The 2021 Kia Seltos proves you don't have to spend a lot of money for both function and fashion. Its price and exterior dimensions fall in between the subcompact and compact SUV segments, yet it boasts more interior volume than is expected and an abundance of special design details throughout that successfully counter some of the cheaper bits applied to keep the price down. Basically, it provides even more value beyond Kia's usual extra-long features list and warranty.
In that way, the Seltos is in keeping with Kia's excellent Soul below it and Telluride above it. It's also a more competitive product than Kia's aging Sportage, which may have nicer interior materials and more powerful engines, but weaker interior packaging and design. Importantly, though, the Seltos is a compelling alternative to the crossovers in the two SUV size/price segments that it straddles, offering a hodgepodge of elements from each to create an appealing new whole. Its most direct competitor is the also-new and also-handsome Mazda CX-30, which is sharper to drive and has a higher-quality cabin. The Seltos' greater space likely makes it a better choice for more people, however.
What's new for 2021?
The Seltos is an all-new model in the Kia line-up.
What's the Seltos interior and in-car technology like?
If there's one area where the Seltos betrays its relatively low price, it's the quality of its interior materials. There's far more hard plastic throughout than you'll find in the slightly pricier Kia Sportage plus any number of like-priced compact crossovers. The door sills, dash tops, center console and cargo area are the most noticeable examples. However, Kia's designers cleverly made up for its accountants' dictates by elevating several key areas with upgraded materials and distinctive design elements. The 3D geometric pattern of the speaker grilles, the metal-look passenger grab handle, the sleek silver trim piece surrounding the air vents and starter button, and optional upgrades that include handsome heather-gray upholstery and the dash trim that can be glossy black, bright blue or stitched faux leather.
There's also plenty of user-friendly technology. Standard on every Seltos is an easy-to-use 8-inch touchscreen packing standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Standard on the SX Turbo is the same 10.25-inch touchscreen available in the Telluride, which enhances functionality with its widescreen layout (it's also largely similar to the one offered by Hyundai). We also like the two-tiered storage solution intended for smartphones: the smaller tray above meant to grip and store a phone (it's also a wireless charger in upper trims) and the deeper bin below with two USB ports that can store another phone or whatever you want. Pictured above, it's a thoughtful, useful touch.
So while Kia pinched pennies in certain areas, it ends up with a net positive by delivering in areas that ultimately matter more.
How big is the Seltos?
The Seltos is one of a growing number of inbetweener compact SUVs. On the outside, it's 4 inches shorter in length than Kia's Sportage, which is itself one of the smallest SUVs in its segment. Yet, the Seltos is between 2 and 8 inches longer than various subcompact SUVs.
What really matters, though, is the amount of space you get inside, and the Seltos manages to make the most out of its modest footprint. Its boxier roofline helps in this regard, granting plenty of headroom throughout with an airier overall feeling. Many small crossovers can feel claustrophobic, especially for rear passengers, and have poor rearward visibility. The Seltos is better. The eight-way power driver seat found in the EX and SX trim levels provide an abundance of adjustability and space, while the rear seatbacks recline to an extra-comfy angle. Rear legroom is also sufficient for four adults of above-average height.
Cargo space is very good. There's a generous 26.6 cubic feet back there, which allowed us to secure five suitcases with room to spare. That's better than other inbetweener crossovers and even some of those larger models as well. Its maximum cargo capacity of 62.8 cubic feet is generous as well and speaks to its boxier dimensions that should make hauling bulkier items easier.
What's the performance and fuel economy?
The Seltos is available with two engines, which are tied to trim level.
The LX, EX and S are powered by a 2.0-liter inline-four good for 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque – a modest amount consistent with subcompact crossovers. The S is the only trim that can be had with front- or all-wheel drive, while every other trim level is AWD only. The base engine is always paired with a continuously variable transmission (dubbed "IVT") that simulates gear ratios. Fuel economy is 27 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined with AWD and 29/34/31 with the FWD S trim.
The S Turbo and SX Turbo have a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four that pumps out 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque – an amount consistent with bigger, pricier crossovers. It comes only with all-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Fuel economy takes a hit at 25/30/27, which is also comparable to those bigger, pricier crossovers.
What's the Seltos like to drive?
We have yet to test the Seltos with the base powertrain. We found it to be underpowered in the lighter Kia Forte sedan – which probably isn't a good sign – and the "IVT" transmission to be unusual. It simulates gear ratios during most driving conditions, making it feel normal enough (a bit like the Turbo models' dual-clutch gearbox, actually), but when accelerating hard, it'll hang onto revs as a CVT would before eventually "upshifting" a ratio. It's weird, but we haven't tested it in the Seltos.
The Turbo models are a different story. Although many cars boast Normal and Sport driving modes, which, among other things, make the engine feel a bit zestier by tweaking throttle response and transmission shift times, those in the Seltos make it feel like you've suddenly dropped in a different engine. Perhaps it's the result of increased boost from the turbocharger in addition to throttle and shifting differences, but the result is a powertrain that legitimately feels exuberant in Sport mode versus merely adequate in Normal. Pretty neat, actually.
The rest of the Seltos driving experience is typical for a Kia: capable, composed but not especially memorable. The ride sops up bigger bumps surprisingly well for an inexpensive crossover, perhaps in part due to 18-inch wheels being the biggest size available. At the same time, its chassis shows poise around corners and we could pleasantly hustle it along a mountain road without it feeling like a hopeless fish out of water. It never transcends into the sporty realm as the Mazda CX-30 does, however, which is more a fact than a complaint. There's also a fair bit of road noise inside, another tell-tale sign of its price point.
What more can I read about the Kia Seltos?
Our first take on the Seltos, including more information about its design and engineering. Also some pictures of it with deer.
We find out how much the Seltos' 26.6-cubic-foot cargo capacity translates to in terms of actual stuff.
What features are available and what's the price?
Pricing starts at $23,110, including destination, for both the S and LX trim levels. Although the LX has standard all-wheel drive, the front-drive S adds LED exterior lighting, upgraded exterior trim, roof rails, a cloth/leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a padded vinyl-wrapped center console armrest and a variety of driver assistance systems (see Safety section). This is on top of the generous equipment the two share: 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, a six-speaker sound system, 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Basically, unless you really need all-wheel drive, the S is a much better deal. And if you really do need it, all-wheel drive is basically $1,500 extra. The highly recommended turbocharged engine is $2,000 beyond that.
Really, any of these S trim levels are fully representative of the Seltos' functional and fashionable attributes, but we also have to admit that the extras gained by the SX Turbo for a perfectly reasonable $29,010 make it the rare range-topping small crossover that continues to be a strong value purchase.
S FWD: $23,110
LX AWD: $23,110
S AWD: $24,610
S Turbo: $26,610
SX Turbo: $29,010
What are its safety equipment and crash ratings?
Every 2021 Seltos apart from the LX includes standard forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistance, a driver inattention warning system and automatic high beams. The EX, S Turbo and SX Turbo add blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, while the SX Turbo adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and an enhanced automatic emergency braking system that includes cyclist detection.
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