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2021 Kia Seltos: The SUV Space Between

Competes with: Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Kicks

Looks like: A pretty conventional SUV by Kia standards, with lots of plastic cladding to make it appear rugged

Powertrain: 146-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 132 pounds-feet of torque (standard); 175-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 195 pounds-feet of torque (available); seven-speed continuously variable automatic transmission or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (turbo models); front- or all-wheel drive

Price: Starts at less than $22,000

Hits dealerships: Winter 2020

The Kia Seltos makes its U.S. debut at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show, and the small SUV looks to build off of the momentum of the well-received Telluride to continue Kia’s SUV success story. We got our first glance at the Seltos when it was shown as a 2020 model overseas, specifically in India (where it will be built at Kia’s new factory) as well as in South Korea.

Related: More 2019 L.A. Auto Show Coverage

While the exterior appearance matches what we saw for that debut, there are some key details that we learned about the U.S. version of the Seltos, which will arrive as a 2021 model by the time it reaches American shores. Our initial impressions were that it would be on the larger side as subcompact SUVs go, and with specs now available, we can confirm that it is indeed bigger — so big that it toes the line right between the subcompact and compact spaces.

That, at least, makes the Seltos more viable for families, while still being small enough to remain maneuverable in cities — though the robustness of its all-wheel-drive system suggests that the Seltos might have some off-road chops, as well. There are four trim levels: LX, S, EX and SX.

Exterior

The Seltos has a rather conventional SUV shape to it; viewed in profile, nothing really jumps out at you. There’s enough detail (on the SX models, at least) to keep things interesting, with lots of cladding to make the Seltos look tough and a sleek nose with Kia’s signature grille feeding into stacked headlights.

Wheel sizes range from 17- to 18-inch alloys depending on trim level, and the SX wheels come with subtle red highlights in the middle. The Seltos seems to lose a lot of its size in the back, where the cargo area appears to be a bit, well, truncated, so we’ll have to wait for official cargo numbers to see if that’s the case.

2021 Kia Seltos

Interior

The highlight up front is the available 10.25-inch touchscreen display (an 8-inch touchscreen is standard), which matches the one found in the Telluride. Below it are physical controls that quickly allow you to switch among functions, a feature we liked in the Telluride, though the buttons are (expectedly) not as high-end in this application. Both systems come with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. An available Bose premium audio system comes with eight speakers and a mood lamp that changes to the music. A wireless charging pad, additional USB ports (bringing the total to three from two) and automatic climate control are also optional.

Cloth seating comes standard, with artificial and real leather seating surfaces available on higher trim levels. The Seltos uses its additional length effectively; it has 38.0 inches of rear legroom, which easily bests the Kona’s 34.6 inches and effectively ties with the larger Kia Sportage (38.2 inches).

Behind the 60/40-split, folding rear seat, there is 26.6 cubic feet of cargo space, which expands to 62.8 cubic feet with the seat folded down. If additional space is needed, the cargo floor can drop down. For perspective, the larger Kia Sportage offers 30.7/60.1 cubic feet, which gives the Seltos an impressively larger overall cargo figure.

Under the Hood

The standard engine is a 146-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 132 pounds-feet of torque and comes mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (this is the only powertrain available for the LX and EX). Optional on S models and standard on the SX is the more exciting engine, a 175-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 195 pounds-feet of torque that’s mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Most Seltos models will come with all-wheel drive, which is standard on all trim levels with the exception of S models, where it’s optional. The all-wheel-drive system is more robust than most other systems we see in this class, with a locking center differential, which, as Kia explains, “splits power equally between the front and rear wheels for more severe environments,” and torque vectoring, which “increases traction by predicting which wheel will best utilize power in a given on-road situation.”

Fuel economy figures will be announced closer to the Seltos’ on sale date, Kia says.

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Safety

The amount of available safety and driver assistance technology on the Seltos is impressive for the top trim level, though strangely, forward automatic emergency braking isn’t standard — it doesn’t show up until you move up to the S. The S also adds lane keep assist as standard, and a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert as optional. The EX adds the blind spot warning system, but the best of the features are reserved for the SX.

The SX has all of the safety equipment standard that you can get on the Seltos, including adaptive cruise control that works down to a stop, pedestrian detection for the forward automatic braking system and Highway Driving Assist with lane centering, which “uses federal highway speed limit information from the navigation system and, under certain conditions, will automatically adjust speed to be within the posted limit and maintain distance with the vehicle detected in front.”

No official pricing details have been announced yet apart from the fact that both LX and front-wheel-drive S models will start around $22,000 (it wasn’t immediately clear whether that includes destination charges).

The 2021 Seltos will hit dealerships in the winter of 2020.

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