-button air-con instead), auto up/down windows and embedded sat-nav but it betrays its relative modernity with a bunch of useful extras that one-up the HR-V VTi.
The boggo Seltos boasts a larger (8.0-inch) central touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, rear parking sensors with dynamic guidelines for the rear camera, lane-keep assist, driver attention alert, AEB with forward collision warning and pedestrian avoidance, auto-on headlights and rear fog lights.
Additionally, the Seltos S is also available with an optional Safety Pack (with no equivalent on the HR-V) that, for $1000 extra, brings loads of stuff – enhanced AEB with cyclist detection, enhanced driver attention alert, adaptive cruise control, an electric park brake, electrically folding exterior mirrors, an auto up/down driver’s window, and larger rear disc brakes. All for currently the same drive-away price as the HR-V VTi.
INTERIOR & CONNECTIVITY
The drawcard here is space, in all its forms. Both the Seltos and HR-V offer more thoughtfully arranged interiors than any small-SUV competitor.
The HR-V is slightly more compact than the Seltos on the outside – 22mm shorter in length (on a wheelbase measuring 20mm less), 27mm narrower, and 10mm lower – but because its fuel tank lies flat between its front and rear axles, not under the back seat, it delivers unrivalled luggage flexibility.
Its ‘Magic Seat’ arrangement allows the rear cushion to flip up on each side, enabling stuff like plants to be carried easil on the rear floor. And, in the other direction, the whole rear seat can collapse on itself, delivering a completely flat load area measuring 1462 litres in volume.
In contrast, the Seltos is purely conventional. Its generous boot measures 433 litres with the rear seats up (against 437 litres for the HR-V), but its rear backrests won’t fold fully flat, meaning a total load area of 1393 litres. The Seltos S also doesn’t provide a luggage cover of any kind, though the HR-V’s flimsy, elasticised shade thingy is only marginally better than nothing.
Seating wise, the Kia’s front buckets are surprisingly plush and comfortable, despite having minimal adjustment, whereas the Honda’s are less generous, with shorter cushions providing inferior long-distance comfort.
The rear seats in both are terrific – especially compared to their small-SUV rivals. Ample room, elevated seating positions and excellent vision are shared highlights, with the Seltos adding rear backrest recline and brighter, more interesting upholstery to its many talents.
In terms of design class and ergonomics, the Kia’s interior is generally a cut above the Honda’s, with tasteful brightwork and origami-like folded speaker grilles transcending its poverty-pack status. Aside from the absence of leather wrapping for its steering wheel, you’d be hard-pressed to peg the Seltos’s interior as the lowest rung in Kia’s model hierarchy.
The HR-V’s cabin is pleasant but it suffers from several jarring flaws. Its touch-sensitive climate control interface is overly fiddly, its USB and 12-volt outlets are mounted underneath the centre console and difficult to access, and there’s no digital speed readout.
Headlining the HR-V’s list, however, is an older style multimedia system. It’s a slot-in aftermarket unit, not the Honda-specific item fitted to HR-Vs in the US and Europe, but it has just recently been given Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity in the MY20 update which lifts useability to be acceptable.
In contrast, the Kia’s beautifully simple, easy-to-use arrangement is comparative bliss, with obvious USB/12V connector outlets and decent audio quality.
RIDE & HANDLING
The most polished ride/handling mix in the small SUV class belongs to the Toyota C-HR … which fails to match the space/flexibility mix of the Seltos and HR-V. Yet these wagon-like SUVs are far from disgraced by the Toyota’s polished dynamic excellence.
The Kia is the sportier of the two, thanks in part to its Australian suspension tuning which delivers keen steering response, amiable handling balance and decent driver feedback.
It has verve and spirit, combined with better ride quality than the lumpy Hyundai Kona it’s based on – especially at urban speeds – though the Kia ultimately succumbs to the same issues as its Hyundai cousin on rough roads. It’ll crash into bumps that fail to similarly unsettle the Honda.
The HR-V has never been known for its zest for corners, however it makes a pretty decent fist at stringing them together.
The Honda’s main issue is its steering, which requires more steering angle than the Seltos to turn in and never feels natural in terms of its weighting. Yet for all its artificiality and relative aloofness, you soon learn your way around the HR-V’s limitations.
Once you’re into a corner it’s actually quite good, with solid balance and confident direction-changing ability, though the harsher the road surface, the less able the HR-V becomes. While its ride feels agreeably supple much of the time, trying conditions unsettle the Honda’s composure, and introduce more noise to the cabin than we’d like.
PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY
There’s nothing but pure conventionality here – simple naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines driving the front wheels through cheap-to-produce CVT automatic transmissions. You’d get more thrills playing lawn bowls in the rain…
… yet the Seltos and HR-V are far from putrid when it comes to performance. The Kia is the tubbier of the two – 1355kg compared to 1269kg for the Honda – which means that every fragment of its greater engine output goes towards counter-acting that extra beef. And then some, as it turns out.
The Kia’s 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre is so strong that, following a brief moment of CVT lag, it will chirp its front tyres from a standing start under full acceleration, and even tug a little at the steering wheel as it attempts to maintain traction. But it’s also intrusively loud when doing so – driving a meat-axe into the sense of calm that otherwise pervades the Seltos, apart from road roar on coarse surfaces.
Thankfully you don’t need to drive the Seltos hard to maintain momentum, though its overly sensitive throttle tuning, combined with the inherent lag of its CVT transmission, often means that a smooth, progressive flow isn’t as easy to achieve as it should be.
The HR-V’s venerable 1.8-litre single-cam, 16-valve engine has been doing the rounds longer than Elton John’s wig collection, yet its humble 105kW/172Nm specification disguises its innate ability.
Honda’s 1.8 is smoother and quieter than Kia’s raucous 2.0-litre, and achieves a more seamless union with its CVT transmission. A 2018 update re-engineered the HR-V’s CVT by adding artificial ratio steps when its accelerator is floored, in an attempt to prevent it from soaring to 6600rpm and just sitting there … even though that’s how a CVT works! So while the HR-V’s 1.8 retains its keenness to rev, it’s now slightly less obvious when attempting to do so.
According to the ADR 81/02 official government combined-cycle fuel consumption test, the HR-V should be a touch more economical than the Seltos at 6.6L/100km (versus 6.8 for the Kia). But both of them possess a reputation for admirable fuel efficiency, while drinking regular 91-octane unleaded.
According to NCAP testing, the HR-V (launched February 2015) and Seltos (launched October 2019) both achieve a five-star safety rating, though the Kia was tested under more stringent guidelines.
The Seltos received 85 percent for adult protection, 83 percent for child protection, 61 percent for vulnerable road-user protection (pedestrians and cyclists), and 70 percent for active-safety systems.
The Seltos S also far exceeds the HR-V VTi for available safety equipment, though that’s likely to change with the Honda’s forthcoming update.
The base Seltos uniquely offers lane-keep assistance and forward collision warning as part of its AEB set-up, while the $1000-extra Safety Pack version brings expanded driver attention-alert functionality, adaptive cruise control, and cyclist detection for its expanded AEB system.
Neither car is perfect when it comes to ESC (Electronic Stability Control) effectiveness. The Honda is determined to rein in any suspension or body movement as judiciously as possible, whereas the Kia is quite casual in its approach to applying safety electronics … only to then slam them on as hard as possible. For any kind of ESC subtlety, look elsewhere.
WARRANTY & SERVICING
Kia has long set the standard for Australian warranty coverage with seven-year/unlimited-kilometre protection. And it continues to lead the way.
If you get your Seltos serviced according to its recommended schedule (12 months/15,000km) by a Kia dealer, then you also get seven years’ worth of roadside assistance.
The HR-V needs servicing every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first, which means you’ll only be able to cover 30,000km in the first three years’ worth of scheduled servicing for a total cost of $929. The Seltos will set you back $1037 for the same period.
But you’d need to add another service for the Honda (taking it to 40,000km) to approach the Kia’s service distance, meaning a $1244 in total.
Honda’s main warranty is five years/unlimited kilometres, plus five years’ roadside assistance, and a six-year/unlimited-kilometre perforation warranty. But Honda is currently offering a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty in conjunction with seven years’ roadside and seven-year perforation coverage.
As for projected resale value, according to The Red Book the HR-V VTi will retain more of its value after three years, with an excellent 65.5 percent. The Seltos S is expected to retain 60.5 percent of its value.
If you’re chasing maximum interior space with a minimal footprint, then either of these spacious small SUVs could fit the bill. But the Kia’s more sophisticated equipment, superior comfort and greater driver appeal ultimately win out.
For an inexpensive, low-ranking small SUV, the Seltos S is a surprisingly complete car. It’s fun to drive, easy to operate, comfy to sit in and has loads of room. Plus, there’s additional safety kit not available on the Honda.
Yet the HR-V somehow manages to still hold its head high, despite its encroaching age. Its packaging efficiency remains unbeatable and it’s a quieter car than the Seltos when it comes to engine- and road-noise suppression.
But the Honda’s hideous-to-use multimedia system is a huge chip on its shoulder. If you only ever listen to AM radio, fine – it shouldn’t be a problem. But if you truly value what modern cars offer in terms of music and navigation functionality, wait for the updated HR-V to surface. Or buy a Kia Seltos.