The 2021 Kia Seltos made its U.S. debut at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show, and the first thing I noted was its size. The Seltos is larger than other subcompact SUVs, but it has a subcompact price that gives it an advantage in a class that’s traditionally been short on interior room for passengers and cargo.
I decided to pit it against the winner from our last subcompact SUV Challenge, the Subaru Crosstrek, which won in part on the strength of its roominess and interior quality. Being an auto show, the vehicles on display were the top trim levels for each model — the Crosstrek Limited and Seltos SX, so we saw the best each has to offer in terms of features, display screens and interior materials. Here’s how they fared on the floor.
Screen Tech: Seltos
The Seltos includes the same 10.25-inch touchscreen found in the Kia Telluride, and the screen is the dominant feature on the dashboard. Mounted high up for visibility without being too far out of reach, I was a fan of its mix of simple menus and physical controls that actually help you to navigate the system.
In the Crosstrek, you get an 8-inch touchscreen and Subaru’s icon-based multimedia system. It’s not a bad system, but it lacks the ease of use and size of the Kia’s screen. There’s one area where the Crosstrek has a slight advantage: Android Auto smartphone mirroring that uses the whole screen, whereas in the Kia, it doesn’t take up the whole screen.
Cargo Room: Seltos
I was shocked to see that the Crosstrek is longer and has a longer wheelbase than the Seltos because the Kia, by the specs, has more cargo room; note that cargo specs alone can be misleading, however. The Seltos has 26.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat, which expands to 62.8 feet with the seats folded down. In the Crosstrek, those figures are 20.8 and 55.3 cubic feet, respectively.
The Seltos also has a lowerable cargo floor, which drops the base of the cargo area a few inches down. We should note that the above figures are with the cargo floor in the raised position, so this just adds a bit more room when you don’t need a flat load floor.
Backseat Comfort: Seltos
The Seltos has a bit of an advantage in backseat specs, with 38.0/38.4 inches of rear legroom/headroom to the Crosstrek’s 36.5/37.8 inches (both headroom figures are with a sunroof). But what makes it more comfortable overall has to do more with seating position and visibility.
As a more traditionally shaped SUV rather than the Crosstrek’s wagon-esque profile, the Seltos has larger side windows and the rear seat seems to sit up a bit higher so your legs aren’t lifted as much off the seat bottom. The Crosstrek also has a larger floor hump, which will impact anyone sitting in the middle seat more. This isn’t to say the Crosstrek is uncomfortable — it’s got one of the best backseats in this segment — it just loses out to the Seltos by a hair.
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Interior Quality: Crosstrek
Overall, I’d say I enjoyed the little design details in the Seltos more. The Bose speaker system has these cool fractal speaker covers and mood lighting that jumps to the music. But overall, the nod on interior quality and materials goes to the Crosstrek, which is representative of an overall improvement in Subaru interiors over the past few years. The Crosstrek’s redesign in 2018 improved materials: The seats (especially up front) have ample cushioning and great leather for this class, with contrast stitching that stands out; all the black trim on the Seltos makes it feel a bit cheap by comparison.
It would have been awesome to give you a value comparison of these two given their similar feature sets, but we don’t have pricing yet for the top trims of the Seltos. We only know that the bottom two trim levels will start at less than $22,000 (without destination included), and that closely mirrors the Crosstrek. The Seltos will offer all-wheel drive on all trims except the S, which means that Subaru will finally have more all-wheel-drive competition in this price range.
Keep an eye out for more information on the 2021 Seltos near to its on-sale date in early 2020.
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