We recently tested the Hyundai Kona, and found it to be a stylish, sporty and well-equipped runabout. So, it’s easy to think that the all-new 2021 Kia Seltos, which shares most of the powertrain is its brother from another mother, but that’s not the case – it’s a completely different vehicle with a different purpose. Poised between Kia’s funky Soul and more traditional Sportage, it’s a small, rugged adventurer ready to tackle tough conditions.
Kia Seltos Exterior – Bold and Eye Catching
Kia likes to say that the Seltos has the same design theme as the big, bold Telluride SUV. We don’t know about that, but the Seltos definitely is no wallflower. The front end has the familiar Kia Tiger Nose grille, and it’s a big nose here, but Kia balances it out with lots of detail work.
The LED running lights have a jewel-like design, the headlights look like afterburners on a fighter jet, and the contrasting trim as a sharp 3D effect. The hood has deep grooves that give a power bulge and the front fascia has a skid-plate toughness to it. It invites you to take some time to soak it all in.
That prominent proboscis does make it look a bit snouty, but the large wheel arches and curved sides look aggressive, with black lower side cladding saying it’s ready to go off-road. The black 17-inch alloys look the part – although there’s plenty of room if you want to add some mudders.
The rear also features some tasty detailing in LED lights, and it’s upright and squared off. Trucky. Adding to the modern look, our clear white tester features a black roof, giving it a two-tone look, and a Jeep Cherokee vibe. Not bad company…
Kia Seltos Interior – Big Box Style
Hop in the Seltos and it’s conservative, but not boring. It’s got a Swedish functionality to it, the gauges are clear, they’re logically located, and everything feels like it will work trouble-free for years. The fabric on the seats have a tasteful pinstripe to them, and the contrasting blue of the center level of the dash break up a dark interior.
You bump into the occasional hard plastics that remind you this is a value vehicle, but you also get some cool detailing, like the 3D speaker covers that are a kick to look at, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob that feel good to the touch. There’s even a sliding center-console cover – a nice touch for taller (or shorter) drivers.
The tech is solid, too – the 8-inch touchscreen looks huge, and features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it makes for a handsome rearview monitor, and with standard Bluetooth and a USB port, you’re good to go. If you opt for the top of the line SX you get a 10-inch touchscreen – that must be like driving around with a TV strapped to your dash!
One thing that did surprise us was the lack of keyless ignition – you’ve got a key fob to let yourself in, but it feels kind of low rent to have to pop the key into the ignition to start up. Yes, we’re spoiled.
Well, you do have the space to enjoy the Seltos’ goodies. The tall, square exterior yields loads of room inside. Full-size adults fit comfortably in front and back, and the rear seats even recline. There’s a nice amount of storage with the rear seats up. Drop the rears, and its huge. That rear cargo hold has a fun party trick – with the rear seats folded, you can lift the luggage floor for a flat loading. Somebody at Kia is staying up late, thinking about how people use their SUVs.
Kia Seltos Performance – Let’s get ready to rubble!
Driving the Seltos reinforces that it is designed to tackle rough terrain – but you have to decide how it is equipped. Our front-wheel drive S tester featured the standard 146-hp, 132 lb.-ft. of torque, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with a CVT automatic transmission. This is a strong combination, and when you put the drive mode selector in Sport, it pulls hard, even if it’s not the smoothest engine on the block.
Like the Kona we tested and loved, we would be seriously tempted to go for the optional 1.6-liter turbo motor which piles on the enthusiasm with 175 hp, and a broad-shouldered 195 lb./-ft of torque. It’s also teamed with the rapid shifting 7-speed DCT transmission that’s a step up over any CVT, anywhere.
One area where the Seltos differs from the cute Kia Soul is available on-demand all-wheel-drive. This is an advanced set up, with torque vectoring that helps not only in rough stuff, but also makes it a more responsive handler as well. Turbo and AWD would be the enthusiast’s choice – but someone looking for a solid, rugged and capable small SUV would be quite happy with the way our tester was equipped.
We also like the firm but not harsh ride quality – thanks to a well-tuned multi-link rear suspension – the excellent steering feel, and the overall lack of noise – it cruises along like a vehicle that’s larger than it is, and it feels well-built.
You also feel confident – our S tester included Hill Start Assist, Forward Collision Avoidance with Pedestrian detection, Lane Keeping Assist and Lane Departure Warning, High beam assist, and Driver attentions Warning. If you want Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert you’ll have to step up to the EX model.
Bang for the buck
One of the most attractive features of the Seltos is the great price. The Seltos LX starts at just $21,990 and is well equipped, with a nice blend of features, style and size. Our S model tester also starts at $21,990, but it’s a gateway to nicer features like AWD, a turbo engine, heated seats and Blind Spot Detection.
Ours had none of that, but we did have the black roof ($345), and carpeted floor mats ($130). Adding in $1,120 for destination, and our tester stickered out at $23,585. If you want to go for an S Turbo with AWD, it’s $25,490. And like Hyundai, Kia features a standard 10-year, 100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.
A logical competitor would be the sibling Hyundai Kona. The comparable Kona SE comes in a bit less, at $21,450, but it is a bit smaller, notably in the rear seating area, and feels less like it wants to do truck-type duties. For those with the off-road jones, A Subaru Crosstrek comes in at $24,505. We’d take the powerful Seltos S Turbo AWD and pocket the $15!
Kia continues to delight us with exciting new products from the Forte Sedan we recently tested to the Telluride full-size SUV. And this new model fits right in.
Rugged, stylish, roomy and nicely-equipped, the 2021 Kia Seltos is a standout small SUV in a crowded marketplace.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.