As the compact crossover SUV segment of the market continues to grow, Kia adds another new crossover to its lineup, positioned between the existing Sportage and Soul models. Following the lead of the hot-selling midsize Kia Telluride that was named North American Utility of the Year in January, the all-new Seltos features a bold, modern design with a more upright, classic SUV shape. The Seltos is 172 inches long — 4.4 inches shorter than Sportage, with a 103.5-inch wheelbase compared to 105.1 inches for Sportage. Soul is 165.2 inches long with a wheelbase of 102.4 inches.
The familiar Kia tiger nose grille is bold and wide, flowing smoothly into the flush headlights, with diamond-shaped grille details. Integrated front and rear skidplates, lower-body cladding and black wheel arches add an off-road appearance. The profile shows a tall grille, flat hood, flat roofline and 7.2-inch ground clearance of a more traditional SUV design. Seltos S, EX and SX feature chrome trim at the base of the side windows, which curves up and blends into the D-pillar. The LED taillights wrap into the rear fenders and are connected by chrome trim. Four two-tone paint combinations are offered: Dark Ocean Blue/White Roof, Dark Ocean Blue/Black Roof, Starbright Yellow/Black Roof and Clear White/Black Roof.
The 2021 Kia Seltos is offered in five trim levels: LX, S 2.0L, S 1.6L, EX and SX. The emphasis is on all-wheel drive, which is standard for all trim levels except the S 2.0 L, which is offered with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Both the Seltos LX with standard AWD and S 2.0L with FWD drive start at $21,990, with the S 2.0L with AWD starting at $23,490 and S 1.6L starting at $25,490. Seltos EX starts at $25,290, and the top-of-the line Seltos SX starts at $27,890. Every version also has a destination charge of $1,120.
The standard engine for Seltos LX, S and EX is a 2.0-liter four cylinder producing 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, combined with Kia’s Intelligent Variable Transmission. Seltos S 1.6L and SX are both powered by a 1.6-liter T-GDI (turbocharged-gasoline direct injection) engine producing 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque from 1500 to 4500 rpm, combined with a 7-speed Quick-Shift DCT automatic transmission. The EPA fuel economy rating for the 2.0-liter with AWD is 27 mpg city / 31 mpg highway / 29 mpg combined, while the 1.6-liter with AWD is rated at 25 mpg city / 30 mpg highway / 27 mpg combined.
The Magna Dynamax Active On-Demand All-Wheel Drive of the 2021 Kia Seltos is similar in design to the all-wheel-drive system of the Kia Telluride, and is engineered to anticipate traction requirements. The system features a center differential lock that splits power 50/50 between the front and rear axle when needed for improved performance during more severe driving conditions. The system also uses torque vectoring to increase traction and improve stability in adverse conditions by predicting which wheel will best utilize the power. Seltos with AWD also includes hill start assist and hill descent control.
The interior of the 2021 Kia Seltos features a low, wide instrument panel with a tablet-style 8-inch touchscreen center display along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment. Seltos SX adds a 10.25-inch touchscreen navigation display with UVO telematics and voice recognition. The gauge cluster has two traditional instruments with a standard 3.5-inch information screen in the center and a 7-inch screen for the SX. The intention was to create an upscale feeling via a clean design, quality materials and attention to detail. Seltos S, EX and SX add a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Seltos SX includes the first Bose audio system in a Kia, featuring Bose premium audio with fractal pattern Bose speakers in six color themes.
Seltos LX includes cloth seats, a 6-way manually-adjustable driver’s seat and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. Seltos S adds cloth and Sofino leatherette seats, leatherette-covered console storage and rear center armrest with cupholders. Seltos EX and SX add Sofino leatherette seats, a 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, heated front seats, automatic climate control and a smart key with pushbutton start.
The 2021 Kia Seltos offers comfortable rear-seat room for a vehicle of its size, with headroom of 38.4 inches compared to 38.3 inches for Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR and 38.0 inches for Subaru Crosstrek. Rear-seat legroom is 38 inches compared to 39.3 for Honda HR-V, 31.7 for Toyota C-HR and 36.5 for Subaru Crosstrek. The cargo area behind the second-row seat is 26.6 cubic feet with the dual-level cargo floor in the lower position, and 62.8 cubic feet with the second-row seatback folded. The cargo floor can be raised to the higher position to create a flat load floor when the seat is folded.
Standard features for Seltos S and above include forward collision warning, forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, driver attention warning and high-beam assist. Seltos S 1.6L, EX and SX add blind-spot collision avoidance assist and rear cross-traffic avoidance assist. Seltos SX also adds safe exit assist and highway drive assist.
The strong chassis and body structure of the 2021 Kia Seltos utilize 61 percent high-strength steel with extensive use of structural adhesives to create a strong platform for improved handling and ride comfort. The MacPherson strut front suspension gets combined with a multi-link rear suspension on all-wheel-drive variants and a torsion beam axle for the front-wheel-drive Seltos S. Standard wheels for LX and S are 17-inch alloys with a dark gray finish, with 17-inch machined-finish wheels for the EX. Seltos S 1.6L and SX receive 18-inch alloy wheels.
We really appreciate the Kia Seltos design — it’s bold and aggressive without being too much — and it’s a right-sized vehicle that possesses classic SUV proportions while still being distinctive and unique. The design draws attention in any color, but our Seltos SX test vehicle in Starbright Yellow with Black Roof caught the eyes of passersby. During our test drive several people stopped us to ask what we were driving.
The 1.6-liter T-GDI engine is a great match for this vehicle, offering plenty of power. The 7-Speed DCT provides quick, smooth shifts while doing a fine job keeping the engine in the power band as necessary. When starting from a standstill the Seltos DCT has a slight lag, although once the engine reaches maximum torque at 1500 rpm things feel quick. The 2021 Kia Seltos also has three drive modes for different conditions: Comfort, Smart and Sport, which adjust settings for the engine, transmission and steering. One quibble: Sport mode keeps the transmission in a lower gear, even at cruising speeds — the best way to compensate for this would be shifting back to Comfort or shifting up manually.
The 2021 Kia Seltos SX is responsive and fun to drive. The steering effort and feedback are excellent, even in Comfort mode, and Sport mode adds additional weight. The platform feels solid and the interior admits little road noise, although occupants will hear some wind noise around the A-pillars at highway speeds. The firm suspension is not too harsh. Some buyers may prefer a softer, more comfortable ride, but we appreciate the engineered balance.
The interior of Seltos SX has a clean design with an attractive mix of materials and soft-touch surfaces. The seats are quite comfortable and the Sofino leatherette is a decent leather alternative. The 10.25-inch touchscreen is intuitive and easy to use, although we also appreciate knobs for the audio volume, audio tuning and temperature adjustment. The leather-wrapped steering wheel looks and feels great, as a driver might expect in a more upscale car.
The 2021 Kia Seltos is the first vehicle we’ve driven with lead vehicle departure warning. After sitting at a stop, Seltos alerts its driver with an audible warning when the vehicle directly in front starts to accelerate — in hopes of avoiding the dreaded honk of an impatient driver in the car directly behind the Seltos. The lane-keeping assist is quite good for a vehicle in this price range. It doesn’t perform as one might predict in all situations — and occasionally it feels as if the Seltos is fighting back — but, overall, lane keeping works very well.
We did a bit of light off-road driving with the 2021 Kia Seltos on dirt roads at a ranch outside San Antonio — not enough to assess all off-road capabilities of the vehicle, although likely more than most Seltos buyers will experience. With the torque-vectoring all-wheel drive and the center differential lock, the Seltos performs pretty well in adverse conditions.
The 20221 Kia Seltos is a new model in the growing entry-level crossover segment, and based on our first drive it should be really competitive. The Seltos SX has a distinctive design, is fun to drive and has a comfortable interior with nice materials. The 1.6-liter T-GDI engine is a great match for Seltos, possessing plenty of power and displaying fuel economy numbers above the EPA ratings. Since we only drove the Seltos SX we did not experience the 2.0-liter engine, but based on its horsepower and torque ratings it might be slightly underpowered for this vehicle. For anyone considering a crossover under $30,000, the Kia Seltos should definitely be on their list.
Pros: Great design; powerful 1.6-liter turbo engine; AWD; roomy rear seat.
Cons: 2.0-liter engine may be a little underpowered; CVT with 2.0-liter; leather not available; ride may be firm for some.
Bottom Line: Kia’s latest entry-level crossover offers a great design, dynamic performance and driving fun.