2021 Kia Seltos

By November 11, 2020

Kia started the century with one crossover SUV in its lineup, but the brand now fields a total of six different crossovers. The newest of those is the 2021 Kia Seltos, which is sized like the Soul but offers all-wheel drive.

The Seltos is new for 2021, but its value proposition should ring a bell. Prices start at just $23,000 and top out at under $30,000, but in that spectrum you’ll find available features like a turbo-4 engine, a 10.3-inch touchscreen, and adaptive cruise control.

Stick to the low end of that price scale and power will be provided by a 2.0-liter inline-4. This naturally aspirated engine generates 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque without the help of a turbo. It pairs with a continuously variable transmission and front- or all-wheel drive.

Step up to the 1.6-liter turbo-4 and power jumps to 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. The CVT also disappears in favor of a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. All-wheel drive is standard with this engine.

The Seltos returns 27 mpg city, 31 highway, 29 combined with the 2.0-liter inline-4 and all-wheel drive. Front-drive base models do slightly better at 29/34/31 mpg. Stepping up to the 1.6-liter turbo-4 drops fuel economy to 25/30/27 mpg.

The base model doesn’t get any active-safety gear, but every other trim comes standard with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and automatic high-beam headlights. Blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control are standard on the priciest SX Turbo.

Model Lineup

All prices include an $1,120 destination charge.

The LX is the base Seltos and starts at $23,110. That money buys features like an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cloth upholstery, six-speaker audio, and remote keyless entry. All-wheel drive is also included. No active safety features come standard, though they are optional.

The S costs the same as the LX, but trades off its all-wheel drive for a front-drive configuration. To compensate, the S gets a full serving of active-safety features, plus heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lights, and some chrome exterior trim.

The EX is priced at $26,410 and essentially pairs the LX’s all-wheel drive with the extra features of the S. It also gets a sunroof, 18-inch wheels, automatic climate control, synthetic leather upholstery, and power-adjustable seats.

The $26,510 S Turbo is equipped like the regular S but gets all-wheel drive and the turbo-4 engine.

The $29,010 SX Turbo represents a fully-loaded Seltos. Besides all-wheel drive and the upgraded turbo engine, it gets a 10.3-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a 7.0-inch digital information screen in the gauge cluster.

Exterior

The new Telluride set a high bar for Kia designers. However, the Seltos, coming hot on the heels of that darling SUV, falls a bit short of its bigger brother. Not that the Seltos isn’t attractive in its own way; it just doesn’t have the wow factor of the Telluride or even the fun factor of the Soul. Instead the Seltos sits halfway between those two in a sort of handsome, anodyne middle ground. It does a good job following today’s trends—chunky lines, a kicked-up rear window, and plenty of cladding—but fails to really stand out stylistically in a class that contains lookers like the Jeep Renegade and the new Chevrolet Trailblazer.

Up front, the Seltos treads in a new direction for Kia, with a much more stylized front end. It doesn’t have the elegance of the Telluride or the sportiness of the Stinger, but like those models it retains the trademark Kia grille. Out back is less exciting; there the Seltos wears a fairly generic small-crossover rear end.

Interior

As the latest in a string of successful product launches, the Seltos showcases Kia’s experience in building high-quality but affordable cars and crossovers. Materials are better than many competitors and the build quality doesn’t suggest a $23,000 base price.

Perhaps most noteworthy is the 10.3-inch touchscreen that comes on the SX Turbo. Sure, it’s only found on the priciest trim, but it is an excellent example of how Kia continues to democratize in-car technology. It is a cinch to use and by itself classes up the interior. It comes with navigation and offers a split-screen setup so that users can view the map while also managing their infotainment.

For the rest of the Seltos lineup, an 8.0-inch touchscreen comes standard. With standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it offers easy phone connectivity and is easy to use.

The Seltos is a five-seater, but the small dimensions put shoulder room at a minimum. Still, there’s enough leg room so that a 6-footer can sit in the back even with another 6-footer up front. The back seat also offers manual recline, a novel feature in this class.

Cargo space behind the rear seats measures out to 27 cubic feet; fold down the seats and 63 cubic feet is available.

Driving Impressions

The Seltos won’t knock your socks off, but it is still an impressive piece, especially at this price point; it’s easy to forget that the compact crossover is one of those segments where refinement can be in short supply.

The base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder doesn’t enjoy the benefits of turbocharging, so power comes on late and needs revs to build. The CVT does a decent job of routing the 146 total horsepower to either two or four wheels, depending on model. In a surprise turn of events, we actually prefer this transmission to the dual-clutch unit that comes with the turbo engine.

About that turbo-4: it makes 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, and that power is available as early as 1,500 rpm. That makes it feel even more responsive than it is, though it’s still shy of being speedy. It would be even more rewarding if the dual-clutch automatic was a bit more refined; it shudders and hunts out the highest gear at all times. Unfortunately, there’s no paddle shifters to take control, either.

A comfortable ride is common across all Seltos models, regardless of engine. There’s not even a hint of fun in its handling, but that’s fine with us—not every car needs to be a Porsche, and certainly not in the compact crossover class. We’re pleased with the soft, sure-footed ride that Seltos provides on nearly any road surface.

Final Word

The 2021 Kia Seltos might seem like yet another entrant in a crowded segment, but it holds its own with some notable features, excellent price point, and widespread all-wheel drive. Might Kia have been better off just offering all-wheel drive on the Soul? Perhaps, but less adventurous buyers will likely prefer the more subtly-styled Seltos. If it were our money, we would buy a Seltos EX, which nicely balances value and amenities.

 

—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

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