Before finding solace in this SUV, I checked out cars like the Toyota Hyryder, Skoda Kushaq, Honda Elevate and Hyundai Creta among others.
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Panther Arrives: Kia Seltos 2023 Facelift 1.5 Turbo (Petrol) DCT
If you appreciate quality and frugality with good looks, there is clearly only one car which offers it below the INR 50 Lakhs budget. To my mind, this car is the Kia Seltos 2023 facelift. With my current daily drive being a Jeep Compass (manual, diesel, BS IV), christened Cheetah, I wanted to also have a fun turbo petrol in the garage before we strongly transition towards EVs. After experiencing literally all the notable cars within the INR 60 Lakhs budget, I have found solace in Panther, read on to find out why.
Maruti Grand Vitara / Toyota Hyryder
Maruti’s Grand Vitara / Toyota Hyryder, come with a nice hybrid tech, and were instantly likeable when I drove them in the city, but their overall lack of quality really shocked me. The automatic gear lever doesn’t move with sophistication, the plastics remind me of my first-gen year 2005 Swift (the power window switches are the same!) and the boot space is just impractical. Also, the noise from the Atkinson cycle petrol engine was crass and was very much audible in the cabin. This car made perfect sense as a city car, but we like our cars to be multi-purpose, so this one was overruled.
Skoda Kushaq / VW Taigun
These both look gorgeous, especially the Taigun in red. Come with potent engines. But inferior air-conditioning and glaring steps taken towards cost-cutting make their presence felt quite alarmingly. From the noisy seat ventilation motor to the poor plastics, small boot and doubtful after-sales stories, I decided to not say hi to the German engineering which has been diluted for Indian audiences.
Except for the beautifully red stitched dashboard, I found the car to be overall a “jack of all trades, master of none”. While I do know that the complete adage is “…but still better than master of one”, I found the small boot, unimpressive 1.3 litre turbo mill with TC gearbox, plus the useless (and might I add, distracting) robotic eyes on the dashboard to not appeal to my senses.
I don’t like the design language Hyundai has adopted. I liked the new boxy design language Hyundai premiered on the Santa Fe and I hope they adopt it for the incoming new vehicles. But with a facelift around the corner, and with the same platform and engines as that of Seltos, ignoring the segment leader was an easy choice.
I already have a black Hector at my disposal, christened Kaala Haathi. It is a fabulous vehicle to be driven around in, and for the highways, but it is clearly not a city car as it is too big.
With the budget being flexible and aspirations running high, I did check out the BMW X1 (2023 facelift), Mercedes GLA and the Audi Q3. You can read my thoughts on these here. To sum it up, I found myself paying exorbitant money for the badge with very little change in the driving characteristics or dynamics. The big-league car brands need to level up their game to provide an experience and technology to their prospective customers which helps them justify the price they pay for their cars and not just on the basis of the brand name.
I did check out the Elevate in a showroom but did not get a chance to test drive it. To me, it looked like a fat Maruti Ignis from some angles. Honda has not put any one stand-out feature/characteristic in this car; I was honestly waiting for the strong hybrid Elevate but that is not happening as Honda has decided to jump onto the EV bandwagon. Also, the Honda showroom people looked quite overwhelmed with the attention they were getting. I feel Honda is playing catch-up and still has not brought in its game to the fight.
With the facelift being launched, I knew in my head that I was sold on this. I had already driven the previous 1.4 turbo DCT transmission and was mighty impressed. With the new raving reviews of the 1.5 turbo DCT, I knew I would like it in a heartbeat. The DCT failure tales did strike me and to be honest, this was the only chink in this otherwise gorgeous package apart from safety; I noticed that Hyundai/Kia group with time have implemented their learnings, and among other things have dulled the initial pickup of the car in order to protect the DCT unit. Also, have taken the extended warranty for peace of mind, so que sera on this much-debated topic.
The good bits:
- Suspension feels mature and minor road undulations are ironed out quite well. This experience is probably due to the new tyres, but I must mention again that the JK tyres for someone who will be confined to the city are not bad.
- Road noise is well contained and this car is silent till 100 km/hr, it gradually starts creeping in from then on. This is unlike Compass where you literally feel cocooned and oblivious of the speeds you are doing.
- The dual screen set-up is very well executed. The driver’s screen has got trippy backgrounds which add zing and intuitiveness.
- The buttons and switches have a very nice tactile feel and feedback and operate well.
- When driven in the Eco mode, the car more often stays in the 7th gear while cruising and this aids mileage a bit. That said, the normal driving mode is very acceptable for the city as well as the highway.
- The car wants me to take a coffee break ever so often. I think this is a software issue which should get ironed out soon. The media drive cars had this feature, but this is missing from my car, I’m sure this is an inadvertent miss.
- The boot door takes a good push to shut properly.
- The roof headlining is not a well-woven cloth, it is some other material found in cheaper cars.
- The in-car-entertainment unit notifies that there is a software update required, but it throws up an error of “insufficient space”. I wonder how much space is required when the used-up space is literally zero MBs as this is a new car. The service personnel informed me that they will install this software update during the first service (what happened to OTA updates?)
- While the ADAS features stay switched off once they are switched off, the rear cross traffic alert warning and braking switches on every time the car is switched on. I don’t think this is too problematic as the speed while reversing is anyway too slow.
- Safety is a big question mark and I honestly don’t see it taking any major leaps in this facelift update. This is a feature rich car meant to pander to the gizmo loving audience.
- The automatic headlamp full beam and dipper function is very sensitive and keeps the headlamps in dipper mode more often than required. Had to switch it off.
Driving the Panther
The car handles well and the steering has considerable weight making you feel confident when you take that quick corner. I feel the body roll is very well contained, the car does not feel all over the place. This car is quick to drive and overtaking either in the city or on the highway is a breeze – this is very important as the highways are increasingly getting more crowded. Did I try the ADAS you ask – no, not at all. I think except for the very new expressways such as the Samruddhi Mahamarg (between Mumbai and Nagpur) which are straight as an arrow and are sparse, using ADAS on any Indian highway/expressway is still a pipe dream for using these technologies which can control the vehicle. Our highways are full of cars overtaking from the wrong side, stray dogs and cattle, people jumping in from nowhere and speed breakers/potholes. Then why did I buy the GTX+ variant, well, it was only for the electronic parking brake.
Should you change the tyres?
Just post the delivery I swapped the JK Royale UX with the Continental UC6 in the same size. Now, to be honest, my vehicle had a psi of 46 in all four tyres, and I drove in them for some 30 kms before getting them swapped. I actually found the suspension to be softer than the 2019 model which I had driven, very much Creta-like. And mind you, this is with 46 psi, the recommended tyre pressure is 35psi. With the UC6 tyres, the car did get a bit more stable and no more did it feel jittery like it did with the JK tyre – but this is not an apple-to-apple comparison as the tyre pressure on the JK tyre was too high during the delivery. So you might ask why I still changed the tyres, well simple, I wanted to leave no stone unturned to have a superlative experience with my new machine. I can tell you that the car performs well with the UC6, no tyre noise, no squealing, no traction loss, no skidding on the corners. I drove it extensively in the rains while going to Amritsar from Gurgaon and found them lending a positive impact on the car.
Frontier Kia (Gurgaon) experience
- Overall a nice experience. My request for PDI was well received. Insurance and accessories were not forced on me. I eventually took the insurance from outside as it was much cheaper.
- The salesperson refused to take a cheque for the full payment of the car price and I was compelled to do multiple RTGS transfers to make the full payment. In fact, while asking for taking the payment by cheque, I was asked to deposit the cheque myself in the bank! What happened to the customer experience?
- The car delivery experience could have been better, they have a very small delivery area and allow only their personnel to drive the car out. Unlike your expectation to drive your own car on your own from the showroom.
- No discounts were offered, and I was prepared for this as this is a new hot car in the market.
Please do let me know what all of you think about my thoughts above,
All ready with the new Continental UC6 tyres
Panther arrives at Ramada Amritsar
Finally decided to take a coffee break on our return journey to Gurgaon. The car gave a coffee break warning again just 15 mins after driving off.
When driven sedately, it actually gave respectable mileage figures
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