2021 Kia Seltos — Kia hits another home run

By Jim Prueter

(August 18, 2020) Let’s get straight to the point: If you’re shopping for a new sub-compact crossover utility vehicle the all-new Kia Seltos deserves to be on your shopping list. By nearly every measure possible it manages to beat the competitors from Honda, Toyota and others. Read on and I’ll tell you why.

After launching its tremendously successful, award winning and white-hot selling Telluride SUV a little over a year ago, Kia is back at it again with another home run with its introduction of the sub-compact Seltos. Size wise, Seltos slots between the larger Sportage and smaller Kia Soul.

The name Seltos is said to be inspired by Greek mythology. The story has it that Hercules had a son with Celtine, a daughter of a Celtic King, Bretannos, and named him Celtos. Kia says they changed the C to an S to imply speed and sportiness in its new vehicle.

To begin, Seltos follows much of the Telluride magic but at a more accessible price and size. Seltos is offered in six different trim levels and unlike most competitors in this segment, Kia is offering two different engines to choose from starting with the base 2.0-liter naturally aspirated 146-horsepower four cylinder paired with a CVT automatic transmission. The other engine offering is the 1.6-liter turbocharged 175-horsepower four cylinder and is the only available engine on all-wheel-drive trim level models. This engine is paired with an excellent seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.

For this review, Kia provided us with the top-of-the-line SX trim that’s all-wheel-drive only and only powered by the 1.6-liter engine. With all-wheel-drive standard on nearly every trim level Kia is positioning Seltos as a more rugged vehicle. Only the base S trim has front-wheel drive.

Outside, the Seltos has a definite crossover look with some of the same design cues of the Telluride. From the front we especially liked the diamond textured trim that surrounds the grille. There’s LED headlamps and pods of fog lights on either side of the “tiger nose” grille. We also like our SX’s optional $345 two-tone paint with a black roof that’s only on select colors. A sunroof will set you back $700 but isn’t available with the two-tone color option. There’s roof rails that add to the appeal and looks good as they extend slightly past their support. Of course, being a crossover there’s the obligatory hard black plastic trim around the wheel openings and lower body along the side and back.

In back the crossover theme continues. Our SX features combination LED taillamp modules and at the bottom of the rear below the tailgate are faux dual exhaust tips. The real exhaust tips are located under the rear bumper. Still we like the look. There’s no power tail gate option and is manually operated for both opening and closing with a large handle grip. It should be easy to use even for those who are shorter.

Inside, the Seltos has room for five occupants with two-rows of seats only. I’m exceptionally tall yet found front seat leg, shoulder and head room surprisingly generous. There’s also a standard tilt-telescoping steering wheel with a decent range of motion to suit most drivers. The SX has a standard power driver’s seat but regardless of trim level the passenger’s front seat is manually operated only. Kia claims there’s more passenger room in the Seltos than a Toyota RAV4. It’s worth noting that passengers sit especially low and with no ability to raise the seat adjustment shorter passengers will find visibility challenging.

Seat material is leatherette (faux leather) and looks good, but not our favorite material. Heated seats up front are included along with a two-way power lumbar adjustment on the driver’s side.

There’s decent head and legroom in the rear seat and a bit of a recline to the seat backs for adjustment. The cargo room is one of the largest in its segment with over 26-cubic feet of storage, and nearly 60-feet with the seats folded. There’s a compact spare tire located under the cargo area load floor.

As expected in this segment, the interior is flush with hard plastics about the upper and lower doors, center console and instrument panel. Still, the overall look of the interior has a far more premium feel than what I was expecting with soft touch materials across the dash, steering wheel, armrests and other touchpoints.

Our Seltos came with a large 10.25 inch center dash mounted infotainment screen that you can pinch open and closed. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that’s laid out well along with a new Bose audio system. It’s a first for Kia since most are using Harmon Kardon systems. It isn’t the top Bose system it does include mood lighting plus ambient sound options like rain, calm sea waves, warm fireplace, snowy village and others. The system is easy to use with excellent response. There’s also a place for wireless charging of your Smartphone.

On the road the first thing we noticed was the all-wheel-drive setup that really enhances the overall driving experience. The system can send torque front and back and can be locked to send equal amounts of power to both axels if needed for slippery conditions. All models come with 7.3-inch ground clearance.

We liked how the Seltos drove and think most drivers will find power is responsive, adequate and on par with competitors. Still we think it would benefit by having more horsepower like the 201-horsepower currently offered in the Kia Soul. It’s easy to drive and park with a very tight turning radius making maneuvering in small spaces a snap. Steering is surprisingly good and most body motions on curves and cornering are confident and controlled. While not set up for sporty driving we did find it fun to drive. Our one disappointment is with its fuel economy. While EPA rated at a city-highway combined of 27 mpg our real-world driving after a week of driving in urban, suburban and highway driving the best we were able to record was a disappointing 22.3 mpg.

Some will find the ride on the firm side but that’s consistent for vehicles in its class. Overall ride quality is decent but larger bumps can be a bit jarring and the cabin does get a noisy under heavy acceleration.

The Seltos comes standard with a rearview camera and a rear-seat reminder that alerts you to check the second row before leaving the vehicle. Several additional driver assistance features come standard in every model except the base LX trim. These include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, driver attention monitoring, automatic high-beam headlights, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and lane centering assist.

Other available active safety technologies include blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, speed limit recognition and speed limiting, and stop-and-go adaptive cruise control.

Overall the new Seltos scores high marks with class-leading cargo room, the latest tech, stylish design and an attractive upscale interior. It delivers on driving performance, handling and generally excellent room for passengers and cargo. Seltos is a very compelling new crossover offering that delivers style, value, functionality, an exceptional warranty and fun to drive enjoyment and should definitely be on your must test drive list if you’re shopping for a compact crossover utility vehicle.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $27,890
Price as Tested: $29,485
Engine/Transmission: 1.6-liter 175-hp turbocharged four-cylinder paired with a 7-speed DCT automatic transmission.
Fuel Economy: 25/30/27 mpg City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 5

Where Built: Gwangju, Korea

Crash Test Results: Overall four out of a possible five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It has not been crash tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as of this writing.

Competes with:
Buick Encore
Ford EcoSport
Honda HR-V
Hyundai Kona
Jeep Renegade
Mazda CX-30
Nissan Kicks
Subaru Crosstrek
Toyota C-HR

Fab Features:
Composed handling and driving
Upscale interior
Abundant room for people and cargo