What Is It?
The American appetite for 5-occupant crossovers remains strong, which is why almost every car company has at least one on the market. Kia already offers two — the Soul and Sportage — and this all-new 2021 Kia Seltos is designed to fit between the other two Kias. With higher ground clearance, a more traditional SUV shape and an available turbocharged engine, the Seltos stands out in this crowded market segment.
Kia gave us the opportunity to drive a 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD painted in Clear White with a Black roof. The SX Turbo is the top-level trim of the Seltos, so most features such as LED headlights, a Bose audio system, adaptive cruise control and automatic climate control come as standard equipment. The only options on our test vehicle were the white paint/black roof treatment and floor mats for a total MSRP of $29,485. Competitors to the Seltos are numerous and include the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Jeep Renegade, Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4.
One of the smaller crossover offerings from Kia, the Seltos’ styling resembles the larger Telluride SUV. Up front, the familiar Kia tiger nose grille flows smoothly into flush-mounted LED headlights. Front and rear skidplates as well as cladding that covers the lower body and wheel arches gives the Seltos a tough stance. The test Seltos featured the two-tone treatment — white body color with black roof — which gives the small crossover a premium look.
At the rear, the 2021 Kia Seltos has wraparound LED taillights connected by a chrome bar that integrates with the backup lights. An additional chrome strip lines the bumper with what appear to be large dual exhaust outlets; however, they are not actual outlets — simply a design element.
Kia does a great job with interiors and the Seltos is no exception. Controls are nicely laid out and while the large touchscreen display isn’t exactly integrated into the dash, it fits well with the overall design. Physical buttons for navigation and audio system as well as volume and tuning knobs add to ease of use. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard in the Seltos.
The front seats of the 2021 Kia Seltos are big and comfortable with decent support. Kia uses Sofino leatherette seat trim — a synthetic leather that looks like the real thing but feels a bit rubbery. There’s also a decent amount of storage in the covered armrest along with cupholders and cubby space ahead of the shift lever. The center console has two USB ports as well as a wireless charging pad.
A favorite aspect of the 2021 Kia Seltos is the useful information that displays in front of the driver, indicating what features are on or off. Think of the countless times that drivers have moved a wiper switch to interval thinking it’s been turned off or vice versa. The Seltos displays the selections, which eliminates guesswork.
The Seltos is not a large crossover; however, the rear seat offers a surprising amount of legroom and headroom. There’s even decent space for the middle passenger, although the middle-seat bottom and seatback are very stiff and would not be comfortable for an extended journey.
A spacious cargo area means the Seltos offers plenty of utility. The integrated cargo cover raises with the tailgate, which is a nice touch.
Under the Hood
The 2021 Kia Seltos offers a choice of two powertrains depending on trim level: a 2.0-liter 146-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, or a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine producing 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. Our SX Turbo tester featured the turbo unit (like the name says). Unlike many of the small crossovers in this segment, the Seltos forgoes a CVT for a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The EPA rates the Seltos SX AWD at 25 mpg city / 30 mpg hwy / 27 mpg combined. The computer displayed around 26 mpg in mostly city driving, so these numbers seem to be accurate.
With the exception of the base-level Seltos S 2.0, this newest Kia comes with on-demand all-wheel drive. This advanced AWD system features a center-locking differential as well as torque vectoring for better on- and off-road handling.
On the Road
The turbocharged engine in the Seltos provides plenty of power, making for an enjoyable drive. From a full stop the small crossover seems to hesitate a bit before moving forward, but once on the move the ride is smooth with plenty of power on tap. Acceleration is strong with enough oomph to quickly merge onto the freeway or safely get around a slower vehicle on a two-lane road.
Kia provides three drive modes for the Seltos: Normal, Sport and Smart. Smart mode works best for most driving situations. Cruising on the highway or backroads keeps the transmission in the highest gear for optimum fuel economy; however, if the driver buries the accelerator the mode switches to Sport to keep the rpm high to provide peak torque. Once the driving style relaxes, the mode goes back to Smart.
We did not have much opportunity to go off-road, but we did navigate a few rough gravel roads and the trip was not as smooth as we would have anticipated. The all-wheel-drive system is certainly capable of taking the Seltos off the beaten path, but it might be a rough ride.
Piloting backroads of the Pacific Northwest in the 2021 Kia Seltos was an enjoyable experience. The ride is quiet and solid thanks to suspension that is firm but not overly stiff. Steering is precise with significant feedback, and overall the Seltos feels stable even on winding roads. Even though it is not a sports car (nor is it trying to be), the 2021 Kia Seltos crossover holds its own with ample power and handling.
The new Kia Seltos stands out in a very crowded crossover market with bold styling, turbocharged power and a smooth, solid ride. Add to this the great fuel economy, all-wheel-drive traction and a roomy, stylish interior and the Seltos checks all boxes — and then some. Available fully loaded for under $30,000, the 2021 Kia Seltos should certainly get the attention it deserves.