The 2021 Seltos is Kia’s latest entry into a massive market of SUVs. This all-new subcompact holds onto some familiar Telluride styling, but it also carves out a new niche with a few aesthetic inventions of its own.
In terms of size, the Seltos is a “tweener.” It slots between the compact Sportage SUV and Soul hatchback in Kia’s lineup. It’s a similar size to (albeit longer than) its corporate relative, the Hyundai Kona, but it doesn’t ride on the same platform. The Seltos competes with other bigger subcompacts like the Mazda CX-30 and Nissan Rogue Sport. This extra space is where the Seltos distinguishes itself — and also where it packs in style, tech and safety features.
For all the details on the Seltos, follow the related link above to read Cars.com reviewer Fred Meier’s top-to-bottom evaluation. But if you’re just looking for the fast facts, here’s the list of things we like (as well as a few we don’t) about the 2021 Kia Seltos:
Things We Like
1. Good Base Engine Specs
The Seltos’ base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out 146 horsepower, which should be enough for most drivers. It’s mated to a two-speed continuously variable automatic transmission — the same one first used by the redesigned Kia Forte sedan. On the whole, it drives well. The CVT has an electronic management system that adjusts shifting to suit the driver and driving conditions.
2. Two Base Trim Options
That base engine is under the hood of both — yes, that means two — base models of the Seltos, the LX and the S. The LX comes with limited features and all-wheel drive. With the S, you get more safety tech, but paired with front-wheel drive. Both are priced at $23,110, including a destination charge.
3. Robust AWD System
All-wheel drive is standard on all trims but the base S, which is rare among vehicles in this class. What’s more, the AWD is pretty well rounded. The torque-vectoring system does well shifting power for cornering, and steering is responsive and precise. It has a fully independent multilink rear suspension, a locking centering differential and hill descent control — all of which are great for the mild kind of off-roading you can do with purely decorative skid plates and 7.3 inches of ground clearance.
4. Stylish Exterior
The Seltos takes clear styling cues from its big brother, the Telluride. But on its own, it’s classy with a traditional SUV silhouette. The front end gets sculpting and a diamond-patterned grille, and there’s plenty of “rugged” plastic cladding throughout. A two-tone roof is optional — but only available if you don’t also want the moonroof.
5. Roomy Interior Dimensions
Inside, it’s evident that the Seltos is just bigger than a lot of other subcompacts. The front cabin is appropriately large and the seats are supportive. The backseat is spacious enough for an adult to fit, and is made more comfy by the addition of a reclining seatback. Cargo space is above average and increases when you fold down the 60/40-split backseat. There’s even a dedicated space for your phone up front on a small shelf above the center console bin. In the upper EX and SX trims, the shelf comes with a wireless charging pad.
6. High Tech
Technology is a centerpiece of the Seltos. The SX features a 10.25-inch touchscreen that sits high on the dashboard yet is still easy to see and reach. The screen is powered by Kia’s UVO multimedia system, which has easy-to-use menus, shortcuts and physical knobs. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The SX trim has Bose Premium audio and built-in “sounds of nature” tracks. A 7-inch information display sits between the knobs on the dash.
The lower trims aren’t ignored in this area, however. The smaller, 8-inch touchscreen still has most of the same conveniences as the larger version. These trims also get a 3.5-inch info display.
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Things We Don’t
1. Interior Quirks
Only a single-zone climate control is available in the Seltos, and only in the top two trims. Also, the cabin can be penetrated by quite a bit of noise from wind around the mirrors and highway tire sound.
2. Turbo Can Be Turbulent
The optional engine — a 175-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder — is powerful, but doesn’t provide the smoothest ride. The turbo is slow at the start, but when it kicks in, it does so before you have the chance to back off the gas. The engine is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which has some trouble on the downshifts. But you don’t necessarily need the turbo; Meier said the base powertrain should prove suitable for most buyers.
3. Safety Tech Scattered
There is plenty of safety and driver assistance tech offered in the Seltos, but the features you get are really specific to the trim level you go for. One of the base trims, the LX, does not have a front collision system with automatic braking, which is standard on all other trims with a pedestrian detection system. The S and up get lane departure warning and lane-keeping steering assist, while the S 1.6T and above get a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and automatic reverse braking. The SX offers adaptive cruise control that works down to a stop, as well as a bicycle detection system.
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