Driven: 2021 Kia Seltos Review
  • Car Review

Driven: 2021 Kia Seltos Review

By Chris Teague | August 26, 2020

Quick Facts:

Pros:

  • Roomy interior.
  • High-end optional infotainment and tech.
  • Athletic driving experience.
  • Great attention to detail.

Cons:

  • The ride can be rough at times (depending on which tire/wheel package you have).
  • Advanced safety tech is locked out of lower trim levels.
  • Transmission can feel clunky at times.
  • Exterior style may not be for everyone.

Vehicle Type: Subcompact/compact crossover that edges on the size and features of a compact crossover.

Price Range: $24,365 to $36,840, including destination but before options.

Powertrain: The base engine is a 2.0-liter Atkinson four-cylinder engine that produces 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with a CVT type of automatic transmission.

The uprated engine is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The S trim comes with front-wheel-drive, while the remaining LX, EX, S Turbo, and SX Turbo have all-wheel-drive.

More Photos:

See more 2021 Kia Seltos photos here.


Overview:

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Kia is no longer considered a budget brand, and has instead built itself into a leader in the crossover space, where its vehicles are refined, often upscale, and come packed with more equipment than you’d typically expect for the price.

The 2021 Kia Seltos fits this mold and brings many of the high-end features of its larger sibling, the Telluride, to a smaller package at a lower price point. It slots into the Kia lineup between the boxy-but-cool Soul and swoopy Sportage crossover.

The Seltos is a new model for the 2021 model year, and it shares its platform with the Hyundai Kona.

It is available with two engines: a 146-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 1.6-liter turbo-four that makes 175 horsepower. The 2.0-liter engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission, and the 1.6 gets a dual-clutch automatic.

This Kia comes in five trim levels: LX, S, EX, S Turbo, and SX Turbo.

The Seltos is a compact crossover that competes with a wide range of subcompact and compact crossovers, including the Chevrolet Trailblazer, Hyundai Kona, Jeep Renegade, Honda HR-V, Toyota Corolla Cross and C-HR, Subaru Crosstrek, Mazda CX-30, and Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport.

It’s aimed at buyers that want the extra utility of a compact crossover that’s a little more rugged than the Kia Sportage, and that has a strong set of available tech and comfort features.

Overall Score: 7.3/10


Safety Features: 7/10

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The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) haven’t crashed tested the 2021 Kia Seltos yet.

Standard safety features include a rearview camera, a rear occupant alert system, dual front advanced airbags, side-mounted airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, hill start assist control, downhill brake control, a traction control system, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

All trim levels other than the base LX come standard with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, and lane-follow assist.

While that’s a nice start in terms of safety tech, we’d like to see more active safety systems offered as standard equipment on all trims (things like adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring).


Value: 8/10

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The Seltos has many features and an upscale driving experience that we’d expect from a vehicle that costs much more. It’s a good value that starts at around $22,000 with standard AWD. Moving over to the S trim brings FWD, but also adds more safety and convenience features.

Advanced safety features are not included in the Seltos’ base price, which means that buyers will need to spring for thousands more to get equipment that some competitors have started including as standard.

An eight-inch touchscreen is standard, but the upgraded 10.25-inch screen with features such as navigation are held back for top trims. At least the base screen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Fully loaded, the top SX trim that we tested can be had for just under $30,000. That price gets you a vehicle packed with safety and tech features, has all-wheel drive, and an incredible 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. We just wish it came with a standard moonroof or sunroof too.


Tech Features: 7/10

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Standard features such as a large eight-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, remote keyless entry, a six-speaker sound system, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, hands-free phone controls, USB audio and charging port inputs, Siri eyes-free, and 12-volt power outlets, and a rearview camera with dynamic parking guidance.

The larger 10.25-inch touchscreen isn’t available until buyers step up to the range-topping SX Turbo trim. Even though that model isn’t outrageously priced, it would be nice to be able to add the larger screen to mid-tier trim levels.

Available features include a Bose premium sound system, a 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation and satellite radio, Bluetooth multi-connect, and a wireless charging pad.


Practicality: 7/10

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The Seltos’ interior space is prioritized to be friendlier to people than cargo as there’s more than enough leg and headroom in the rear seats for tall adults.

Though it offers less cargo room than some of its compact crossover rivals, there’s still plenty of room for suitcases, carry-on bags, and the rear seats can fold down to accommodate long items. Behind the rear seats, the crossover offers 26.6 cubic feet of space; with the seats folded, it opens up to 62.8 cubic feet.

The Seltos comes with an adjustable load floor that can open up more cargo space when needed.

Small-item storage is ample, but space inside the center console area is lacking. That said, additional features like the wireless smartphone charging tray are located out of the way so as not to cut into valuable storage.

The Seltos offers good visibility from nearly every angle, thanks to height-adjustable seats and large windows.


Styling & Design: 7/10

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Kia had a blank slate with the Seltos and chose to go the route, so it used the opportunity to create something new and unique that would stand out from the ever-growing list of small crossovers that all look the same. It’s a refined and mature look for a compact crossover and makes the little Kia look more expensive than it is. Some buyers, however, may find the design a little too overdone and might be more comfortable in a rival that blends in better.

The Seltos’ cabin has premium-looking materials and construction, but there are still some cheap plastic bits if you look in the right places. That’s to be expected in a crossover at this price point. But generally, the interior finishes and textures feel solid and well-put-together.

The rear seats are large enough for two full-size adults, but the hard seatbacks can cause problems over long drives. There’s also no rear air conditioning in lower trims, so you’ll need to keep that in mind if you plan on hauling people in the back seat regularly.


Driving Experience: 8/10

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The Seltos’ base engine delivers more than enough pep for around-town driving and helps the little crossover reach highway speeds without much problem. The CVT acts more like a traditional automatic than a continuously variable version, and it’s able to avoid the droning engine issues that sometimes plague these types of transmissions.

The turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox combine to make the Seltos feel lively and quick. Though it’s not as refined as a DCT that can be found in a sports car, Kia’s dual-clutch is smooth and refined. Our only gripe was the occasional turbo lag when you do to accelerate sharply.

Selectable driving modes help adjust the car’s response depending on your driving style (or how big of a rush you’re in), and the Lock mode that comes with all-wheel drive in the Seltos helps split power evenly between the front and rear wheels when conditions get slippery.


Fuel Efficiency: 7/10

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When equipped with the 2.0-liter engine and front-wheel drive, the Seltos is rated at 29/34/31 mpg city/hwy/combined. With all-wheel drive, the Seltos is rated at 27/31/29 mpg.

The 1.6-liter engine and dual-clutch transmission combine to deliver 25/30/27 mpg.

There’s no hybrid or plug-in hybrid available for the Seltos, though there are few options for these types of powertrains in this segment and price point.

It’s easy to live with the fuel-saving measures that are built into the Seltos. Auto start-stop is smooth and almost happens unnoticeably, unlike other vehicles that can jitter and sputter to life when leaving a traffic light.


What’s it Going to Cost Me?

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The base 2021 Kia Seltos starts at $23,110, the $1,120 destination fee. It comes standard with a 2.0-liter engine, all-wheel drive, power mirrors, rear privacy glass, projector-beam headlights, automatic headlights, 17-inch wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, voice recognition, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Siri eyes-free, a six-speaker audio system, a rearview camera, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, USB inputs, 12-volt power outlets, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, manual single-zone climate controls, cloth upholstery, a six-way manual driver’s seat, a four-way manual passenger’s seat, folding rear seats, stop-and-go engine shut off, selectable drive modes, a rollover sensor, traction control, hill start assist downhill brake control and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The Kia Seltos S also starts at $23,110 and comes with front-wheel drive, roof rails, LED taillights, a sliding armrest, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, forward collision warnings, driver attention warnings, high beam assist, lane departure warnings, lane-keep assist, and lane following assist.

The Seltos EX starts at $26,410 after destination and comes with a power sunroof, front and rear USB ports, wireless phone charging, one-touch up/down windows, smart key with push-button start, automatic climate controls, rear air ducts, Sofino synthetic leather, a 10-way power driver’s seat, seatback pockets, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alerts.

The Seltos S Turbo starts at $26,610 after destination and comes with the 1.6-liter turbo engine, a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, 18-inch wheels, and remote keyless entry.

The Kia Seltos SX Turbo starts at $29,010 after destination and comes with LED headlights and fog lights, a 10.25-inch infotainment screen, navigation, SiriusXM radio, a Bose premium audio system, and 7-inch driver display screen.

If we were shopping for a Seltos today, we’d pick the range-topping SX Turbo trim. It’s got all of the premium features that buyers want and expect, a peppy turbocharged engine, an excellent dual-clutch transmission, and a reasonable starting price.

We see no reason not to go all-out when buying a Seltos to get all of the available features. That said, if your budget only allows the lower trim grades, the Seltos is still a compelling pick that’s worth test-driving.


More Photos

See more 2021 Kia Seltos photos here.