Howzat! The updated Kia Picanto and Seltos hit the road

Howzat! The updated Kia Picanto and Seltos hit the road
The updated Kia Seltos. (Photo: Kia SA)

Kia South Africa launches two updated models as the motoring industry shows its first signs of growth after eight consecutive months of decline.

Local manufacturers must have heaved a collective sigh of relief last week as the latest Automotive Business Council/Naamsa numbers were released, indicating at least some growth for the first time since October last year. 

Despite the industry growing by only 2.2% to 38,172 units, month on month, the downward numbers streak appears to be broken.

Kia SA may not have had a crystal ball to predict this hopeful sign when deciding when to release its two new products, but the updated (and affordable) Picanto and critically acclaimed, face-lifted Seltos couldn’t have been launched at a better time. 

I recently got to test drive both models at separate events in the Western Cape – but let’s start with the iconic Picanto.

The cute little hatch was released back in 2003 at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the year that South Africa hosted the Cricket World Cup. There was a lot of drama that year – in cricket. Shane Warne was sent home after failing a dope test, while England, Australia and New Zealand refused to play in Zimbabwe because of “safety” concerns. But to top it all, under the leadership of Shaun Pollock, many won’t forget how we were ingloriously knocked out of the competition on a rainy pitch after we drew with Sri Lanka, preventing the Proteas from reaching the Super Eight. 

Feeling somewhat stumped, I remember switching channels to watch Everybody Loves Raymond instead. The arrogant Aussies sans Warne went on to take the title. But let me not digress.

The 2024 Picanto

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The refreshed Kia Picanto hatch. (Photo: Kia SA)

Unlike the way we choked at the World Cup, the Picanto, meaning “spicy” in Spanish and Italian, was a hit from day one. 

Globally, it’s proved to be a great volume-seller for the South Korean brand, while locally it has hit the sweet spot with drivers, selling more than 100,000 units over the past two decades. 

Its success is in many ways thanks to its cross-generational appeal. However, until recently, I’d always assumed it was most popular among the young, first-car-owner market. I was duly surprised to discover that its main uptake is in a more discerning 26-32 age group.

While it’s surrounded by competitors in the budget hatch segment, like the Renault Kwid, the Toyota Vitz and the Suzuki S Presso, the Picanto has consistently had an edge over its rivals when it comes to quality, driveability and “cool” appeal. 

And while the Picanto ticked many boxes from its inception, it soared to new levels of success after German designer wunderkind Peter Schreyer was nabbed from Audi to join Kia as head of design in 2006. (He’d risen to fame back in the 1990s as the man responsible for the iconic Audi TT.)

Once he joined the South Korean stable, he completely revolutionised the brand by introducing things like Kia’s tiger nose grille. He was soon celebrated in the world of motoring as the man who single-handedly transformed the perception of the somewhat drab Kia badge into a fleet of aspirational head-turners.

Known for dressing from top to toe in black and scribbling impromptu designs during press events, Schreyer has often said that listening to jazz is his main source of inspiration. The second-generation Picanto got the Schreyer magic touch in 2011.

Engine and drive

On to the face-lifted 2024 Picanto. 

There’s been no engine change so the latest model is still available in 1.0-litre (49kW/95Nm) and 1.2-litre (62kW/122Nm) petrol engines. 

We got to test drive the 1.2-litre on-launch in and around the narrow CBD streets of Cape Town. 

The city is the Picanto’s ideal playground, showing off its practicality when zipping into tight parking spaces. 

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The Kia Picanto has upped its tech game. (Photo: Kia SA)

There’s also enough power on hand to do some decent acceleration up steep inclines.

Look, it’s not going to beat a Beemer on take-off, and you might spend considerably longer driving from Cape Town to Joburg than if you were in a 5-Series, but as an affordable and trusty package with commendable safety systems and the latest in tech, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better in the segment.

Even the “entry” level 1.0 LX has stuff like ABS, dual front airbags, keyless entry, four electric windows and electrically adjustable and heated side mirrors.

The mid-range 1.2 EX (my pick of the bunch) has safety add-ons like electronic stability and hill-start assist control, while the top-of-the-range (significantly pricier) 1.2 EX+ has all the aforementioned as well as faux leather upholstery, a push start/stop button and high-gloss trims on the fascia. 

Each grade comes with a choice of a 5-speed manual gearbox or 4-speed automatic transmission, except for the entry 1.0 LX which is only available in manual.

The 2024 Seltos

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The Kia Seltos has more than 26 rivals in its hotly contested segment. (Photo: Kia SA)

It was definitely a week for Kia, as I also got to take the face-lifted Seltos out of town to overnight in Greyton in the Overberg.

Built in India like several of its competitors, the Seltos plays in a heavily populated compact SUV segment with more than 26 rivals, including the Toyota Corolla Cross, the VW T-Cross, the Hyundai Creta and the Chinese brand, Haval Jolion. In a downward-plummeting luxury market, it’s clear that this is where many local drivers are spending their dough.

The Seltos has undergone quite an intensive makeover, much more than the surface tweaks to its front bumper and lights. There’s a huge leap in terms of improvement by way of a redesigned fascia with an integrated curved display. There’s a noticeably larger infotainment screen, housing tech that’s become more intuitive to operate. I also like the fact that the Seltos retains several “old school” physical buttons. 

Engine and drive

By far the biggest change is that the updated Seltos range now offers two new engines. 

There’s a 1.5-litre petrol CVT producing 84kW/144Nm as well as a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol with its 7-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission. It has significantly more power and torque – 118 kW/253 Nm – only to be found in the top-of-the-range GT-Line. The pre-facelifted 1.5-litre turbo-diesel (85kW/250Nm) has been carried over.

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Inside the range-topping Kia Seltos 1.5 T-GDi GT-Line. (Photo: Kia SA)

Where Kia stands out in this hugely populated segment is by offering a diesel derivative. It’s the only brand to do so in this crossover club. 

On launch, I took the turbo-diesel out on the scenic open road and somewhat mountainous route. There were strong winds on the day, but the Seltos held its own and felt solid and well planted. Not only was it easy to drive, showing relatively eager performance on acceleration, but its fuel returns of just 5l/100km were noteworthy. There’s surprisingly generous rear legroom and the load bay of 433 litres is one of the best in class.

The last time that Kia made it into the Top 10 best-selling brands in the country was back in December 2023. Its two new products should see the company back in the running.

Additionally, the brand has recently confirmed that it will begin playing in the hugely popular bakkie segment with its “Tasman”. It will be interesting to see if Kia can draw guns with the top-selling vehicle in the country – the Toyota Hilux. DM

Pricing (from entry-level to top of the range): 

Kia Picanto 1.0 LX 5MT – R260,995
Kia Picanto 1.2 EX+ 4AT – R325,995
Kia Seltos 1.5 LX Manual – R467,995
Kia Seltos 1.5 T-GDi GT-Line DCT – R626,995


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