Review: All-New 2021 Kia Seltos slots nicely into a competitive segment
Kia introduced the Seltos as a compact five-door crossover to fit between the smaller Soul and the larger Sportage. The new Seltos is much like the Soul in terms of size and appeal, but with a less polarizing, more contemporary design for more sophisticated buyers. Does it measure up to its strong competition?
At a Glance
- Good design inside and out with good looks and strong ergonomics.
- Smart engine choices and power outputs for the vehicle.
- All-wheel drive option that sets it apart from some competitors and other Kia models.
- Low-cost of entry comes at a price: lack of noise dampening and a rough ride quality.
Kia is throwing all it has at the small crossover segments. With entries like the well-balanced Sportage and the solid-selling Soul, Kia has been pushing its way into driveways with success. With the 2021 Seltos Kia wants to appeal to a younger, more urban audience and a buyers’ market that is increasingly female. Kia seems to have realized that not everyone wants a boxy little Soul, near-iconic as it has become, and that perhaps a more sophisticated urbanite would prefer a more contemporary-looking vehicle.
And the Seltos is definitely contemporary, with nothing about its body shape or lines pushing any sort of envelope wall. It’s very likable and eye-catching nonetheless, it’s just difficult to point at any one design element as the reason for that. The signature Kia "tiger nose" grille features, and elements of the larger crossovers in Kia’s lineup can be seen in the lighting, low-cut door lines, and continuous belt line edge that proceeds to the rear tail lamps. The Euro-swoop of the rear pillar also creates a division point where one of four two-tone paint options can be had.
Those are all good things and they make the 2021 Kia Seltos a good-looking vehicle that’s more upscale in appearance than its price tag might suggest. Sadly, Kia missed the ball when offering color choices. Most are the usual dealership mainstays like white, black, and various versions of gray/silver. Some interesting blue, red, and a sunset-type yellow are also in the palette, as are four two-tone options using variations of the blues and yellows (plus a white) in the base colors and black or white toppers. Most to good effect.
Powering the Seltos are two engine choices, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 1.6-liter turbo. The 146-horsepower (109 kW) two liter base engine is found in most Seltos models and offers a decent amount of power output for the vehicle’s size. It pairs to a balanced, but not exciting continuously variable transmission (CVT) and has both front-wheel and all-wheel drive. Two models, the S Turbo and the top-end SX, have a turbocharged 1.6-L four-cylinder that pushes 175 hp (130 kW) and is fitted to a much more exciting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard with that transmission.
Fuel efficiency is pretty good too, though not as good as segment leaders. The base model with front-wheel drive achieves an EPA rating of 34 mpg (6.9 L/100km) on the highway. Adding AWD drops that number to 31 mpg (7.6 L/100km) and going to the turbocharged engine reduces the number further to 30 mpg (7.8 L/100km). On that lattermost number, we can attest that our test vehicle readily achieved that in normal highway driving.
The interior of the new Seltos is smartly done. Well enough that one must look for the cheaper-appearing plastics and skimp points. One glaring one, however, is in interior noise levels. The vehicle is quite loud on the highway and the transmission can be intrusive during around-town driving at takeoffs from a stop. That’s not a huge concern for many, but it does show where the low price of the car comes from.
In terms of space, the Seltos is very large inside. Four adults can fit nicely with good amounts of headroom and legroom, even in the back seat. Adding a third adult to the back seat makes everything cramped, of course, with this being a compact vehicle. Cargo space is also generous, even more so when the second row is folded down (mostly flat) to achieve the 62.8 total cubic feet (1,778 L) available.
Most of the expected modern technologies are found in the 2021 Seltos, but which ones they are will depend on which trim level is chosen. At the base level there's an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus a single USB port. Moving up the lineup adds things like a 10.25-inch touchscreen, more USB ports, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, forward collision warning/braking, and adaptive cruise control.
The drive quality of the 2021 Kia Seltos is better than might be expected. Despite its contemporary looks, the car feels sportier than it is. It’s not quick, powerful, or even really fun to drive, but it’s confident and more responsive than most in its class. Those are high points that make the Seltos better than it should be, which is a definite selling point in today’s market.
We drove the SX Turbo model of the Seltos, with a price tag topping out at just over US$29,000. That’s a hefty jump from the base model’s $21,990 price point, but includes a lot of amenities that may or may not be required by many buyers. We do recommend the turbocharged engine and its accompanying transmission, but a better-priced package in the S Turbo might have more appeal for buyers on a stricter budget.
Product Page: 2021 Kia Seltos